Coming Up in CQ Researcher

U.S. Border Fence
America is rushing to build 670 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexican border by the end of the year. The fence, or wall, as many along the border call it, is to include 370 miles of fencing intended to stop illegal immigrants on foot and 300 miles of vehicle barriers. The Bush administration is using unprecedented authority granted it by Congress to waive environmental, historic and cultural protection laws to speed construction. No one claims that building physical barriers along roughly a third of America’s 2,000-mile southern border will stem illegal immigration by itself, but supporters believe it is an essential first step in “securing the border,” providing a critical line of defense against illegal migration, drug smugglers and even terrorists. Opponents see it as a multi-billion-dollar waste that will only shift illegal immigrants toward more dangerous and difficult routes into the country, while doing environmental, cultural and economic damage.
By Reed Karaim

Gay Marriage Showdowns
The California Supreme Court gave gay-rights advocates a major victory in May by ruling that the state’s constitution guarantees same-sex couples the same marriage rights as opposite-sex pairs. Thousands of same-sex couples from California and other states – since California does not have a residency requirement – have already taken advantage of the decision to obtain legal recognition for their unions. Opponents, however, have placed on the state’s Nov. 4 ballot a constitutional amendment that would deny marriage rights to same-sex couples by defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Similar proposals are on the ballot in Arizona and Florida. The ballot-box showdowns come as nationwide polls indicate growing support for some legal protection for same-sex couples, but not necessarily marriage equality. In California, early polls showed support for the ballot measure, but more recently it has been trailing. Meanwhile, marriage-equality cases are pending before state high courts in Connecticut and Iowa, with decisions expected soon. Massachusetts became the first state to legally permit gay marriage, in 2004.
By Kenneth Jost

Affirmative Action
Affirmative action has sunk deep roots in American higher education, government and business. But tension still runs strong between the ideal of choosing school and job candidate purely on merit, and requirements to factor in other criteria – including race. This November, ballot initiatives in at least two states would eliminate race, but not socioeconomic, preference. And big states including California, Florida and Texas are still struggling to reconcile legal mandates restricting the use of race in college admissions with the goal of increasing diversity. One stumbling block: affirmative action didn’t lessen the stunning disparities that plague elementary and high school education, disparities that often follow the color line. Still, the open racial hostility that marked opposition to affirmative action decades ago has faded. Even some race preference critics don’t want to eliminate it entirely. Instead, they’re exploring ways to keep diversity without eroding admission and hiring standards.
By Peter Katel