Fox Pushes AZ Efforts To Build Border Fence Despite Its Predicted High Cost And Unproven Effectiveness

››› ››› ANDY NEWBOLD

Over the last six months, Fox News has repeatedly hyped Arizona's efforts to raise private funds to build a fence along the state's border with Mexico. However, such a fence would cost millions of dollars per mile and its effectiveness at increasing border security is unproven.

Arizona Created A Website To Solicit Private Donations For A Border Fence

Arizona Created A Website Called BuildTheBorderFence.com To Raise Private Funds For A Fence Along Its Border With Mexico. In April, the Arizona legislature enacted Senate Bill 1406, sponsored by Arizona State Senator Steve Smith (R), which seeks to coordinate fundraising and construction of a fence along the state's border with Mexico through "private or public donations from whatever source." In conjunction with the bill, the state set up a website called BuildTheBorderFence.com to collect private donations. The effort has raised almost $200,000 as of November 30. [BuildTheBorderFence.com, accessed 12/1/11; Arizona Senate Bill 1406, accessed 12/1/11, via VoteSmart.org]

Fox Has Spent Months Hyping Arizona's Website Devoted To Building A Border Fence

Bolling Hosted Sponsor Of Fence Legislation And Called Arizona Fundraising Effort For Border Fence A "Great Idea." During the November 29 edition of his Fox Business show, Eric Bolling interviewed Smith to hype his bill, and Bolling said that Smith had come up with a "great idea":

BOLLING: State Senator, how much are you looking to raise and how much have you raised?

SMITH: Well, we have raised several hundred thousand dollars, but here is the great thing about this project. You know, I call this extreme home makeover border edition. Because what the GAO says we need is about $3 to $4 million a mile. What the private sector says we can do it at is less than $500,000 a mile. So when you look at the government's number and what we can build it at, there is a world of difference, almost 10 times less we can build this. So I would love to raise an initial $10 to $20 million to start with. I think that can go a very, very, very long way in what we need to do, but we are going to take it literally one mile at a time.

BOLLING: I also noticed that you're looking to do a -- not just an Arizona version of this, you're looking to close the whole border with public donations, is that right?

SMITH: I would love to. And frankly what I'd like to see even more happen is a president get into office, and we have seen pretty much every presidential candidate on the Republican side stand up and say, one of my first priorities is to build a border fence. So I would love that to be shifted over there.

We have had a couple of great things come out of the private sector. Two of the top fence manufacturers in the world have already pledged support for either straight donating sections of the mile or giving it to us at cost. So again, there is a lot of moving parts here. We have construction companies in Arizona willing to put it up for free. We are going to use inmate labor to help dig the ditches and do all the trenching. We are paying for them anyways, we might as well put them to work.So we have got a lot of hands on deck here, and I think we can get it done.

BOLLING: Great, great idea, by the way. [Fox Business, Follow the Money, 11/29/11]

Van Susteren Hosted AZ State Senator To Hype Border Fence Fundraising Site. During the August 25 edition of her Fox News show, Greta Van Susteren hosted Smith, who promoted Arizona's efforts to raise money for the fence:

VAN SUSTEREN: What I've been told it will cost about $50 million dollars. I don't know if that is the right number, but 1,300 miles you are seeking to fence. I'm curious, do you have a clue what a mile would cost?

SMITH: You will hear out there the Government Accountability Office puts it at $400,000 and up. When you have great companies like Beta Fence who is going to help us -- I don't want to say significantly, too much of an understatement. They are going to help us extraordinarily. Those numbers -- don't get blinded by those numbers that you hear in the press. We are going to be able to stretch those dollars a lot.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, we'll be watching. We'll check back in to see how your project is going. Thank you.

SMITH: Greta, I encourage your viewers to go to buildtheborderfence.com to please help. Thank you. [Fox News, On the Record, 8/25/11, via Nexis]

Cavuto Said Fundraising Effort For AZ Border Fence Is A "Good Idea." Fox News host Neil Cavuto also interviewed Smith. During the July 21 edition of Fox News' Your World, Smith promoted his fundraising effort and Cavuto told Smith it was a "good idea to get the ball rolling voluntarily":

NEIL CAVUTO: That is an impressive figure, but you need, what, like $50 million, right?

(LAUGHTER)

STEVE SMITH (R), ARIZONA STATE SENATOR: Well, first, thank you for having me. And, yes, the Web site just launched yesterday. And the Web site is www.buildtheborderfence.com. We just kicked it off here. So, we have about 1,200 donors already. And we`re off and running and how much do they give.

We have a long way to go, but we`re off and running.

[...]

CAVUTO: You know, a lot of people are against walls, but they do work about -- keeping illegal immigrants out. The two in the San Diego area did cut down dramatically on the number of illegal apprehensions. And we are going to show a couple of examples of that. And that is what you are going on, right?

SMITH: That`s exactly right. You know, we did the same thing in Arizona, too, Neil, where in the Yuma sector of Arizona, we built a triple-layer fence. And would you believe that, after the fence went up, we had a 95 percent success rate in stopping illegal incursions in that sector -- in that sector.

So now we just want to duplicate the same thing in what is called the Tucson sector in Arizona, which is the number-one gate through of all illegal entry into the country.

CAVUTO: All right.

SMITH: It`s a nightmare. It`s a mess. It`s not just the illegal aliens coming in -- never mind we have 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens in this country that are sucking our social services dry, if I`m being frank. But it`s the drug cartels. It`s the...

CAVUTO: OK.

SMITH: ... the gang violence, and, yes, even the terrorist activity that is coming across that border.

CAVUTO: Well, it`s a good idea to get the ball rolling voluntarily. We will see what happens.

Senator, thank you very much.

SMITH: Well, thank you. And please visit www.buildtheborderfence.com. [Fox News, Your World, 7/21/11, via Nexis]

Fox "Straight News" Program Hosted Smith To Promote His Fundraising Website. From the July 20 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:

BILL HEMMER: Want the U.S. to build a border fence? Ask Arizona because Arizona is now asking you for help. If you open up your pocketbook. Arizona launching a new effort today to raise money, millions of dollars, to build a fence. They say they're fed up with the federal government's efforts to keep illegals out and are now taking matters into their own hands. This is no small matter, though. Steve Smith wrote the bill. He's a state senator in Arizona, with me now. And sir, good morning to you in Arizona.

STEVE SMITH, R-ARIZONA: Good morning, Bill. Appreciate you having me on.

HEMMER: You bet. You're welcome for that. How much money is this going to cost?

SMITH: You know, we're trying to raise -- my initial goal is $50 million. I think that's a good start --

HEMMER: Five-zero?

SMITH: Five-zero, absolutely.

[...]

HEMMER: There were critics who say unless you build the right kind of fence, unless you contribute the manpower to watch it, it has little or no value. What do you say?

SMITH: That's exactly right. And you know I liken it to a prison, right? You can have the greatest prison wall, the greatest prison fence, but if you don't have prison guards watching it, sooner or later, the inmates get out. That's just the way it is.

So the fence is not the only stand-alone option. You do need boots on the ground. However, fences are extraordinarily effective. One needs to look no further than in Yuma, Arizona, where we've done this before. We built a triple-layer fence there, we had a 95 percent success rate of stopping illegal activity over that border in that area of Arizona. They work.

Let me give you another number. We have -- we have a beautiful fence, it's this 18-foot-high steel beam corrugated fence here in Arizona. You can't drive a tank through it. The only problem is we have 16 miles of that fence on a nearly 400-mile-long Arizona border.

(LAUGHTER)

SMITH: So you're exactly right, the right fence is absolutely needed, and that is our complete intention on building this.

HEMMER: It's a novel idea. It got our attention. We don't know where it's going to go but $50 million, no small sum. The effort starts today. And Steve Smith wrote the bill. Thank you, sir, for coming in. We'll see how far you get on it, all right?

SMITH: Bill, thank you. I encourage everybody to go to buildtheborderfence.com is where they can help us.

HEMMER: All right. Thank you for your time. [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 7/20/11, via Nexis]

AZ Legislator Claims He Can Build Fence At Low Cost ...

Smith Has Claimed He Can Build Fence At Under $500,000 Per Mile And At Total Cost Between $10-$50 Million. During some of his appearances on Fox, AZ State Senator Steve Smith suggested he could build the border fence for under $500,000 per mile and at a total cost as low as $10 million dollars.

  • SMITH: I call this extreme home makeover border edition. Because what the GAO says we need is about $3 to $4 million a mile. What the private sector says we can do it at is less than $500,000 a mile. So when you look at the government's number and what we can build it at, there is a world of difference, almost 10 times less we can build this. So I would love to raise an initial $10 to $20 million to start with. I think that can go a very, very, very long way in what we need to do, but we are going to take it literally one mile at a time. [Fox Business, Follow the Money, 11/29/11]
  • SMITH: [W]e're trying to raise -- my initial goal is $50 million. I think that's a good start. [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 7/20/11, via Nexis]

... But Reports Show Border Fence Costs Much Higher Than Smith Suggests ...

GAO: Construction Cost Of Border Fence So Far Has Averaged Approximately $2.9 Million Per Mile. In a report on the subject of "Secure Border Initiative Fence Construction Costs," the Government Accountability Office found that as of October 31, 2008, the federal government had completed "about 215 miles of fencing costing about $625 million as of October 31, 2008." This works out to an average cost of $2.9 million per mile, although GAO cautioned that "[t]he per mile costs to build the fencing varied considerably because of the type of fencing, topography, materials used, land acquisition costs, and labor costs, among other things." From the report:

CBP [U.S. Customs and Border Protection] had completed about 73 miles of primary SBI [Secure Border Initiative] fencing costing approximately $198 million as of September 30, 2007, and about 215 miles of fencing costing about $625 million as of October 31, 2008. Seventy-one of the miles completed as of September 30, 2007, were pedestrian fencing completed at costs ranging from $400,000 to $4.8 million per mile and averaging $2.8 million per mile. CBP had also finished about 2 miles of vehicle fencing at a cost of $2.8 million. Pedestrian fencing accounted for 140 of the miles that CBP had completed as of October 31, 2008, with costs ranging from $400,000 to $15.1 million per mile for an average of $3.9 million per mile. Seventy-five of the miles were vehicle fencing and costs ranged from $200,000 to $1.8 million per mile, averaging $1.0 million per mile. The per mile costs to build the fencing varied considerably because of the type of fencing, topography, materials used, land acquisition costs, and labor costs, among other things. [GAO, 1/29/09]

NY Times: Studies Show "Building And Maintaining A Fence Through The Remote Or Hostile Terrain Along The Border Would Run Into Billions Of Dollars." From an October 10 New York Times article:

Based on what studies do exist, the analysts say that building and maintaining a fence through the remote or hostile terrain along the border would run into billions of dollars, with no documented impact on diminishing illegal crossings.

So far border authorities have built 650 miles of hard fence along the southwest border, including about 299 miles of vehicle barriers. [The New York Times, 10/20/11]

... And The Deterrent Effect Of Border Fences Remains Speculative

GAO Report: Customs And Border Protection Has Been Unable To "Account Separately For The Impact Of The Border Fencing And Other Infrastructure" On Border Control. A March 30 report by the GAO shows that the CBP concluded that there were 4,037 breaches to the U.S.-Mexico border fence in fiscal year 2010, and those breaches cost the CBP "at least $7.2 million to repair." From the report:

We reported in May 2010 that CBP had not accounted for the impact of its investment in border fencing and infrastructure on border security. Border fencing was designed to prevent people on foot and vehicles from crossing the border and to enhance Border Patrol agents' ability to respond to areas of illegal entry. CBP estimated that the border fencing had a life cycle of 20 years and over these years, a total estimated cost of about $6.5 billion to deploy, operate, and maintain the fencing and other infrastructure. According to CBP, during fiscal year 2010, there were 4,037 documented and repaired breaches of the fencing and CBP spent at least $7.2 million to repair the breaches, or an average of about $1,800 per breach. CBP reported an increase in control of southwest border miles, but could not account separately for the impact of the border fencing and other infrastructure. In our May 4, 2010, testimony, we concluded that until CBP determines the contribution of border fencing and other infrastructure to border security, it is not positioned to address the impact of its investment; and reported that in response to a prior recommendation, CBP was in the process of conducting an analysis of the impact of tactical infrastructure on border security. [GAO, 3/30/11]

CBP Commissioner: A Fence Along The Entire U.S.-Mexico Border Is "One Of The Dumbest Ideas." In an October 25 U.S. News & World Report blog post titled "Why a Border Fence Wouldn't Work," Ralph Basham, former commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said it is against common sense to build a border fence in an attempt to control illegal immigration:

Building a physical fence along the entire border with Mexico was one of the dumbest ideas I heard when I was commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. It is critical to recognize that fencing (even with barbed wire, electrification, and possibly a moat filled with alligators) is not a solution, it is only a tool. There's a fundamental misunderstanding about what a physical barrier -- even the triple-layer fencing in San Diego -- actually does or doesn't do for the agency charged with building fencing and securing the border. All it really does is buy you time where a crosser could otherwise quickly escape or assimilate. None of the fencing is impenetrable. People will eventually dig under it or cut through it or go over it, but it gives you enough time to respond and apprehend them.

[...]

As debate continues about how to best ensure our national security it is important to identify the real threats and develop realistic solutions. In the face of constrained budgets, spending billions on unnecessary fences is not viable. If the symbol of the fence in political campaigns keeps us talking about remaining border security challenges and new and creative approaches that will build on the progress to date then it's not all bad. But if it deceives the public into believing in 2,000 miles of wall as a magic solution to the hard problems of three decades of uncontrolled immigration, the only thing being fenced is our common sense. [U.S. News & World Report, 10/25/11]

AZ Sheriff Larry Dever On Border Fence Fundraising: "Unless It's The Right Kind Of Fence And Unless You Have The Manpower To Watch It, It's Of Very Little Or No Value." Sheriff Larry Dever of Cochise County, Arizona, a strong proponent of increased border security, expressed skepticism about the plan to build a fence:

Some of the biggest stakeholders in border security, including sheriffs and private land owners near the border, appreciate Smith's efforts but said they aren't sure they will donate.

Sheriff Larry Dever of Cochise County said border fencing simply doesn't work. Dever is co-chair of bordersheriffs.com. Bordersherrifs.com is helping to fight the legal battles against Arizona immigration legislation.

"I think it's well intentioned, but you can build all the fence you want to build and unless it's the right kind of fence and unless you have the manpower to watch it, it's of very little or no value," Dever told msnbc.com. "The federal government has built a lot of fence and most of it has been inadequate in terms of actually stopping people from crossing." [MSNBC.com, 7/18/11]

McCain: A Border Fence Is "Least Effective." From a 2007 Vanity Fair article:

[I]n Milwaukee, in front of an audience of more sympathetic businessmen, McCain had been asked how debate over the immigration bill was playing politically. "In the short term, it probably galvanizes our base," he said. "In the long term, if you alienate the Hispanics, you'll pay a heavy price." Then he added, unable to help himself, "By the way, I think the fence is least effective. But I'll build the goddamned fence if they want it." [Vanity Fair, February 2007]

  • In 2010, McCain Reversed Himself And Demanded That The United States "Complete The Danged Fence." [ABCNews.com, 5/11/10]
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