Today, more than three weeks after Congress passed its only immigration legislation, President Bush signed the Secure Border Fence Act into law. There is little coincidence that this was scheduled less than two weeks before the mid-term elections. Sounding like his party colleagues in Congress, Bush stood tough and said "We have a responsibility to enforce our laws. We have a responsibility to secure our borders. We take this responsibility serious."
Republicans are betting that their get tough stance will pay off on November 7. Senator John Cornyn of Texas told the Associated Press that he voted for the fence because he wanted to help demonstrate that Congress was serious about border security. "The choice we were presented was: Are we going to vote to enhance border security, or against it?" Cornyn said. "I think that's how the vote was viewed."
At the same time, Bush also pointed out that he hoped that a guest worker program could be worked out in the near future. He argues that this would be easier to get passed if Republicans keep their majorities in the House and Senate after the Nov. 7 elections.
There are still many doubts about the fence and its effectiveness. Several Latino advocacy organizations issued a statement expressing their disappointment in the President's signing of the bill. National Public Radio reported that it is unlikely that the fence will actually be built. The new law includes no provision for paying for the fence and the exact cost is not known.
T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, a union representing Border Patrol agents, told AP on Wednesday that "A fence will slow people down by a minute or two, but if you don't have the agents to stop them it does no good. We're not talking about some impenetrable barrier." Ah, but agents aren't infallible either as a recent Los Angeles Times investigation reveals. Public records show that the number of corrupt border officials has risen sharply in the last few years. The newspaper found that at least 200 public employees have been charged with helping to move narcotics or undocumented immigrants across the U.S.-Mexican border since 2004.
It's still hard to say how public relations event like today's signing will influence the elections. NPR's Jennifer Ludden covered the prevalence of immigration rhetoric in electoral campaigns. Ludden wonders if both parties' tough-line enforcement stances will cost them Latino and immigrant votes in the November election and elections in the future.
Contact the White House and tell the President that you are disappointed that he signed the Border Fence Act. Since there is no way to pay for it, it is all showmanship. But also tell him that a fence is no solution since it does not recognize the human rights and contributions of immigrants. A fence also forces would-be immigrants to take even more desperate measures to enter the United States and risk death.