U.S. May Put Up Barriers at Border : Another Plan to Stem Flow of Illegal Aliens From Mexico

Times Staff Writer

In recent years, U.S. immigration officials seeking to stem the flow of illegal aliens from Mexico across the southern border have constructed million-dollar chain-link fences, added almost 1,000 new border guards, deployed helicopters and other aircraft, and made use of night-vision scopes and dozens of other high-technology gadgets.

None of it has worked.

Now they're talking about building a wall. Well, not exactly a wall. More like concrete barricades.

After published reports that immigration authorities were seeking to "fortify" the border through the possible construction of wall and an improved fence, officials were quick to present their plans in a less imposing fashion.

"We do not have plans to erect anything that resembles the Berlin Wall," said Wayne Kirkpatrick, a spokesman for the U.S. Border Patrol in San Diego.

"I think it's misleading when we say 'fortifying,' " added Harold Ezell, western regional commissioner for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, parent body of the Border Patrol. "Fortifying sounds too militaristic."

Rather, officials said, the service is studying the possibility of building several miles of concrete "barricades" or other "impediments" to prevent illegal aliens from driving across the border amid the isolated, flat terrain that separates much of Tijuana from San Diego County. (The area, policed by the San Diego sector of the Border Patrol, accounted for more than one-third of the 1.7 million illegal aliens arrested along the border last year.) In addition, authorities are considering the reinforcement of the notoriously porous fence that stretches from the Pacific eastward along the border to the San Ysidro port of entry. The fence is full of holes.

"I don't really think we have a meaningful fence," Ezell said.

The proposal was immediately greeted with guffaws by groups that often represent undocumented immigrants and have long been critical of federal officials' asserted desire to "militarize" the border.

"It's ludicrous," said Herman Baca, chairman of the Committee on Chicano Rights, a San Diego group that monitors immigration issues. "We don't need a Berlin Wall. . . . You can't expect to stop illegal immigration without getting at the root causes."

The 1,900-mile U.S.-Mexico border is dotted with rusting fences--always chock full of holes--that stand as testaments to the failure of the United States to block the passage of illegal aliens from Mexico.

Perhaps the most infamous effort was the so-called "Tortilla Curtain"--a chain-link fence that stretches for several miles along the border in El Paso and was constructed in the late 1970s at a cost of more than $1 million. Though ballyhooed as a potential solution to the problem of illegal immigration from Mexico, the fence along the Rio Grande is now marked by numerous man-sized holes cut out by illegal aliens entering the United States.

Nonetheless, the often-controversial Ezell predicted that the proposal for reinforcing the border fences and constructing new barricades will be a reality by fall. He said Mexican officials also will be consulted. There was no estimate on the cost of the project, which Ezell said will be submitted to Washington this month. He defended the plan as part of an overall strategy of border enforcement.

"The barriers in themselves are not going to do the job," said Ezell, citing an increased Border Patrol presence and implementation of the new national immigration law as other components in the strategy. "It's all part of an overall effort to get some control on the borders."

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