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msnbc.com
updated 7/18/2011 1:31:00 PM ET 2011-07-18T17:31:00

Arizona lawmakers are hoping to raise around $50 million for border fencing with a new online public fundraising plan that launches Wednesday – despite skepticism from key stakeholders.

Under legislation signed by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer in April, the state would use inmate labor and money pulled in through the website to fence in some of the 82 miles of border between Arizona and Mexico that remain open.

Despite support from top state officials, the initiative is already facing problems. Private land owners and county sheriffs are skeptical that fencing even works and don’t plan on contributing, while the federal government may not even allow construction on its land.

Republican state Sen. Steve Smith, who sponsored the bill, is confident $50 million is an attainable goal. He said he has received an outpouring of positive responses to the plan.

“We get messages from all over of people saying they are right there with us,” said Smith in an msnbc.com interview. “From state after state after state people are responding, this is not just an Arizona problem. People are seeing the effect of illegal aliens in their own state too.”

Smith’s legislation also established a Joint Border Security committee, including state Senate and House members, as well as sheriffs and governor-appointed members. As money begins to roll in, Smith said members will decide what type of fencing will be constructed and where. The committee won’t be able to begin making decisions until they have an idea of how much money will be raised, Smith said.

Arizona has been successful in the past in similar initiatives. The state raised millions of dollars in web donations to help fight legal battles over the polarizing Arizona immigration legislation passed last year. This legislation gives police new powers to detain suspected illegal immigrants and requires residents to carry immigration documents.

Crowd funding tactics
The fencing initiative could be successful, if Arizona lawmakers use crowd funding tactics to raise money, said Slava Rubin, founder and CEO of IndieGoGo, an online crowd funding platform.

“They need to tap into social networking, and make it a community effort, as opposed to just a transaction,” Rubin said. “They need to make it very clear what they are raising money for, and make it personal and engaging.”

Rubin suggested Arizona lawmakers make a video pitch, and give contributors perks in return for donations. Smith said he plans on giving certificates to those who donate.

According to a January 2009 report from the federal Government Accountability Office, a mile of fencing can cost between $1 million and $3 million, depending on the type of fencing and terrain. Smith said it can be done for a lot less.

“We don’t know what kind of hometown discount we may get. We’re thinking we could get some of the fence donated,” he said. “With the inmate labor provision we also save a lot on construction costs.”

The website fundraising goal could still fall short. According to a Department of Homeland Security official, 82 miles remain unfenced between Arizona and Mexico. At the cheap end of the federal government’s estimates, the cost of fencing would be around $82 million.

Skeptics of the fence
Some of the biggest stakeholders in border security, including sheriffs and private land owners near the border, appreciate Smith’s efforts but said they aren’t sure they will donate.

Sheriff Larry Dever of Cochise County said border fencing simply doesn’t work. Dever is co-chair of bordersheriffs.com. Bordersherrifs.com is helping to fight the legal battles against Arizona immigration legislation.

“I think it’s well intentioned, but you can build all the fence you want to build and unless it’s the right kind of fence and unless you have the manpower to watch it, it’s of very little or no value,” Dever told msnbc.com. “The federal government has built a lot of fence and most of it has been inadequate in terms of actually stopping people from crossing.”

Some of the area that remains unfenced is on private land. Patrick Bray, executive vice president for the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association said members of his organization own land along the border.

“The border situation is so complex and so diverse that you truly need a more comprehensive plan to secure that border,” Bray said in an interview. “You can’t just have a fence built and walk away and say it’s done.”

Bray said his organization has not discussed donating to the fundraising initiative.

Harmful to the environment?
While Bray and Sheriff Dever find fencing ineffective, other organizations think border fencing is harmful. Defenders of Wildlife, a conservation group, has opposed the construction of border walls from the very start.

“We are in support of effective border security, but this isn’t even effective,” said Matt Clark, the southwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife. “It’s damaging to a wide range of species.”

In the past Defenders of Wildlife filed for a temporary restraining order to stop the construction of fences in conservation areas where they can fragment habitats. The court granted the restraining order, but the Department of Homeland Security later waived the order. Defenders then tried to appeal the waiver to the Supreme Court, but the Court decided against taking the case.

Even if Arizona raises enough money to construct fencing, the federal government could stand in the way of Smith’s plan. Smith said he hopes to build the fencing on an 18-foot-wide strip of federal land that runs along the entire border.

“I have a feeling we won’t have the permission to build the fence there,” he said.

A Department of Homeland Security spokesman declined to comment on Arizona’s plan in an email to msnbc.com. But under the Secure Fence Act of 2005, the federal government has already completed nearly all of 651 miles of planned fencing along the border – only two miles targeted under the legislation still stand open, with the construction tied up in pending litigation. This fencing doesn’t include the 82 miles of open border in Arizona.

Smith said the federal government hasn’t done enough to act on border security, and that has forced him to action.

“It’s like the John F. Kennedy mantra, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country,’” he said. “This is not just an Arizona problem, this is a national problem.”

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Photos: Illegal immigrant faces separation from family

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  1. Undocumented Mexican immigrant Jeanette Vizguerra embraces her U.S.-born children Luna, 7, and Roberto, 5, on July 10 in Denver, Colo. Vizguerra's three youngest children were all born in the Denver area. Just one of millions of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., Vizguerra first came to Colorado from Mexico City with her husband and first child 14 years before. Now an activist for the immigration advocate group Rights For All People, she also owns a janitorial service and says she has always paid state and federal taxes on her income. Two years ago she was stopped by a traffic officer for driving with expired tags and taken to jail, where she could not prove her legal immigration status. Vizguerra was facing a deportation hearing at Denver's Federal Courthouse. Out on bail, she says that if she is deported, the children will remain in the United States with her husband, Salvador. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Vizguerra speaks about immigrant rights issues with members of the Mexican community on July 10 in Denver. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Vizguerra cleans an apartment building on May 21 in Aurora, Colo. Vizguerra is a small business owner of a janitorial cleaning company, while her husband works as a truck driver and runs a household moving service. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Vizguerra shops with her daughter Luna, 7, at a specialty Mexican grocery store on July 11 in Aurora, Colo. With a large Mexican population in Colorado, large specialty grocery stores carry not only produce, but a full range of Mexican products. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Vizguerra unloads her car after grocery shopping on July 11 in Aurora. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Vizguerra dines with her family on July 10 in Denver. While she has dealt with her ongoing battle to remain in the U.S., her husband Salvador, who she came across the border from Mexico with more than 14 years before, has never been targeted by immigration officials for deportation. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Roberto Vizguerra, 4, and Luna Vizguerra, 7, both children of Mexican immigrant Jeanette Vizguerra, play while their mother meets with officials at the Mexican consulate in Denver on May 23. Vizguerra said that she petitioned the consulate for help after she was first detained by police more than two years ago, but officials only got in touch recently after news reports came out concerning her case. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. U.S.-born Zury Vizguerra, 5 months, gazes at her mother Jeanette Vizguerra, on July 10 in Denver. Vizguerra denies accusations that she bore children in the United States in order to get American social benefits, saying that she has never accepted services like food stamps. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Luna Vizguerra, 7, an American citizen born to an undocumented immigrant, looks out of her apartment window on July 11 in Aurora, Colo. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Jeanette Vizguerra, her husband Salvador and their children Luna, 7, and Roberto, 5, walk to her immigration hearing in federal court on July 13 in Denver. At the hearing, the court said it would not release its verdict on her possible deportation until October, leaving her and her family in continued uncertainty. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Supporters of Vizguerra show their support outside the federal courthouse where her immigration hearing was under way on July 13 in Denver. Immigrant rights groups in Aurora, Colo., have come together behind Vizguerra. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Visually shaken up after the hearing, Vizguerra said government prosecutors engaged in character assassination to tear down her reputation before the judge. The hearing ended in continued uncertainty for her and her family, with the court not expected to announce her fate until October. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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Video: Arizona's border wars

  1. Transcript of: Arizona's border wars

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: We're looking at some -- part of the new fallout tonight in Arizona , including protests, after a judge yesterday blocked the most controversial parts of that state's new immigration law that went into effect today. Now, as expected, Arizona has appealed the decision. Our own George Lewis is with us from the border at Nogales , Arizona . George , good evening.

    GEORGE LEWIS reporting: Good evening, Brian . The question is how much border security is enough? There are 20,000 border patrol agents now; that's twice as many as there were nine years ago. They're a major presence on the streets of Nogales , and soon they'll be joined by the National Guard . It's all in a day 's work for agent Rudy Garcia , helping his fellow border patrol agents round up people trying to cross illegally from Nogales , Mexico , into Nogales , Arizona . The heavy presence of border patrol agents here has kept the streets of Nogales safe, in spite of a raging drug war on the Mexican side of the border.

    Chief JEFFREY KIRKHAM (Nogales, Arizona, Police Department): There have been 130 on the Mexican side. We have not had a homicide here in three years.

    LEWIS: But out in the Arizona desert there is a different statistic. In July, authorities in Tucson recovered the bodies of 57 illegal immigrants who died in the heat. So far this year the death toll is 152. In the last 10 years, human rights groups say 1900 people have died trying to cross the border, most of their bodies winding up in unmarked paupers' graves, like these. Rancher John Ladd says the government needs to do more to secure the border in rural areas.

    Mr. JOHN LADD: We've been inundated and invaded, and I'm tired of it; and nothing's been done.

    LEWIS: But the Obama administration says it is doing plenty.

    Ms. JANET NAPOLITANO (Secretary of Homeland Security): The facts are that there are more border patrol in Arizona than there have ever been. The facts are that illegal immigration is going dramatically downward.

    LEWIS: And soon these border patrol agents will be joined by National Guard troops. This as the Obama administration tires to persuade Congress to move forward on immigration reform . Contrary to earlier reports, the Guard won't begin moving in on Sunday. There will be several weeks of preparations before

    that happens. Brian: All right. George Lewis on the US - Arizona border -- on the Arizona border with Mexico

    WILLIAMS:

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