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Molly Moorhead
By Molly Moorhead February 20, 2013

Wayne LaPierre says Obama ignores border fence law

In a searing call to action that appeared in the conservative Daily Caller, the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre encouraged Americans to arm themselves, join the NRA and recruit others in preparation against the growing threats of terrorism, economic instability and the policies of the Obama administration.

"It has always been sensible for good citizens to own and carry firearms for lawful protection against violent criminals who prey on decent people," LaPierre wrote. "During the second Obama term, however, additional threats are growing."

He cited drug gangs and other criminals who enter the United States through the southern border. They get in, LaPierre said, because "the president flagrantly defies the 2006 federal law ordering the construction of a secure border fence along the entire Mexican border."

Flagrant defiance? We decided to examine whether it’s true that President Barack Obama is bucking a law requiring construction of a such a fence.

Secure Fence Act of 2006

We did not hear back from the NRA for this story. But the 2006 law directing fence construction is the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which was passed by a Republican-led Congress and signed by President George W. Bush. It authorized the construction of hundreds of miles of additional fencing along the border with Mexico. The act specified "at least two layers of reinforced fencing."

One thing it did not do: require a fence to be built "along the entire Mexican border," as LaPierre claimed. Instead, it directed that specific segments of the border -- "extending from 10 miles west of the Tecate, California, port of entry to 10 miles east of the Tecate, California, port of entry," for example -- be double-fenced. The fenced segments totaled roughly 650-700 miles, while the entire U.S.-Mexican border is about 2,000 miles long.

Obama, an Illinois senator at the time, voted for the law.

The following year, the legislation underwent a significant change. Officials at the Department of Homeland Security argued that different border terrains required different types of fencing -- that a one-size-fits-all approach across the entire border didn't make sense.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, proposed an amendment to give DHS the discretion to decide what type of fence was appropriate in different areas. The law was amended to read, "nothing in this paragraph shall require the Secretary of Homeland Security to install fencing, physical barriers, roads, lighting, cameras, and sensors in a particular location along an international border of the United States, if the Secretary determines that the use or placement of such resources is not the most appropriate means to achieve and maintain operational control over the international border at such location."
In other words, Border Patrol would use its discretion to decide which type of fencing was appropriate in various regions. The amendment was included in a federal budget bill in late 2007.

Hutchison said at the time, "Border patrol agents reported that coyotes and drug-runners were altering their routes as fencing was deployed, so the amendment gives our agents discretion to locate the fence where necessary to achieve operational control of our border." Opponents, however, said the amendment effectively killed the border fence promised in the 2006 bill.

Today, DHS says Border Patrol has completed 651 miles of fencing, including 299 miles of vehicle fence and 352 miles of primary pedestrian fence. One mile of pedestrian fence is left to complete, and it is tied up in litigation.

So what’s being flagrantly defied?

That comes down to the difference between vehicle fence and pedestrian fence, as well as the "double layer" specification in the 2006 law.

On the one hand, the fence is virtually complete and in compliance with the 2007 amendment.

"It cost almost $3 million per mile to construct that fence. Including maintenance, it is supposed to cost over $6 billion over the next 20 years. President Obama is going above and beyond any president ever at enforcing our immigration laws," said Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute.

On the other, it’s not the fence envisioned in 2006. For one thing, vehicle fencing would be more accurately described as posts placed close enough together that cars can’t be driven between them.

What’s more, just 36.3 miles of fencing are double-layered.

Said Rosemary Jenks with Numbers USA, a Washington group that favors low levels of immigration: "The Secure Fence Act called for 650 miles of double-layer pedestrian fencing. While the administration claims to have completed 650 miles of fencing, virtually none of it is double layer, and several hundred miles is vehicle barriers, instead of fence at all."

Other resources, practical considerations

While LaPierre was specific about fence construction, we thought we’d mention other aspects of border control.

Rey Koslowski, in a 2011 paper for the Migration Policy Institute, noted that the Southwest Border Security Act Obama signed in 2010 appropriated $600 million for enhanced border protection on top of the president’s July 2010 authorization to deploy 1,200 National Guard troops to the border. The largest share of the additional funding, $244 million, was to hire and maintain existing levels of Border Patrol agents and customs officers. Almost $200 million went to the Department of Justice to hire more federal law enforcement officers for the southwest border region, and still millions more went to communications and aerial surveillance equipment.

In an interview, Koslowski pointed out that the 2006 law required that no more than 18 months after its enactment the government should have "operational control" of the border. How was that defined? "The prevention of all unlawful entries into the United States."

"Well, guess what, they failed," Koslowski said. "Under this definition, no country, not even East Germany, managed operational control like this."

So the fence -- pedestrian and vehicle -- is an adaptation to changing immigration patterns, from population centers where people used to walk in, out to deserts and mountains where they drive across.

Added Gordon Hanson, an economist at University of California, San Diego: "It simply doesn’t make economic sense to build a fence along the entire border; in desert/mountain regions there are far more efficient ways to block entry than a fence in the middle of nowhere."

Our ruling

LaPierre wrote that "the president flagrantly defies the 2006 federal law ordering the construction of a secure border fence along the entire Mexican border."

First, he misrepresented what the law required, which was segments of fencing in specific places, not a continuous fence along the 2,000 mile border. Second, he ignored the 2007 amendment which gave the government some discretion over how to build the fence.

The fence that has been built -- just one mile short of what’s required -- is a combination of pedestrian fencing and vehicle barriers. To some critics that does not satisfy what Congress intended in 2006, and very little of it is double-layered. On that point, we think LaPierre’s statement contains a grain of truth.

Otherwise, though, it’s clear that Obama is not flagrantly defying the law, especially as resources toward other aspects of border enforcement are increasing.

We rate LaPierre’s statement Mostly False.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

Daily Caller, "Stand and Fight," Feb. 13, 2013

PolitiFact, "Obama says the border fence is ‘now basically complete,’" May 16, 2011

White House website under George W. Bush, Fact Sheet: The Secure Fence Act of 2006

Senate roll call vote, HR 6061, Sept. 29, 2006

Senate Judiciary Committee Holds Hearing on Comprehensive Immigration Overhaul Efforts, Feb. 13, 2013, transcript via

Email interview with Alex Nowrasteh, Cato Institute, Feb. 19, 2013

Email interview with Rosemary Jenks, Numbers USA, Feb. 19, 2013

Migration Policy Institute, "The Evolution of Border Controls as a Mechanism to Prevent Illegal Immigration," February 2011

Interview with Rey Koslowski, University of Albany, Feb. 20, 2013

Email interview with Gordon Hanson, University of California, San Diego, Feb. 20, 2013

PolitiFact, "Border is more secure, but not to everyone's satisfaction," Aug. 31, 2012

Email interview with Matthew Chandler, Department of Homeland Security, Feb. 19, 2013

Email interview with Louis DeSipio, University of California, Irvine, Feb. 20, 2013

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