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In 2006, both the House and Senate passed Comprehensive Immigration Reform bills.  Each contained hundreds of miles of border wall, inserted as a bone to lure conservative support.  The bills differed on a number of points, including the number of miles of wall to be built.  When a conference committee convened to craft a final bill they were unable to work out their differences, and immigration reform died in committee.  From its ashes Congress pulled the one thing that they could agree on: 700 miles of border wall.  

The stated goal of the Secure Fence Act was to "achieve and maintain operational control over the entire international land and maritime borders of the United States."  Nearly 3 years later, most of the border walls that it mandated are complete. Time to dust off the "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED" banner and hang it on the border?

Apparently not.  This month Senator Jim DeMint, whose home state of South Carolina is closer to Canada than Mexico, inserted an amendment into the Senate’s bill funding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  It changes the Secure Fence Act to say that, "Fencing that does not effectively restrain pedestrian traffic (such as vehicle barriers and virtual fencing) may not be used to meet the 700-mile fence requirement."  

As of July 17, DHS claims to have completed 331 miles of "pedestrian fencing" and 302 miles of vehicle barriers.  If DeMint’s amendment makes it through the House/Senate Conference Committee and is signed into law, the border wall will suddenly be 369 miles short of its new mandate.  DHS will probably replace many of the 302 miles of vehicle barriers with "pedestrian fence," inflicting tremendous environmental damage in the process.  That leaves at least 67 miles of brand new border wall to be built in places that are currently unwalled.  With California, Arizona, and New Mexico largely walled off, those new border walls will most likely be built in Texas.

So far, Congress has given the Department of Homeland Security $3.1 billion for border wall construction.  The Army Corps of Engineers reported that between February and October of 2008 the cost of building walls increased by 88%, from an average of $3.5 million per mile to $7.5 million per mile.  Some sections of border wall are particularly expensive:  the levee-border wall combination in South Texas averaged $12 million per mile; in California, a 3.5 mile section that involved filling in canyons cost taxpayers $57 million.  

If the Secure Fence Act succeeded in achieving "operational control" of the border, why should we spend no less than (and quite possibly a lot more than) $2,767,500,000.00 to build 369 miles of new border wall?

First and foremost, the border wall has failed to stop either immigrants or smugglers from entering the United States.   The majority enter through ports of entry, rather than crossing the desert on foot or the Rio Grande on an inner tube, so walls erected between the ports have no effect on them.  And according to the Border Patrol, even those who find the wall directly in their path are only slowed down by around 5 minutes.  As Border Patrol spokesperson Mike Scioli said,

"The border fence is a speed bump in the desert."

Professor Wayne Cornelius, with the University of California at San Diego, has spent more than a decade interviewing immigrants before and after they cross the border.   His research has revealed that, even with border walls,

"fewer than half of migrants who come to the border are apprehended, even once, by the Border Patrol. ... [T]he apprehension rate found in these studies varied from 24% to 47%. And of those who are caught, all but a tiny minority eventually get through – between 92 and 98 percent, depending on the community of origin. If migrants do not succeed on the first try, they almost certainly will succeed on the second or third try."

Professor Cornelius goes on to conclude,

"the eventual success rate is virtually the same for migrants whose most recent crossing occurred before 1995, when the border was largely unfortified, and those crossing in the most recent period. In other words, the border enforcement build-up seems to have made no appreciable difference in terms of migrants’ ability to enter the United States clandestinely."

So why would Senators, ranging from alleged fiscal conservatives such as Texas Republican John Cornyn to New York Democrat Charles Schumer, vote to spend nearly $3 billion on more border walls when those already erected do not work?  

Simply put, for those politicians who do not live beside the border, and do not count on the votes of those who do, the border wall is an abstraction.  The reality that the border wall has little or no impact on border crossers is irrelevant.  The reality that more than 300 property owners have had their property condemned is irrelevant.  The reality that federally designated wilderness areas and wildlife refuges have been severely impacted is irrelevant.  The Senators who voted for more border walls were voting for a symbol, nothing more.

Even the Department of Homeland Security recognizes this fact.  After DeMint’s amendment was adopted, DHS spokesman Matt Chandler told the Wall Street Journal that it is,

"designed to prevent real progress on immigration enforcement and [is] a reflection of the old administration's strategy: all show, no substance."

Senator Schumer, who will be introducing a Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill around Labor Day, wrote in an op-ed, "I voted to require the Department of Homeland Security to construct significant fortifications to the border fence" as proof that he is, "serious about securing the border."  He did not bother to defend the effectiveness of the border wall, because that was not the point.  The wall that he voted for is simply a symbol, meant to show that immigration reform and border enforcement can go arm in arm.

Senator Schumer seems to think that by voting for more walls, and more than likely including border walls in his Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill, he can appease conservatives like Cornyn and gain their votes.   If so, he is deluded.  No matter how much of the borderlands the bill sacrifices for the sake of empty gestures, immigration reform will not woo conservatives.  It is far more likely that Schumer will instead see a repeat of 2006, in which the only part of Comprehensive Immigration Reform that makes it to the President’s desk is hundreds of miles of border wall.

Our nation desperately needs immigration reform.  But as Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said this past February,

"you cannot build a fence from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas, and call that an immigration policy."


It is a message that Congress sorely needs to hear.

Originally posted to No Border Wall on Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 07:16 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I am not opposed to the border fence (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mike Taylor, wishbone

    I will say this: aside from possible environmental concerns*, I have no problem with the border fence as part of a comprehensive reform of the immigration system.

    I don't get why it is seen as progressive to oppose the border fence.  You mentioned that most people do not cross over the open desert.  I agree and I think we should take steps to keep it that way.  The crossing over the open desert is fatal to many people every year.  I'm sure if we tried to tighten security at ports of entry, it would just encourage more people to try the dangerous desert crossing.

    The arguments against the fence in this dairy, and my rebuttals are

    1. The Cost: (c'mon, peanuts)
    1. It isn't where people are crossing now: (good, and let's keep it that way, even if we tighten security at the ports of entry)
    1. It is not a substitute for better enforcement and/or immigration reform: (agreed, but it isn't antithetical to it either)

    I really don't get the problem.

    * I am willing to entertain environmental concerns, although it is interesting that I have not gotten an e-mail from NRDC or Sierra Club about the border fence ever

    All this wasted time learning and acquiring skills... And all along I should have just squinted to see Russia

    by fizziks on Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 07:38:56 PM PDT

    •  Google "jaguars border fence" (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      la urracca, No Border Wall

      and you come upon a great deal of information, including

      They tortured people to get false confessions to fraudulently justify our invading Iraq.

      by MufsMom on Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 08:23:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Hard to see billions of dollars as peanuts (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mariachi mama, la urracca

      when teachers are being laid off due to budget shortfalls. (re: rebuttal #1)

      #2 People are crossing between the ports, and through the deserts. The border wall is simply ineffective at stopping them.  That is why the Border Patrol calls it a "speed bump" and estimates that it only slows a crosser by 5 minutes.

      #3 Real immigration reform - not walls - has the potential to reduce undocumented immigration.  The people who risk their lives to cross through the desert, or who pay a coyote $3,500 to smuggle them through a port of entry, would almost certainly choose to enter and work legally if given the option.  The same paper by Wayne Cornelius that is linked above says that the average wait time for Mexican nationals to be granted entry to the US ranges from 12 years for the unmarried child of a US citizen to 192 years for the over 21 year old son or daughter of a Legal Permanent Resident.  If people were able to enter legally, the Border Patrol could spend all of its time chasing smugglers.

      As for environmental groups:

      The Sierra Club has produced a 20-minute documentary about the border wall's environmental impacts:

      The latest issue of the Defenders of Wildlife's magazine has an 8-page article about the border wall:

      The Audubon Society has run a couple of articles about the damage caused by the border wall.  Their Sabal Palms refuge will be walled off in the next few weeks:

    •  It is a terrible, terrible project... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      coigue, fizziks, mariachi mama

      The effect on the enviroment & ecosystems ( and it has already cause terrible flooding problems) are likely to be very grave.

      And in Mexico, the joke is " 10 foot walls? 11 foot ladders!"

      But the truth is, illegal immigration is WAY, way down...

      In years to come, we will look back with regret at the wall...much as is now being done with the excessive damming of rivers that was done earlier in this century.
      NOW we start to understand the ecological price that was paid for that...

  •  I don't know. It seems... (0+ / 0-)

    "you cannot build a fence from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas, and call that an immigration policy." work for the Israelis. I keep getting the feeling that people opposed to the fence don't really care about the effects (including the adverse environmental effects) of illegal immigration.

  •  the fence will do no favors to wildlife (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mariachi mama, la urracca

    and the Rio Grande communities along it.

    Texas: Molly Ivins, Barbara Jordan, Lady Bird & LBJ, Ann Richards, Sam Rayburn, Dan Rather, Ike, Sully Sullenberger, Lloyd Bentsen. It's No Bush League!

    by BlackSheep1 on Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 08:04:35 PM PDT

  •  There are species that will likely (4+ / 0-)

    go extinct if this succeeds-the jaguars being one.  They breed on one side of the border and live on the other.  This is not immigration polict.  Not.

    They tortured people to get false confessions to fraudulently justify our invading Iraq.

    by MufsMom on Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 08:18:02 PM PDT

  •  Ech. So unbelievably ridiculous! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    coigue, mariachi mama, la urracca

    One minute we're praising human ingenuity (we mapped the human genome, ferchrissakes).  The next minute, we think a wall will keep out a bunch of desperate humans.

    Duh!  Hasn't evolution taught us anything???  The instinct to live + human ingenuity can accomplish anything (ie: fire, cars, prostitution, bouncy houses, rollercoasters, etc)!

    For you doubting thomases/mythology/bible lovers out there - hell - Noah built like this HUGE ARK like all by himself, and managed to round up TWO of EVERY SINGLE species on earth (ever tried to corral a roach?  Or a lizard?  Or a Cheney?  They're pretty slippery!) onto a boat!  And made sure none of them ate eachother on the voyage!!! And you think some desperate, starving mexican can't build a 20 1/2 foot ladder to get over a 20 foot wall????!!!!~~~??? Or for that matter doesn't know how to use a shovel?  Jeez. Alot of them do work in landscaping after all.

    Puhleeze!  And as a swimmer, I take personal offense at the idea that we can build a WALL across a RIVER!!! Ugh, the ignorance astounds me!

    The only thing a fence/wall does is destroy the ecosystem of the land we're supposedly defending.  This whole idea is a sham and a ruse to take more of our money to provide a false sense of security - and destroy more of our vital landscape/wildlife in the process.

    You have the right to free speech... As long as you're not dumb enough to actually try it! -The Clash

    by DemandTruth on Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 08:29:00 PM PDT

    •  The Great Wall of China worked pretty well for... (0+ / 0-)

      the Chinese.

      BTW: the border fence also goes some amount of feet under ground so you can't really use a shovel.

      Also, the fence has sensors and cameras to detect people using a latter.

      •  New tunnels are found every day (0+ / 0-)

        and people of all ages climb the wall.

        Last month's headline:
        Drug tunnel discovered beneath U.S-Mexico border

        NOGALES, Ariz. (AP) — Another tunnel apparently dug by drug smugglers has been found beneath the U.S.-Mexico border in Nogales, Ariz.

        Scioli said it's the 63rd smuggling tunnel found beneath the border in the Nogales area since October 1995, and the 16th since last October.

        •  Those most be old fences. The new ones are... (0+ / 0-)

          higher tech.

          •  I live 4 miles from a "new one" (0+ / 0-)

            and frankly, you don't know what you are talking about.

            The design specs for some of the border wall designs have concrete bases that sink 6 feet into the ground, because otherwise the 18-foot high steel walls would tip over.  If you are digging a tunnel under the border and it is not at least 6 feet deep the roof will cave in when a border patrol jeep drives above it.

            Other designs sit entirely on top of the ground rather than digging deep.  These include the walls built on sand dunes, and those which rest on top of flood control levees.  

  •  It is pointless, is an environmental nightmare (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    coigue, la urracca, No Border Wall

    hurts those who live along yhe border, espicially along the Rio Grande and costs a ridiculous amount of money.

  •  But, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    coigue, la urracca

    the border fence is so a 1960s Berlin Wall kinda way. I live 20-some miles away and so I only see it when I go that way but it is tall and black and a true waste of money and time.

    Not to forget, the wonderful message it sends to our "sister city" on the other side of that black metal monstrosity.

    The Great Wall of China was built to keep out the Mongols Hordes and it did, for a while, but as with all barriers to change, it fell. So will this one one day, after some finally learn that it isn't the little brown horde stealing their benfits and taxes, but the fat, rich corporations and the executives found therein.

    In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria. Ben Franklin

    by nokkonwud on Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 08:36:42 PM PDT

    •  Are you seriously going to say that... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      So will this one one day, after some finally learn that it isn't the little brown horde stealing their benfits and taxes

      illegal immigration doesn't cost jobs and tax money? Do public schools get funded out of thin air? How about ER visits?

      Mass unskilled immigration and a modern social welfare state are simply incompatible.

      •  For me, this is a fundamental issue (0+ / 0-)

        Mass unskilled immigration and a modern social welfare state are simply incompatible.

        I have yet to encounter a convincing argument on how to square the circle on this one.  

        All this wasted time learning and acquiring skills... And all along I should have just squinted to see Russia

        by fizziks on Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 09:03:41 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  actually, studies show that they give more than (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        la urracca, No Border Wall

        they take. They pay into fake SS accounts, pay taxes, and cannot collect when they are elderly.

        The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman, is an atheist's manifesto.

        by coigue on Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 09:19:29 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Low wage jobs hardly pay any federal... (0+ / 0-)

          income tax.

          Further, even if someone uses a fake SS number to get a job most still get paid under the table and thus don't pay social security or other taxes.

          You are also not counting their family members that are too old to work yet live with them in the US and minors which are too young to work and go to pubic schools.

          Lets pretend that the average family of an illegal immigrant has 3 children all enrolled in public schools. In my state schools get about 8 grand per student a year. So each of these 3 kids consumes 24 grand in public funding to get schooled each year.

          Are you seriously going to tell me that their parents pay 24 grand or more in taxes a year?! I guarantee you they don't. Even if the total family income was 48 grand a year (which I doubt) that would mean they get taxed at a 50 percent rate!!! Lets not forget that if everything is above board (which I also doubt) they still get 3 children to write off on their tax forms!

          Give me a break!

          •  problem. The kids are legal. (0+ / 0-)

            The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman, is an atheist's manifesto.

            by coigue on Tue Jul 28, 2009 at 01:33:40 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Um, only if they were... (0+ / 0-)

              born here.

              And that doesn't even matter because even legal immigration is suppose to benefit the country as a whole (Rich farmers in the central valley and middle class suburban families in CA with low wage nannies and cleaning ladies get a benefit but the taxpayer gets screwed).

              Even if all the illegal immigrants came here legally it is still bad policy. As I said before mass low skill immigration is incompatible with a modern social welfare state. It comes down to dollars and cents but you don't want to see that.

              •  So you are against migration period, if people (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                No Border Wall

                are poor.
                What a dick.

                Even if all the illegal immigrants came here legally it is still bad policy.

                The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman, is an atheist's manifesto.

                by coigue on Tue Jul 28, 2009 at 05:19:43 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  In case you haven't notice we... (0+ / 0-)

                  are 10 trillion in debt.

                  •  Which is why we should not waste $3 billion (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:

                    on more walls that do nothing.

                    •  I'm not an expert on the... (0+ / 0-)

                      border fence as a whole.

                      You state that it doesn't do anything. I doubt that.

                      I do know for a fact it has worked pretty darn well in San Diego. If it works there I'm am sure it works elsewhere.

                  •  ????? (0+ / 0-)

                    sounds like scapegoating to me.

                    The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman, is an atheist's manifesto.

                    by coigue on Tue Jul 28, 2009 at 09:16:32 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  First off, the 3rd world adds 100... (0+ / 0-)

                      million new people to the world population each year. The vast majority of those people are poor. Even if we bring in 3 million poor people as immigrants a year that is only 3% of all the new poor people added each year to the world population. The amount of poor people we are helping is negligible. So please don't give me this whole "you don't want to help poor people" argument.

                      I'm from the Detroit area. We have our own poor people to worry about first.

                      Second, it isn't scapegoating. We are trillions in debt yet you want to bring in lots of poor people that cost us more money in pubic funds. The makes no sense at all.

                      Now we could always go back to the days when we had very little social services. If we had that kind of country you can bring in as many people as you want. You better vote for neo-conservatives in the next election if that is what you want.

                      •  we need labor (1+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        No Border Wall

                        immigration has always helped with that. And it gives us fresh people that are actually appreciative of democracy, unlike the rest of us.

                        I've been to South Africa, I would never choose to live behind a wall. It's a stingy, fearful, and mean way to live. And too many (like you) are embracing it.

                        The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman, is an atheist's manifesto.

                        by coigue on Wed Jul 29, 2009 at 01:32:09 PM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  We actually do not need unskilled labor. I... (0+ / 0-)

                          live near Detroit, the unemployment rate is over 20% and even before this crisis I am willing to bet it hasn't been under 10% in a long while. Most of those people are laid off factory workers. It is an absolute lie to say that illegal immigrants do the jobs Americans will not do.

                          Mass immigration of low skill laborers just drives down wages for the rest of us but I suppose people like you that travel the world don't really care about that.

                          The only immigrant labor that is needed in the US is highly educated people. If my view is so byzantine then why have counties like Canada, Australia, and the UK implemented (or are going to implement) a point based immigration system?

                          Further, if illegal immigrants had such high regard for democracy why did they break the laws of a democratic county in order to get here in the first place? Or use fake SS numbers?

                          South Africa, huh? You forgot to mention the Berlin Wall. What about Cuba under Spain? Bringing up irrelevant situations for emotional appeal and shock value only dishonors the victims of true atrocities and makes you the ignorant dick.

                          •  speak for yourself. I live in rural CA. (0+ / 0-)

                            myopia can be cured

                            As far as I am concerned, w/better schools we can make our own highly educated labor.

                            And I've never been to those other places, but I would never want to live behind a wall. Life includes risk.

                            bye now.

                            The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman, is an atheist's manifesto.

                            by coigue on Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 08:06:54 AM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

      •  And PS (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        la urracca

        Before 9/11, when it was very covenient to cross the border, people did not need to live here. They commuted across the border every day. Now that is impossible, so they migrate.

        The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman, is an atheist's manifesto.

        by coigue on Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 09:21:02 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  US as a gated community? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    la urracca

    No thanks.

    The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman, is an atheist's manifesto.

    by coigue on Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 09:15:33 PM PDT

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