© 2011 The Associated PressPHOENIX — Arizona officials are gearing up for a July 20 launch of a website to accept donations to pay for construction of additional fencing along the state's portion of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Under legislation approved in April, the state would use donated money and inmate labor to build additional fencing along parts of the border, likely on state or privately owned property.
With illegal immigration and other border-related concerns still prominent in the state, Republican lawmakers who supported the fence legislation see the fundraising project simply as a way to pay for helping secure the border.
"It's because the federal government won't do it and because the state doesn't have the money to do it," said state Sen. Steve Smith, a Maricopa Republican lawmaker who sponsored the fence bill.
Smith said current plans call for the site to go live at 12:01 a.m. MST on July 20, the date when most laws passed during the Arizona Legislature's 2011 regular session take effect.
A kickoff event will follow that evening in Casa Grande, in Smith's legislative district. Two prominent Republican state officials, Senate President Russell Pearce and Attorney General Tom Horne, plan to participate.
Later on, there will be other launch events in Arizona, with efforts being made to line up participation by a presidential candidate to help net publicity, he said. "It's all about scheduling."
Smith is declining to publicly release the site's address in advance of the launch, saying it could confuse or frustrate potential donors.
The nearly 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometre) U.S.-Mexico border already has about 650 miles (1,050 kilometres) of fence of one type or another, nearly half of it in Arizona. The state's border is the busiest gateway for both illegal immigrants and marijuana smuggling.
Republican Gov. Jan Brewer signed the fence bill on April 28 after it easily won approval by the Republican-led Legislature on party-line votes.
While Republicans said the state has a legal and moral obligation to act, Democrats questioned the project's feasibility. They also called it a feel-good distraction from pressing for more comprehensive action on border and immigration issues.
While many facets of the project remain to be worked out, including exactly what type of fencing would be built where and at what cost, arrangements for the fundraising component aren't starting from scratch.
Smith said he's working through details to launch the site through the state's existing web-portal contract, and said the new site will be modeled after the successful site that Gov. Jan Brewer has already used for a year to collect millions of dollars of donations.
That money is being used to pay for the state's legal defense of SB1070., the controversial immigration enforcement law that was enacted in 2010. Implementation of key provisions of that law have been blocked by a federal judge pending the outcome of a legal challenge.
The fence website, Smith said, will feature a picture of the border and a "relatively concise" description of the perceived situation — "drugs, illegals, terrorists, so on and so on" — to explain it to Americans across nation.
"We're going to have some bullet points on what is going on on the border," Smith said. "It's not just the migrant worker coming over.