The Arizona Legislature wrapped up its session last week, sending more than 60 bills to Gov. Jan Brewer for approval.
Among them is a bill, introduced by first-term district 23 senator and Maricopa resident Steve Smith, that would allow the state of Arizona to build a border fence.
“This is the main issue I worked this session, and I am hopeful the governor will sign off on the bill,” Smith said. “It would help fix a major issue plaguing the state.”
Smith’s immigration bill, SB 1406, proposes the creation of a website to garner funds for the construction of the fence and the use of inmate labor to build it.
“Inmates built a fence in Douglas; there is no reason they could not build a fence across the remainder of the state,” Smith said. “By using this inmate labor we eliminate one of the largest costs of building the fence.”
Since Smith introduced the bill he has garnered national attention, making appearances on Fox News and other programs. He said whenever he is out among his constituents, they indicate to him their willingness to make donations to help fund the project.
In terms of the actual cost of the fence Smith said that is currently not clear. “It really depends upon what type of fence the state decides to build,” he said. “That will be decided by the Joint Border Security Advisory Committee.”
Brewer had until Monday to sign the bill and has yet to comment on any of the pending pieces of legislation. She can veto a bill or take no action, thus allowing a bill to become law. Measures signed by the governor take effect on July 20, unless they include an emergency clause or some other stiplulation is attached.
Smith has talked with Brewer about the fence, but he said the governor did not give him any insight into the way she will act on the legislation.
However, he remains hopeful.
“She (Brewer) appointed more than half the members on the border committee, and that group helped form this legislation,” he said. “I don’t know how anyone could say no to this.”
In a letter released Tuesday Gov. Brewer asked President Barack Obama to extend the National Guard's stay at the state's border with Mexico instead of ending the deployment at the end of June. Since October roughly 560 troops have been at the Arizona border.
Update: On Thursday Gov. Brewer authorized erection of a security fence along the Arizona-Mexico border, either in an agreement with other states or by itself. No comment was forthcoming as to why the governor signed the bill early.
“The federal government has put states like Arizona on the back burner for far too long, making flawed claims that the border has never been more secure,” Smith said. “Many in my district have seen the terrors of drug cartels, gang activity, death and destruction of the land firsthand.”
Smith points to the the border fence built in the in Yuma, where illegal crossings have declined more than 90 percent, as evidence that constructing a great wall will slow the flow of illegal immigration.
“It is the proof building a fence works,” Smith said.
Wednesday at a meeting of the Joint Border Security Advisory Committee, Yuma County Chief Deputy Leon Wilmot said, before the wall was built, he responded to reports of robberies, smuggling, rapes and killings on a daily basis. Since its construction, he added, reports now are almost non-existent.
The fence in the Yuma sector was completed in 2006 by the federal government and is a triple-layered wall, standing 20-feet high. The fence is reinforced by cement-filled steel piping, steel mesh and wire.
The shape the new fence will take is currently unknown, and, according to Smith, its direction is up to the state’s Joint Border Security Advisory Committee.
To construct the fence the state will utilize donations garnered through private parties, inmate labor and volunteer help.
According to Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan, there are currently about 6,000 prison inmates available and qualified for this kind of work.
To collect donations, a website will be launched and maintained by the Joint Border Security Committee. The address of that website is not currently available.
“There is a real desire to get this project done,” Smith said.