Immigration Digest, Jan. 9-15: "Virtual" fence ditched, GOP immigration rift?

A U.S. Army National Guard soldier watches the U.S./Mexico border near Nogales, Ariz. in 2007. Flickr image credit Jim Greenhill

Obama ditches costly virtual border fence, a possible Republican rift on immigration and a legal challenge to local immigration enforcement were among the top stories of the week.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the end of the troubled SBInet, the Boeing Co.-run project that cost about $1 billion and aimed to guard the U.S.-Mexico border through video cameras, radar and sensors, saying that other technology would be used instead.

"This new strategy is tailored to the unique needs of each border region, providing faster deployment of technology, better coverage, and a more effective balance between cost and capability," Napolitano said in a statement, according to Reuters.

The fence project began under the Bush administration, and was touted as a high-tech tool to help seal the porous U.S.-Mexico border. Republicans have pushed for tougher border enforcement despite Obama administration officials’ claims that the border is more secure than ever before.

Politico reported that there might be a possible rift over immigration reform within the GOP. At a conference of Hispanic Republicans in Florida, where GOP leaders wanted to show its intention of reaching out more to the swelling population of Latino voters, the issue of immigration barely came up.

Conference organizers, which included former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, said that the party’s shift to tough-minded enforcement and opposition to amnesty had “hampered” its efforts with Latino voters, according to Politico.

(While the federal government doesn’t seem likely to take up a broad discussion of immigration during this Congress, state governments continue to push their own laws. The left-leaning American Immigration Council has a guide on state immigration laws.)

Another program that expanded under the Bush administration, 287(g), which gives local police immigration enforcement authority, faces a legal challenge in Tennessee after Nashville police detained a U.S. citizen suspected of being an illegal immigrant.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case about another U.S. citizen – this time a baby – who was deported along with her illegal immigrant father. The U.S. citizen mother of the child had accused the U.S. government of wrongfully removing the child from the country, but lower courts had ruled against the mother’s claim.

The Justice Department has tried to hire a slew of new judges to help address the backlogged immigration courts. But in the Denver court one of the two new judges will have to recuse herself from deportation cases directed by her husband, one of two deputy chief counsels with the local U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office.

A U.S Border Patrol agent in Southern California was arrested by federal agents and charged with harboring illegal immigrants -— including his fugitive father.

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