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Smith says portions of privately funded border fence could go up soon

Sen. Steve Smith (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

Critics view Arizona’s plans to build a fence on the US-Mexico border as either foolhardy or simply political posturing, but the author of Arizona’s border fence project claims it could go up sooner than expected.

Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, said he’s in talks with a company to either donate or sell “several miles” of welded wire fencing at a really cheap price to the state.

If the company, Betafence, decided to donate the fence, his goal is to get something started on the US-Mexico border this year, the Republican senator said.

“We’re not waiting years and years and years to collect lots of money,” Smith said during a hearing of the Joint Legislative Border Security Committee today.

The Arizona Capitol Times called Betafence USA for confirmation, but the company, one of the biggest of its kind in the country, has yet to call back.

Actually, Smith said some fencing might be erected at little or no cost to Arizona.

The state will use inmate labor, and some construction companies have also indicated they’re willing to assist for free, he said.

“Think of it like an extreme home makeover. Well, let’s call it the extreme home border fence building project,” he said.

U.S.-Mexico border fence near Yuma, Ariz. as seen from the outskirts of San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico. (AP Photo/Guillermo Arias)

Donations to the border fence project have poured in since its website went online in July, but the $250,000 or so that it has received so far is only a drop in the bucket for the type of fencing that anti-illegal immigration hawks are clamoring to be erected along the US-Mexico line.

Cost estimates vary wildly, but the Congressional Budget Office in 2007 estimated the cost of a double steel fence to be about $1.5 million per mile, while a 2009 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office pegged the average cost at $2.8 million per mile.

All but 61 miles of Arizona’s border with Mexico are fenced, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The border has 123 miles of pedestrian fencing and an additional 183 miles of barriers, which prevent vehicles from crossing but don’t stop people on foot.

But many agree the type of fencing that exists is ineffective to stem the tide of illegal crossers.

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