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On a fence at the U.S.-Mexican border

Resistance to fencing on the US southern border is building. Washington must stand firm.

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Enforcement of America's southern border is sizzling with controversy. This week, it was reported that the US will delay building an electronic "virtual fence." Texans, meanwhile, are resisting a solid barrier. It would be easy for Washington to give up this project, but it shouldn't.

It's a matter of trust. For decades, elected leaders have talked about better enforcement of immigration laws, such as tougher border controls and cracking down on illegal hires by employers. But when winds of resistance roar up like a prairie tornado, politicians run for shelter.

Yet Americans want lawmakers to do their job and to first uphold the law. That's why Congress wasn't able to pass a grand plan that covered enforcement, guest workers, and a path to citizenship for the 12 million illegal migrants in the US.

Their constituents' message was this: Show us that you can enforce the law on illegal migrants, then let's see what other solutions are needed. And so Congress approved a plan to add roughly 700 miles of fencing along the 2,000-mile border. It is one of several enforcement steps that include more border guards and prosecution of illegal migrants. As a result, border apprehensions are down substantially.

But as the administration takes Congress's lead, it's encountering serious roadblocks. The ones with the virtual fence may be easier to overcome than the political backlash against real fences in Texas.

A 28-mile pilot virtual fence, being built by Boeing in Arizona, is made up of radar, cameras, and border patrol agents in vehicles with laptops and satellite phones. But the system doesn't work in the field. Rain triggers the radar. Cameras can't resolve images. And so building the first phase of the fence is being delayed to the end of 2011 instead of the end of this year, according to the Washington Post.

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