Washington - US President George W Bush on Thursday gave final approval to building a 1,100-kilometre fence along the Mexican border to deter illegal immigration.
Bush signed the bill at a White House ceremony, saying the planned barrier - a double fence with a strip in the middle where border guards can patrol - is 'an important step in our nation's efforts to secure our border.'
Earlier this month, Bush signed a measure that doubles the number of US border patrol agents to 18,000 by 2008 and authorized an initial 1.2 billion dollars for the 6-billion-dollar fence project.
Plans include high-tech surveillance using cameras, infrared sensors, ground radar and satellites in a bid to gain control over the porous south-western US border from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.
US government officials say an initial, limited stretch of fence near San Diego has been a success in deterring illegal migrants.
Critics say the fence will not stop the many legal migrants who then overstay their visas, would enrich people-smugglers and complicates US-Mexican relations.
Mexican President-elect Felipe Calderon recently denounced the border fence, saying it will not work. Mexican officials have compared it to the Berlin Wall.
Bush has proposed broader immigration reform, including a guest worker programme and efforts to legalize an estimated 11 million unlawful residents in the US, but the effort is stuck in Congress.
Some 1.2 million people were arrested last year alone for entering the US illegally, most of them in unsettled desert areas in Arizona and New Mexico. Another 500,000 elude detection every year.
US Senator Edward Kennedy, an opposition Democrat who favours broad immigration reform, branded Bush's approval a populist tactic to aid his centre-right Republicans in their fight to keep control of both houses of Congress in November 7 elections.
'Enforcement alone and fences alone won't work,' Kennedy said in a statement.
With Thursday's law, Bush also launched a US government study on whether the nation needs and could build 'a state of-the-art infrastructure security system' along the northern land and sea border, most of which is with Canada.
© 2006 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur