Flashback: Tancredo on the virtual border fence boondoggle

The long-coming death of the Bush-era project to build a “virtual fence” along the U.S.-Mexico border was officially announced Friday. Since 2005, taxpayers have shelled out $15 million a mile for roughly 53 miles of networked cameras, ground sensors and radar that can’t tell the difference between swaying plants and border-hopping humans. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the Obama administration is scrapping the Boeing-contracted billion-dollar boondoggle in favor of “proven technologies” like chain link. Colorado anti-illegal immigration warrior and conservative politics icon Tom Tancredo last year said the Obama administration likely has mixed feelings about the end of the virtual fence project. He said the non-fence was great for Democrats because it served the dual purpose of making it seem like the country was addressing the flow of illegal immigration without actually addressing the problem.

“What I picture in my mind is an Obama administration bureaucrat, or perhaps Obama himself, getting the news, looking at the report that says the virtual fence won’t work and saying, ‘Oh dear,’ but being gleeful at the same time,” Tancredo told Westword last March when it became clear Obama would kill the project.

Tancredo said there’s no motivation for Democratic lawmakers to stop illegal immigration because illegal immigrants somehow become Democratic Party voters.

“There continue to be wide open areas where people can come into this country and become Democrat voters,” he said.

The virtual fence was a Bush response to the heated and often rancorous debate that saw conservative members of Congress led by Tancredo attack the president’s position on immigration. Pressured on border security, Bush Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the department would “build a 21st century virtual fence” and then announced it was awarding Boeing a three-year $67 million contract to quiet critics, thereby launching a new wave of criticism.

Tancredo told Westword in March the same anecdote about the fence that he shared with supporters on the stump last year when he was running for governor.

“This guy came up to me who lobbied for the chain-link-fence industry. He said, ‘We just got a new contract the other day. This great, big building has been constructed for the purpose of developing the virtual fence, but they’d had some vandalism.’ So they’d had to construct a huge chain-link fence around the building.”

[Image: There’s an expensive non-fence there somewhere. ]

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