The Mexican government reiterated its strong opposition to the measure.
WASHINGTON -- President Bush signed legislation Thursday to create a 700-mile border fence that would stretch along a third of the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border.
The barrier is to be constructed in tandem with a high-tech surveillance network known as the Secure Border Initiative, which the Boeing Corp. is developing for the Department of Homeland Security.
The Republican-controlled Congress approved the fence Sept. 29, but it hasn't approved funding for the four-state project, estimated to cost at least $2.2 billion.
DHS spokesman Russ Knocke said the department will begin developing plans for the reinforced fence after Congress appropriates funding. Lawmakers have approved $1.2 billion for border security, but most of that money will be used for the Secure Border Initiative, Knocke said.
Fence enters politics
Even with the uncertain timetable for construction, Republicans hope to use the new law as a vitally needed political boost in the days remaining before the Nov. 7 congressional elections, citing the fence as dramatic evidence that they're getting tough on border security and taking aggressive steps to combat illegal immigration.
Republicans are in danger of losing control of the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate because of a voter backlash over Iraq, disappointment with Bush, high energy prices and a spreading perception of corruption in the GOP-led Congress. GOP strategists believe the border-security message could make a difference by energizing conservative voters, although some analysts said it may be too little, too late.
"It's awfully late in the game for Republicans to make a significant impact in some of these races, but it never hurts to try," said Nathan Gonzales, political editor of the Rothenberg Political Report. "Republicans view immigration as a winning issue by rallying the base."
The government of Mexico on Thursday issued an "emphatic rejection" of the barrier, which also has met opposition from numerous U.S. towns and cities along the border. They fear it could hurt local economies and create ill will with neighboring communities in Mexico.
"I can't believe that Bush as a Texan really believes that bill would do anything good," said Jay J. Johnson-Castro, 59, a bed-and-breakfast entrepreneur in Del Rio, Texas, who walked 205 miles in 14 days to protest the fence.
Leading Republican lawmakers, however, previewing their message to the voters, hailed the fence as a big step toward protecting the border and charged that Democrats are weak on border security.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said two-thirds of House Democrats voted against the bill and "have forcefully attempted to thwart border security efforts."
The bill calls for three sections of fencing in Texas: a 51-mile stretch from Del Rio to Eagle Pass, 176 miles from Laredo to Brownsville and 88 miles stretching from El Paso westward to Columbus, N.M.