A state-sponsored Web site to collect donations to build fencing along Arizona's border with Mexico has been launched – and it could rake in tens of millions of dollars, a supporter says.
The state went live with buildtheborderfence.com on Wednesday. The initial goal is to raise some $50 million.
"It's not my end goal. If we can raise $50 million, we're off to a fabulous start," said state Sen. Steve Smith, a first-term Republican who sponsored the legislation for the fencing project.
The web site wasn't launched without precedent. Gov. Jan Brewer's legal-defense site for the SB 1070 law collected $3.8 million.
The money raised was for "an intangible service — you're paying for a lawyer," Smith said. "This, you can taste and smell what you're getting — you're paying for a secure border."
The launch of site was keyed to Wednesday being the date most new laws passed during the Legislature's 2011 regular session go into effect.
What the money will actually buy has yet to be determined. A border security advisory committee consisting of legislators, state agency directors and county sheriffs will make recommendations to the Legislature on how and where to spend the money.
The fencing would go on private or government land. The federal government will be asked to allow construction of fencing on its easements along the border, but Smith said he also has specific state-owned and private land in mind.
While Arizona lawmakers this year rejected several immigration enforcement measures opposed by business groups, the border fence measure didn't get as much attention.
Democratic lawmakers said it was misguided and a piecemeal approach to border security and immigration issues that should be tackled more comprehensively.
More recently, the Sierra Club said strengthened border barriers can damage the environment by causing flooding and blocking wildlife.
Smith and other Republicans argue that the federal government hasn't done enough to secure the border from crossings by undocumented immigrants, drug smugglers and terrorists.
The website's initial home page shows a location on the border where fencing currently consists of a series of vertical posts to bar vehicle crossings. In the foreground, ranch barbed-wire fencing intended to restrain livestock has a big gap.
The site also includes a state official's declaration that donations may qualify as state and federal income tax deductions. But it says donors should consult their tax advisers about that.
Smith said he expects the site's content will be updated as soon as Thursday, once it is determined that its donation application is up and running reliably.
He said the advisory committee will get regular updates on how much money is raised, and a running tally may be added to the site itself.
"We're going to be extraordinarily open and transparent to the penny of what we have," he said.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.