- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 20, 2006

Building fences along high-traffic areas of the U.S. border with Mexico dramatically reduces crime, the president of the Border Patrol union told Congress yesterday.

“Drug smuggling was rampant” in the border area just south of San Diego, said T.J. Bonner, national president of the National Border Patrol Council, before a fence was constructed. “Anarchy reigned, and there was no semblance of control over that section of the border.”

Mr. Bonner said that after the fence was built, with surplus military steel landing mats, drug seizures tapered off and the crime rate fell sharply.

Most Congress members at the joint hearing yesterday seemed to agree on the need for fencing, but at least one worried that it would endanger the lives of those trying to sneak into the country.

“Individuals who attempt to cross the border are determined,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat.

Tall fences in high-traffic areas would force the illegal aliens deep into the desert, where they could face “starvation, rape and murder,” he said. “Those who are not deterred will become increasingly dependent upon profit-minded coyotes and criminal traffickers in order to cross the border in remote areas.”

The hearing was part of a series of House hearings into the Senate immigration reform bill, which House Republicans say would grant “amnesty” to the estimated 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens in the U.S. The Senate bill also has a guest-worker plan that supporters say will ease illegal entry.

Though the fences curb crime, Mr. Bonner said they will do little to stop illegal entry if supplementary efforts are not undertaken. The only way to control the borders, he said, is to increase the number of Border Patrol agents and remove the magnet of potential U.S. employment.

“Even with significant increases in staffing, the overall level of smuggling activity has grown and will continue to do so until the root cause of illegal immigration is addressed,” Mr. Bonner said. “As long as destitute illegal aliens can find work in the United States, millions of them will cross our borders ever year.”

As part of Republican efforts to focus on the issue of immigration, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois will lead a delegation to the southern border this weekend.

While in Arizona and Texas, the lawmakers will meet with members of the National Guard whom President Bush dispatched to the border, visit Camp Grip in the remote desert and travel the border at night with night-vision goggles.

Rep. Dan Lungren, California Republican and chairman of one of the subcommittees that held the hearing yesterday, said illegal entry is one of the main issues he is asked about in his district, though the “decibel level” of the questions has quieted in recent weeks.

“People are beginning to understand that we’re serious about enforcement,” he said.

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