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Another brick in the wall

January 13, 2019
Chris Huston

In the early 1970s I attended the University of Arizona, which sits 60 miles north of the Mexican border. On Friday nights the adventurous would make the run to Nogales, Sonora, a town that catered to college kids looking for adventure. You’d park in the U.S., walk through a turnstile into Mexico, party hard, and stumble back into the U.S. just by showing your driver’s license.

Those were simpler times.

As long as there’s been a border between the U.S. and Mexico, there have been people crossing it illegally. In modern times there has always been a semi-invisible underclass of people willing to work for wages you wouldn’t accept, doing work you wouldn’t dream of doing, while enjoying virtually none of the benefits you take for granted.

Their work helps keep your consumer prices down. We like low prices. The truth is that the United States has always been happy, in a wink-wink sort of way, to exploit those willing to endure what Americans would never endure, because even at our worst we’re better than their former nation’s best. Sort of an economic win-win.

But oh, how times have changed. President Donald Trump has drawn his line in the sand. He is convinced that a physical wall is needed along most (and maybe all, depending on the day) of the U.S. border. He says this will go a long way to stop immigrant criminals, foreign terrorists and illegal drugs from entering the U.S. He is so convinced of the rightness of his cause that on December 11 he said on live television, “I am proud to shut down the government for border security.”

Meanwhile, basic realities—we used to call them facts—are ignored: Individuals on the terrorist watch list tend to attempt entry to the U.S. through airports. Illegal drugs most commonly arrive as harbor freight, or are smuggled through legal U.S. entry points. The majority of people living illegally in the U.S. entered with legal visas and overstayed their visits. The crime rate among illegal residents is lower than the crime rate among U.S. citizens.

So while I applaud the president’s concern over the victims of crime caused by illegal residents, I’ll be even more impressed when he becomes equally infuriated at the crime we suffer at the hands of our fellow Americans.

But back to the border, where a swelling tide of human misery is crashing against our southern gates in increasing waves. Perhaps a wall is the best southern border solution. But perhaps it’s not.

This is, after all, the 21st century. Surveillance cameras are cheap. Motion sensors work. Lights illuminate. Drones fly. All this tech is already in use along large portions of the border. It’s one reason why illegal border crossing arrests are at the lowest rate in 40 years.

To me, it’s all about the tax Benjamins. Right now about a third of our border is already walled or fenced. That leaves about 1,300 miles to go, at a government-estimated cost of $24 million per mile. So Trump’s call for $5.7 billion is only going to cover a few hundred miles anyway.

Meanwhile, Democrats say they also want improved border security, but that the wall is an immoral waste of money. Of course, a few years back Democrats advocated for more border walls, which makes them look pretty ridiculous in the current stalemate.

Imagine that, stupidity on both sides.

Personally, I’m all for a debate to find the most cost-effective way to effectively and humanely control our borders. But so far there’s only one suggestion on the table — Mr. Trump’s. I’d like to see some others. And then I’d like to see the grown-ups in Washington (if there are any left) explore the issue, reach bi-partisan conclusions and get on with it.

Such a debate would be in the best interest of America, but might take a few days or even weeks. The president can say he’s proud of the shutdown, but I’d be a lot prouder of both the White House and Congress if they’d just sit down and discuss it, without the all-or-nothing posturing on both sides. And holding 800,000 federal workers hostage while that debate happens? Rubbish. Absolute rubbish.

Chris Huston lives in southern Idaho and has enjoyed a 30-year career in journalism. Connect with Chris at www.chrishuston-modernlife.com, and on Facebook at Chris Huston-Modern Life.

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