WASHINGTON — As a farmer, Rep. Sam Graves says, he knows a thing or two about fences. And the Missouri Republican says he knows this for sure: It makes no sense to try to keep out illegal immigrants by building a "virtual fence" on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Standing in front of an iron fence Tuesday at a fence company in Kansas City, Mo., Graves called on Congress to pass a bill that would force the Department of Homeland Security to scrap its high-tech virtual fence and build a real fence instead.
"I know if I put up a virtual fence on my farm, it wouldn't keep any cattle in," Graves said. "It wouldn't work at all."
The congressman also has signed a petition that would force a vote in the House of Representatives on a separate bill that would add 8,000 Border Patrol agents and increase the size of the federal judiciary to deal with illegal immigrants.
In what's expected to be a tough election year for them, Republicans are trying to put the spotlight on a volatile issue that continues to poll well with their party's base.
Graves introduced the bill, called the Real Fence Act, earlier this month.
"I think we can get a lot of support for this," he said.
Earlier this month, the Bush administration outlined plans to begin operating portions of a virtual fence along the Southwestern border later this year. The DHS disputed news reports that a 28-mile pilot project to test the technology was a failure.
Top officials with U.S. Customs and Border Protection said they were on track to complete hundreds of miles of traditional fencing by the end of the year. But they acknowledged that disputes with Texas landowners could endanger their timetable.
Customs and Border Protection, a branch of the DHS, is charged with overseeing the construction of 670 miles of pedestrian and vehicle barriers to comply with a 2-year-old congressional mandate. The virtual fence — an array of sensors, cameras and other high-tech surveillance — is designed to complement the physical barriers.
(Dave Montgomery contributed to this article.)