Group uses Web to urge high-tech border fence

Conservative organization calls on Congress to build a state-of-the-art fence along the southern U.S. border to stop illegal immigration into the country.

A conservative advocacy group is using the Internet to build grassroots support for a high-tech fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Let Freedom Ring, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit policy organization, supports conservative agendas on issues from stem-cell research to Social Security. Now the group has entered the political fray over an issue that has split the Republican Party: immigration.

The group is calling on Congress to build a state-of-the-art fence along the southern U.S. border to stop illegal immigration into the country. Let Freedom Ring has created a Web site, with options for users to post content on Web logs, send e-mail to friends, sign an online petition or give money.

"They've worked extraordinarily well," Colin Hannah, president of Let Freedom Ring, said of the site's features. He noted that the group has collected nearly 32,000 petitions, and 2,500 supporters have used the tell-a-friend option. The group also has spent $100,000 on television commercials and newspaper advertisements, and has lobbied members of Congress to introduce legislation.

Hannah said the group is "feeling our own way" on the blog. Offensive entries are being removed because he said the group does not want the technology to undermine the effort.

"I don't want to provide a forum for xenophobia," Hannah said. "There is a certain element of that in the overall support base for addressing the illegal immigration problem. But it is diametrically opposite to our own motivation. It could turn away the casual Web-site user."

Hannah said the efforts are gaining traction. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, recently introduced legislation to build a smaller version of the group's fence proposal. He said another lawmaker who represents a border state plans to introduce legislation "very close" to Let Freedom Ring's idea in the next couple of weeks. He declined to identify the lawmaker.

The group's site says it would cost the federal government $4 billion to $8 billion to erect a 2,000-mile fence with cutting-edge technology such as closed-circuit televisions, sensors and cameras. They propose having hundreds of "legal crossing points" for commerce, tourism and "legitimate commuting," such as border-crossing cards given to Mexican nationals to visit the United States for a stint of time.

The group said the substantial cost of the fence would be less than other proposals, such as hiring more border agents or buying more detention beds for illegal immigrants, and the fence would be more effective. Hannah also said Congress should build the fence before giving legal status to the millions of illegal immigrants now working in the country, as President Bush proposed.

"We contend that it is naive to assume that a guest worker program would be successful in the face of the continued level of illegal immigration -- over 1 million per year," Hannah said. "The border must be made secure, and then and only then should a guest-worker program be implemented."

The fence idea could win backing from a faction of the Republican Party with similar viewpoints on immigration who also oppose Bush's guest-worker proposal.