15 September 2006

Republicans aim to fence off America

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The United States House of Representatives passed a bill in favour of building a 700 mile long fence along the border with Mexico is an effort to control illegal immigration.

The plan to install double-layered fencing along large swathes of California, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico was promoted as the first phase of a larger border security package that includes making it a criminal offence to dig tunnels under the border.

America's southern border is guarded by more than 10,000 border patrol agents, and they were reinforced last month by 6,000 National Guard troops. Last year over a million illegal immigrants were sent back across the border.

Critics of the Republican-written bill though dismissed it as an election-year gimmick and said it does nothing to address the fact that America still needs access to cheap labour.

Democrats have called for called for a broad immigration overhaul along the lines of the bill passed by the US Senate that would create a guest worker programme and legalise millions of illegal immigrants. Enforcement alone, they say, cannot work effectively unless it is accompanied by a guest worker program to help meet the labor needs of the agricultural and hospitality industries, and a program to draw the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. into the legal system — a position favored by Bush.

House Republican leaders plan to pass a series of border security measures before lawmakers break at the end of the month to campaign for the elections.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican, said the fence and other efforts would be added to a domestic security spending bill for next year that the House and Senate are hoping to finish by the end of the month.

Republican supporters of the fence said it was a step toward controlling the borders and would help stem the flow of illegal immigration while reducing drug smuggling and other crimes.

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