SAN LUIS, Ariz. – The federal government’s border fencing effort has accelerated rapidly in recent weeks with barriers rising in towns from California to New Mexico and workers completing the longest stretch of continuous fencing on the U.S.-Mexico frontier.
The Department of Homeland Security reached its goal of completing 70 miles of new fencing by the end of September, nearly doubling the amount of barriers that previously existed on the border, from 75 to about 145 miles.
“When we make a commitment, we will carry through on the commitment,” said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who went to Arizona on Friday in recognition of the progress and welded part of the fence in Douglas.
Whether the new fencing slows illegal immigration remains to be seen, but the project marks a milestone in another important way. Once limited mainly to cities, fencing is now going up in rural areas where illegal immigrant flows have shifted in recent years.
“This is going to be a rude awakening for the crowds (of immigrants) that come in the fall,” said Welby Redwine, a Boeing engineer overseeing work in a canyon crisscrossed by smuggling trails in the Tinajas Atlas mountains, 40 miles from the nearest town. “When they see it, they’re going to say, ‘Wow, what happened?’ “
The progress marks an abrupt turnaround from one month ago when Homeland Security reported completing only 15 of the 70 miles promised by Sept. 30 , drawing criticism from many Republicans and anti-illegal immigration groups. The Secure Fence Act, passed last fall, called for 700 miles of new fencing. The administration set a goal of completing nearly 300 miles by 2008.