SUNLAND PARK, N.M. – Amid a debate over erecting a new border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, the U.S. Border Patrol said it is finishing an 18-foot-tall steel fence in the last stretch of unwalled, urban borderline in New Mexico.
Officials said the new fencing will run a mile from the bottom of a mesa to the base of tourist attraction of Mount Cristo Rey, the Albuquerque Journal reported.
Currently, a run-down, 10-foot-high chain-link fence sits in the area and border patrol agents say it can be easily climbed and offers little protection in the city of Sunland Park. The city sits just west of El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
The new fence will be made of rust-colored steel columns and is part of an $11 million project authorized by the Bush Administration, the Secure Fence Act of 2006. It will supplant the chain link fencing erected in the 1980s. The new barrier will be reinforced 5 feet underground with steel panels to prevent smugglers from building underground tunnels.
"It's a fence that is replacing another fence," Border Patrol spokesman Ramiro Cordero said. "It doesn't hold anymore."
Construction is expected to finish early in 2017.
But the new project is drawing scrutiny from some immigrant rights advocates. Activists hold rallies here and reunions where undocumented Mexicans in the U.S. can meet. For example, on Mexico's Day of the Dead, Nov. 2, advocates hold a binational Mass to honor the migrants who have died trying to cross in the U.S. illegally through the arid desert
"In our opinion, the fencing has not necessarily been a good deterrence for immigration," said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the El Paso-based immigrant advocacy group Border Network for Human Rights. "But it does represent a symbolic response, a very aggressive response, to immigrants and the border community."
A Cronkite News-Univision News-Dallas Morning News border poll released last month found a majority of urban residents surveyed on both sides of the border are against the building of a wall between the two countries and believe the campaign's tone is damaging relations.
According to the poll, 86 percent of border residents in Mexico and 72 percent of those questioned in the U.S. were against building a wall.
The poll surveyed 1,427 residents in 14 border sister cities to assess attitudes and opinions on the local economy, immigration and border security. It was conducted in April and May.
The issue of the border wall has garnered national attention since GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump has vowed to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The U.S.-Mexico border is already lined with intermittent miles of barriers. In some places, a tall fence ascends desert hills. In others, sturdy wire mesh or metal pillars end suddenly.