Monday, January 14, 2008

The Border Fence: An Exercise in Stupidity

I really hope that the next president lets the border fence idea die. It's so incredibly stupid. Republicans, in particular Mitt Romney, are finding that attacking immigration is a losing strategy. The border fence is completely pointless and is opposed by a vast majority of people living on the border, whether Republican or Democratic, white or Latino. Why do they oppose it? Because they know that it is utterly worthless. As Arizona governor (and hopefully a finalist for the Democratic vice-presidential nomination) Janet Napolitano has stated repeatedly, you can build a 12 foot fence, but people will climb it with 13 foot ladders. That is absolutely true.

Attacking immigration isn't about national security. It's not about terrorism. It's not about saving American jobs. It's about keeping brown people out of the country. The fence is being built for no practical reason, but because it is popular with conservative white voters in Nebraska, Iowa, and North Carolina--states that are all of a sudden seeing Latino immigration.

Certainly those on the border are as concerned about security as anyone else. They are the ones who actually deal with the drugs that cross everyday. They have to pick up the trash the migrants leave on their property. They have to deal with the crime that our idiotic immigration policy leads to. And they know that the fence won't make a damn bit of difference in stopping this.

The fence is an environmental disaster, as I and many others have discussed previously. Moreover, the fence is a classic top-down idea from the federal government that completely ignores conditions on the ground. And people on the border are not happy, as this Times article shows. The fence will cut across people's property, cutting them off from their family land and destroying their property values. In response, the government has started making adjustments, but each change makes the idea even more absurd. Now there are supposed to be gates in the fence. They are also going to have the fence start and stop in various places, leading one woman in the article to point out that part of her house would be on the fence and part would not. Great.

What is going to happen if the fence is built? It will drive immigrants into ever more remote areas of the border, leading to higher rates of death on the crossing. It will undermine habitat for many animals, particularly the jaguar which is reappearing in the mountains on the Arizona-New Mexico border just north of the international boundary. It will lead to more tunnels under the border and ladders over the fence. It will lead to local people finding ways to just ignore the thing. I have personally talked to a rancher on the US side of the border who openly admitted to cutting a hole in the fence so that he and ranchers on the Mexican side can exchange cattle when they wander across. That is not going to change.

The border fence is just a stupid idea. It accomplishes nothing good. It's expensive, environmentally damaging, and opposed by almost everyone who lives on the border. Can we just drop the whole idea and instead come up with an immigration policy that is actually useful?