A report is set to be released today on a virtual fence intended to be placed along the U.S.-Mexico border. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano confirms that the $1.1 billion program has been dumped, due in large part to the fact that the damn thing doesn't work the way it should. According to a House committee, the project will be remembered as a "grave and expensive disappointment."
How's that strike former congressman and presidential candidate Tom Tancredo, among the nation's best-known proponents for tighter border security? Although he believes claims the virtual fence is technically flawed, he argues that physical barriers would have worked better from the beginning, and cost a lot less. He's certain, though, that the Obama administration won't build them.
"There continue to be wide open areas where people can come into this country and become Democrat voters," he says. "Which they'll need in big numbers if they ever want to pass the health care bill."
When asked about the potential effectiveness of the virtual-fence concept, Tancredo shares a humorous anecdote:
"This guy came up to me who lobbied for the chain-link-fence industry," he recalls. "He said, 'We just got a new contract the other day. This great, big building has been constructed for the purpose of developing the virtual fence, but they'd had some vandalism.' So they'd had to construct a huge chain-link fence around the building."
Tancredo laughs as he shares this memory, but the chuckles end when he describes the Obama administration's policy "of pulling back all our efforts on the border. They're reducing the number of border patrol in the budget. And they're cutting back on the funding for 287(g)," which he describes as "a program designed to train local police and law enforcement in how to handle situations when you confront an illegal alien."
At the same time, Tancredo believes the administration is creating impediments to the installation of the best border barriers.
"A three-layer fence system works really well," he says. "There's one fence that's mostly if not entirely chain link, about six or eight feet high. Then there's a small road for the border patrol to travel on. And there's a great, big fifteen-foot fence with barbed-wire things on the top and whatever. And you can set it up so that if someone cuts the fence, an alarm goes off at a particular place. It's terribly effective and much less expensive" than the virtual fence -- "but they don't want to build it."
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"One of the problems you run into now is the fact that this administration is trying to label more and more land adjacent to the border as protected wilderness areas. If it's a wilderness area, they won't allow construction of a fence or a road or anything else. So you begin to create a funnel effect. You fence the areas that aren't wilderness areas, and leave the ones that are wilderness areas open. Then everyone goes through there and completely trashes the wilderness area.
"You have to remember, there's not a strong desire to secure the border on their part. So it becomes one of those ironic situations where, in order to pretend that you're doing something most Americans want, you do it in a half-assed way. Then you can claim you're doing something, but you can make sure your efforts aren't successful."
As a result, Tancredo doubts Obama and company were that upset when they discovered that the virtual fence was a boondoggle.
"What I picture in my mind is an Obama administration bureaucrat, or perhaps Obama himself, getting the news -- looking at the report that says the virtual fence won't work and saying, 'Oh dear,' but being gleeful at the same time."