Old fences along the Arizona-Mexico border would be replaced and the federal government would build 25 miles of new barricades in the desert under a plan the Senate Judiciary Committee attached yesterday to a sweeping immigration bill, USA Today says. The committee also ordered the Border Patrol to hire 12,000 new agents over the next two years, more than doubling the current force. The senators did not include any money in their proposal to pay for the new hires or fences. Officials say that the agency would be unable to train such an influx of new agents because they lack adequate facilities.
Lawmakers put off action on contentious issues such as whether to make illegal presence in the U.S. a federal crime. The committee is trying finish work by a March 27 deadline imposed by GOP leaders. Congress faces mounting pressure from constituents to overhaul the immigration system, but it is unlikely the bill will become law during an election year. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Az.), who wrote the fence plan, said similar fencing near El Paso, and San Diego helped move human and drug smuggling to Arizona. Arizona, the most heavily trafficked state for illegal immigration, was the site of more than half of the 1.2 million arrests by the Border Patrol in fiscal 2005.