Another Perspective

Wall Power

One-third is not enough -- what will be short of a 2,000 mile security fence along the U.S.-Mexico border?

By 6.19.06

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Objections to current immigration reform plans emphasize -- appropriately -- whether or not amnesty should be granted to illegal aliens in the country. Senators are more favorable to the idea than are House members.

But where both sides fall short is on the idea of a border fence. The Senate proposes a 370-mile barrier, while the House favors 700 miles of security fencing. Despite the differences in length, both are less-than-half-measures, and thus inadequate.

Some politicians and "experts" are on the record as skeptics about any wall's effectiveness.

"The Berlin Wall did not work perfectly and the wall that the Israelis are putting up is not going to work perfectly," said former Secretary of State Colin Powell in Mexico City June 8. "So, a wall alone is not the answer."

"The United States has greatly increased its border enforcement over the last 12 to 15 years, in terms of fencing, and personnel and technology," said the Pew Hispanic Center's Roberto Suro to the Miami Herald recently. "If the goal was to reduce the size of illegal population, it hasn't worked."

I've not yet heard the argument from border wall reformists that a single long fence would be the perfect answer, so Mr. Powell has conjured another straw man argument, which is common among leniency proponents. Has a warden ever had to refute the argument that a prison wall won't "work perfectly"? Has a cattle farmer ever had to counter the notion that a fence "alone is not the answer"? But you can also bet that neither leave any gaps in their barriers.

And the idea that the last dozen years have represented a serious border crack-down effort, as Mr. Suro contended, is laughable. Sure, the number of Border Patrol agents during that time tripled to 11,000, and special enforcement projects (including a few miles of fence) were initiated in El Paso, Texas; Nogales, Arizona; and San Diego. But that comparatively small fraction of the borderline with Mexico hardly represents a comprehensive effort to stem the tide of crossovers.

These increased measures have not led to increased apprehensions of illegals, or diminished numbers crossing the border, but instead have shifted the traversers from urban areas to the desert. This is not surprising, given the wide swath of other unfenced frontier to choose from for entry into the U.S.

Which is why the Senate's 18 percent solution, and the House's one-third idea, as well as any other fraction thereof a full 2,000-mile fence would leave too much space for aliens to make a run for it. Well, OK, maybe walling up 98 percent of the line would do -- but you get my drift. The idea is, do whatever it takes to put a stop to it, and the evidence already shows that 370 or 700 miles fall far short of accomplishing the goal.

Some call the short wall "a good start," and it sure enough would be if we could count on the government to add to it at a reasonable time in the future. Problem is, we can't. Even the House, which accepts no less than zero amnesty and ending catch-and-release -- among other hard-line measures -- stops short when it comes to the border barrier.

The cost of a full-length wall, estimated to be somewhere between $4 billion and $8 billion, is the most-mentioned reason for not erecting one. But the national defense budget is well above $400 billion annually. Why couldn't one or more of those obsolete military bases be sold off to pay for it? The most recent round of BRAC measures are estimated to save the government about $49 billion. Add overseas realignments, and you get more than $64 billion in savings.

Others say a complete wall won't work because the immigrants will find a way around, under, or over it. But efforts to overcome obstructions have existed as long as men have built fences, and still that hasn't stopped them from building them.

Anything that makes an illegal pick up a shovel, climb a ladder, elude razor wire, or get into a boat or plane, makes it that much more difficult for him to break into the country. Add on to that wall more border agents, local law enforcement training, and stronger employer enforcement, as well as other measures, and you've got pretty good protection.

Our leaders in Congress need to decide if immigration reform is foremost a security bill, an economics bill, or an equal opportunity bill. If they see that the hot immigration debate is primarily about protecting America, as they should, then they must conclude that a one-third wall is woefully insufficient -- now and in the future.

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About the Author

Paul Chesser publishes CarolinaPlottHound.com, a news aggregator for North Carolina, and is a contributor of articles, research and investigative reports for both national and state-level free-market think tanks.