Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin has asserted that a fence constructed by Israeli along its southern border had reduced instances of illegal immigration in the country by 99 percent. The GOP lawmaker has proposed basing a potential wall along the U.S.-Mexico border on the Israeli fence.
On Feb. 3, Johnson asserted that Israel's Sinai border fence had almost completely halted undocumented immigration from the south.
"Israel ... had a real problem with illegal immigrants coming in from the southern border, about 16,000 in one year," Johnson told CNN. "In two years, they constructed 143-mile fence, about $2.9 million per mile, and it cut that illegal rate from about 16,000 to I think 18. Cut it by 99 percent."
The Wisconsin lawmaker added "Fencing walls work. And so we need to learn the lessons from Israel. They are under a constant state of threat ... They've dealt with it pretty effectively."
The nonpartisan fact-checking website PolitiFact rated Johnson's statement as mostly true, finding that the data that he had provided was accurate but had omitted other factors that contributed to the reduction of illegal immigration in Israel.
The Sinai border fence, which covers the 143-mile expanse between Israel and Egypt, was completed in 2013. Independent experts agree that illegal immigration from Israel's southern border has dropped by 99 percent since its peak, but that other policies contributed.
"While the numbers show a dramatic decrease in the number of entries, the amount of credit attributed to the fence is an issue of serious debate in Israel," said Yonatan Jakubowicz, director of research and public relations for the Israeli Immigration Policy Center.
Jakubowicz attributed the reduction in illegal border crossings to the 2012 passage of Israel's Anti-Infiltration Law, which called for illegal border crossers to be detained for up to three years if caught. The implementation of that stiff penalty resulted in an immediate reduction in border crossings even before the Sinai fence was completed.
"Personal interviews and close inspection of migrant diaspora news outlets show that the combination of the fence and the immigration policies are to be attributed to these numbers, and not the fence alone," Jakubowicz concluded.
Johnson, who is the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, has proposed basing President Donald Trump's proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border on the Sinai fence. After a diplomatic trip to Israel, Johnson compiled a report touting the Sinai fence's effectiveness and the fact that it only cost $2.5 million per mile.
In Johnson's view, constructing a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border modeled after the Sinai fence would be more effective and cheaper than a building a concrete wall.
"You'd need some serious tools to cut through this fence," Johnson noted, according to the Washington Examiner. "You can also see through it, which is important."
Political geography professor Reece Jones of the University of Hawaii-Manoa has cautioned against comparing Israel's Sinai border with the U.S.-Mexico border. Jones noted that the Sinai border is only 150 miles while the U.S.-Mexico border stretches for nearly 2,000 miles. In addition, the geography of the two borders are different.
"Most of the Israeli fence goes through open, arid terrain," Jones said in an interview with PolitiFact. "Easy to access, easy to build, easy to monitor with agents."