On the Texas-Mexico border, the rust-colored wall along the Rio Grande, an 18-foot-high barrier of concrete-reinforced steel with gaps every quarter mile or so, undulates over farmland, wetland and desert at a cost of $20 million per mile. Since the river meanders, the wall encroaches on private property, cuts through the UT-Brownsville campus, isolates an American nature preserve, disturbs animal life and disrupts lives and commerce on both sides of the border.
In the words of Texas border residents, the wall is nothing more than “a billion-dollar speed trap,” “a political fence,” “purely symbolic.”
To be more precise, it is an ugly symbol of a nation that has lost its bearings over border security. Even a Border Patrol spokesman conceded recently that its impact is minimal when it comes to impeding the flow of undocumented border-crossers and illegal drugs.
For far-off politicians in Washington, officials who are often betrayed by border stereotypes, the wall — nearly 700 miles have been completed — is an easy, albeit expensive substitute for serious immigration reform. What they don’t understand is that the billion-dollar barrier has little to do with border security, which — however it’s defined and measured — can be achieved only by enacting a number of interrelated measures that discourage illegal immigration and encourage legal immigration and binational interdependence.
A dose of reality would help. However vigilant border law enforcement, however sophisticated the equipment, however high the fences (in the San Diego area, ladders are available for $35 a climb), the U.S.-Mexican border will never be completely secure.
Disdain for the wall does not mean disdain for smart border-security efforts. Last year, the Obama administration spent $18 billion on border security and immigration enforcement; much of that money has gone toward deportations and border surveillance. As a result, the Government Accounting Office has found that 81 percent of the border meets one of three top levels of security, as defined by the Department of Homeland Security.
Realistic border security does not rely on walls. After all, most drug-smuggling occurs through ports of entry.
Valley residents will tell you that funding for ports of entry has been neglected in recent years, which means that illegal trafficking in drugs and commerce gets through while legitimate commerce and cross-border human connections are impeded. That disparity doesn’t make sense.
True border security involves working with Mexico to sustain its growing economy, thus providing a viable alternative to citizens who might have considered making the dangerous trek north in a desperate attempt to feed their families. It also means working to reduce the demand in this country for illegal drugs.
True border security does, indeed, mean “boots on the ground” — to use Gov. Perry’s favorite phrase — to make sure that the horrendous drug-cartel violence on the Mexican side doesn’t bleed over onto this side. It’s important to note that border cities, so far, remain some of the safest in the United States.
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano was in Houston recently, discussing border security with state and local stakeholders. What she called “common-sense immigration reform” included not only strengthening security but also “supporting the travel and trade that are vital to our economy.” Those kind of efforts make sense, not building more walls.