Project 28/Secure Border Initiative evaluation: all cost, no effect

So says BusinessWeek.

Among Project 28’s problems: Wind and rain affect the cameras’ image quality. Radar has been unable to distinguish between mesquite bushes and clusters of people or animals. In early tests, the laptops in the patrol cars couldn’t take the jostling of rough terrain. And Boeing has had trouble bundling infrared images, radar scans, and ground sensor readings so that they reach the Border Patrol in time for agents to pursue targets. “It blows the mind, the issues they’ve had,” says Rosso. Boeing’s Bosick says the glitches have been “ironed out.”

Do fences ever work on borders anywhere? The threat of lethal force makes sealed-off borders such as the DMZ between the Koreas and the Palestinian-Israeli barrier highly unusual cases. Along the Strait of Gibraltar and around the Canary Islands, Spain built a chain of high-tech radar stations to deter migration from Africa—only to watch illegal-immigrant traffic flow to other sea lanes.

Ordinary Mexicans, meanwhile, seem unfazed by all the efforts to wall them out. Ramiro, who didn’t want to give his surname, is a 21-year-old born in the Mexican state of Guerrero. He was deported from Arizona in mid-January after police pulled his sister’s van over for expired license plates and discovered he was there illegally. Ramiro has lived in Phoenix since he was 7, and he has no intention of staying in Mexico, where he feels out of place. Scarfing down beans and rice at a charity shelter for migrants in Nogales, Mexico, Ramiro says he plans to head back to the U.S. in a couple of days. What about the new fence and a beefed-up Border Patrol? “I’ll just find a path around the fence, or I’ll climb it at night,” he says, shrugging. “There’s always a way to get around obstacles.”

Sure enough, three days later, Ramiro leaves Nogales at 3 a.m., walks just west of a new section of fence under construction, and in five hours reaches the town of Rio Rico, Ariz., where that night he hops a freight train for Phoenix. Time elapsed: 26 hours. “Mexican ingenuity,” says Ramiro, laughing, when contacted on a friend’s mobile phone. That’s ingenuity even the powerful U.S. cannot fence out.

Ouch. Of course, the fence is a typical solution for our political era: the appearance of action without the least bit of substance by way of a solution – mostly because the action has little if anything to do with the true problem.

The bigger problem may be those who don’t bother with tunnels and ladders. Immigration specialists estimate that one-third to one-half of undocumented migrants in the U.S. didn’t scale any border fence. They are believed to have entered the country legally and then just overstayed their visas.

Some critics, including former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda, think the rise in patrols and fence-building has actually encouraged unauthorized migrants to put down permanent roots in the U.S.—these Mexicans dare not travel home and run the risk of capture while trying to cross back north.

“We have more boots and binoculars down at the border than we’ve ever had, yet we have a larger immigrant population than ever before,” says Angela M. Kelley, director of the Immigration Policy Center, a pro-immigration Washington think tank.

Think of it from the perspective of the Mexican immigrant: the risk of death on the trip is real, but relatively low. To the extent that the risk of capture is greater (if in fact it is), the consequence is return. To start again. I am not suggesting we bring lethality into the consequence box of the equation, no. I’m suggesting that we recognise that, for illegal immigrants, the cost-benefit analysis almost always results in the attempt being worthwhile.

Alternatively, would a bloody fence have held back the people on the Mayflower?


1 comment so far

  1. opit on

    Where’s your appreciation of a political ploy ? Keeping out migrant workers necessary to bring in the harvest disrupts their effect on lowering ag wages : or would if they weren’t more desperate than ever to evade ‘the law’. That ensures lack of labor protection, a result not at all unwelcome to their employers, I am sure.
    The fence, meantime, gives the appearance of ‘doing something’ and is a perfectly fruitless waste of resources : a ‘cash cow’ for technical industry and therefore source of political payola.

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