New law OKs construction through private donations, landowner consent
From The Arizona Republic by Alia Beard Rau
Supporters of increased border enforcement now can help Arizona build its own fence along the Mexico border.
A new law went into effect today that allows the state to build the fence, as long as it can raise enough private donations and persuade public and private landowners to let it be done on their property. A new website for the effort, www.buildtheborderfence.com, was set to go online at midnight.
No other state has tried such a tactic.
Michael Schennum/The Arizona Republic
Construction workers replace the old border fence with a higher see-through fence in Nogales.
Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, who sponsored the legislation, hopes to raise at least $50 million from donors across the nation.
“Donate to the country’s security,” Smith said. “This is an American problem, not an Arizona problem.”
State lawmakers who supported the law have said they want a consistent fence along the entire border that is solid, has multiple layers and is tall enough to keep out pedestrians. Smith said the effort also could include more high-tech security efforts.
The state’s southern border is about 370 miles long. About a third of that, mostly in the western part of the state between Yuma and Nogales, has the type of fence lawmakers want. The rest either has no fencing or has fencing designed to keep out vehicles. In that part of the state, the fence is only a few feet tall and is made of barbed wire or wooden posts. Smith said most illegal immigrants cross into the eastern part of Arizona over that more porous border.
According to a 2009 U.S. Government Accountability Office report, it has cost the federal government about $3 million a mile to build the type of fence that would keep pedestrians out.
Smith said Arizona’s final cost would depend on what kind of a fence is constructed and whether the state can get private companies to donate some of the construction supplies. State lawmakers have said they could save money by using inmate labor to build the fence.
The effort doesn’t have official non-profit status for tax purposes, but Smith said the website has a letter from the state consular general stating that there is precedent in Arizona that donations to a state or political subdivision are tax deductible.
“We aren’t taking an official position on that, but consult your tax professional,” Smith said. “Take that letter to your accountant.”
The Legislature’s Joint Border Security Advisory Committee, on which Smith serves, will determine what type of fence will be built and then manage construction.
Getting permission from landowners will determine where the fence can be built.
Much of the Arizona border is on federal land or Indian reservations, with small portions belonging to private landowners. Smith said the easiest solution would be for the federal government to give permission to build the fence within its 60-foot easement along the border.
“Let’s hope the federal government will allow us to do it,” Smith said. “But if they say no, we have a contingency.”
Smith said he already has begun talking to private landowners and has support from several to build on their property, even if it means the fence has to go miles north of the border.
“We’ve identified three highly trafficked areas that are notorious that we have pretty good access to,” he said. “And as we continue to raise awareness and funds, I hope the federal government says, ‘Go ahead and build whatever you want to build.’”
The Sierra Club opposes the law. It says Arizona already has more border walls than any other state and that the walls have caused flooding in some areas and have blocked wildlife in other areas.
“Arizona has been slammed by federally imposed, ineffective walls that cost taxpayers millions per mile,” said Dan Millis, program coordinator for the Sierra Club borderlands campaign, in a media release. “Donations toward more border walls will not provide much bang for the buck.”