How the Virtual Border Fence Works

By: Jacob Silverman

Life along the U.S.-Mexico Border

Physical fencing is still considered essential in areas like this one, where Nogales, Arizona (left) is separated from Nogales, Mexico.
Physical fencing is still considered essential in areas like this one,where Nogales, Arizona (left) is separated from Nogales, Mexico.
Public domain image

So how might a border fence affect the people living on either side of it? Parts of the physical border fence are planned for territory that is Native American tribal land. Increased traffic, Border Patrol agents and National Guardsmen has already been a source of complaint for some ranchers. The 98-foot towers in place on the periphery of towns represent a potential eyesore, and their warning sirens could drive away tourists from some of the nearby ranches that also serve as secluded vacation spots.

The Rio Grande Valley provides an important case study for this debate. In the valley, the cities of McAllen, Texas, and Reynoso, Mexico, are separated by the Rio Grande. However, many residents of the towns simply consider McAllen and Reynoso to be one town with a river flowing down the middle [Source: NPR]. The proposed fence would separate these cities and has created an outcry among local residents. Some people work in one city and live in another, crossing the border daily. Families on one side of the border have relatives on the other. The area also depends significantly on its agricultural economy and on tourism. Over the last 30 years, $100 million has been spent restoring natural habitats in the area. Even a virtual fence with towers, vehicles and radar stations could split this cross-border community in two and upset the work that has been done to repair the river's ecosystem.


However, border fence advocates point to the human cost of illegal immigration. Since 1994, more than 3,000 people have died trying to cross the border into southern Arizona. A better secured and more vigilantly-monitored border may help to save the lives of migrants lost in this unforgiving landscape.

Because of the many concerns that have been raised, some towns have held meetings with Boeing officials and representatives of the Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security. Congressional representatives have introduced legislation designed to respond to the concerns of their constituents, while other groups have filed lawsuits in court.

We've discussed some of the concerns about the impact of the physical and virtual border fences and the costs involved, but will it work? Read on to find out.