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Border Fencing: One Tool among Many -- We need fences in some places, and not in others.
National Review ^ | 03/28/2013 | Mark Krikorian

Posted on 03/28/2014 5:47:55 AM PDT by SeekAndFind

Out in the West Texas town of El Paso
We need a fence on the Mexican line.
But to the south where the land is forbidding,
Agents and cameras and sensors are fine.

(with apologies to Marty Robbins)

The border fence with Mexico looms large in the ongoing debate over immigration. The Secure Fence Act of 2006, the “Where’s the Fence?” ad in 2007, John McCain’s “Complete the Danged Fence” ad in 2010, and the meretricious Corker-Hoeven amendment to last year’s Senate amnesty bill all point to the importance of border fences in the popular mind and the policy discussion.

Some hawks insist on fencing the entire border, while many enforcement opponents dismiss the very idea of fences, insisting that smugglers will scale them with impunity.

Neither position is correct, as became clear when I traveled earlier this month along the border in West Texas, from El Paso downriver to Big Bend National Park. The occasion was the Center for Immigration Studies’ annual border tour (cheaper than the NR Cruise! — but no all-you-can-eat buffet), and we saw that fencing works, but it isn’t needed everywhere.

There’s a lot more to controlling immigration than the work of the U.S. Border Patrol, of course. Perhaps 40 percent of the illegal population entered legally and then overstayed their visas — pointing to laxity not only in tracking foreign visitors but also in issuing visas to them in the first place. What’s more, many illegal aliens sneak through the legal crossing points — called ports of entry — by either using fraudulent documents or hiding in vehicles.

Nevertheless, controlling the long stretches of the border between ports of entry is essential, and fencing is an important tool in the border patrol’s kit. Consider the situation in El Paso, which used to be one of the main gateways to the United States for illegal aliens.

In the early 1990s, nearly one-fourth of all illegal-alien arrests took place in the border patrol’s El Paso sector, reaching 286,000 in 1993. In that year, the border patrol in the city launched Operation Blockade (later given the friendlier name Operation Hold the Line), which involved forward placement of agents to prevent crossings, instead of chasing aliens after they’d infiltrated across the border. This was followed by expanded fencing, which now extends almost continuously from near Boundary Marker #1 west of El Paso downriver for about 45 miles.

As a result, apprehensions of illegal aliens (an imperfect yardstick, but the only one available) have plummeted. From the peak of 286,000 in 1993, El Paso apprehensions by the border patrol fell pretty steadily to a 2012 total of about 9,700. Last year saw a 15 percent increase in arrests, in line with the overall rise in arrests along the border; but it’s still only about 11,000, down 96 percent from two decades earlier.

People in the neighborhood of Chihuahuita, now in the shadow of the border fence, at the time erected banners thanking the border patrol for restoring order to their community, which had been overrun before the agency’s initiative and the fence.

Local residents told me that illegal aliens still occasionally get through — sometimes navigating the narrow space between the old chain-link fence and the newer, hardened one — but it’s nothing like it was before the barrier was installed. Their main complaint is that when the wind blows hard enough through the fence, it makes an eerie wailing sound that can be unnerving.

Some 40-plus miles to the southeast, near the El Paso County line, the fence stops. It ends at Las Pompas, a colonia (unincorporated border community) named for the irrigation pumps that draw grey water released by a nearby sewage-treatment plant out of the canal just north of the fence. The retired border patrol agent showing us around said the fence made an enormous difference, helping restore order to a lawless area.

But why end it there? Fences are obviously needed in built-up areas, but how far out into the countryside do you go? Aside from the opportunity it presents for me to clown around for the camera, the end of any segment of border fence raises this question. Often the decision to stop in any particular place is driven not by operational needs or terrain but by politics or finances. Pictured here, for instance, is the eastern end of the border fence at the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona, where it meets the Coronado National Forest, whose administrators, I was told when I visited a couple of years ago, resisted a real fence to deter foot traffic, and got instead “vehicle barriers,” which your grandma can hop over.

(A few more satellite images of the ends of portions of the fence, with no apparent reason related to the terrain, are here, here, and here.)

It’s entirely possible that the fence east of El Paso will have to be extended at some point. Right now a surge in illegal crossings is taking place in south Texas, but better control there could well lead to another shift in the flow. This is especially true because there is no river at Las Pompas. There’s a canal on the U.S. side, but as for the river, all the water — and I mean all the water — has been sucked out of the Rio “Grande” for irrigation, leaving a dry-land crossing from Mexico, just as in Arizona or California.

The greater difficulty of controlling illegal crossings in built-up areas, even with a fence, suggests another strategy, which I do not believe has been considered. Preventing the expansion of urban development along the border would seem to be an essential part of any long-term effort to maintain control; if there are many buildings on the border, infiltrators can more easily evade detection. This would entail a federal veto on any commercial or residential development within a certain distance of the border, and acquisition of land with an eye toward federal ownership of as much of the land abutting the border as possible.

A last bit of fence — a lonely five-mile segment — ends about 80 miles or so east of El Paso. After that, there’s some 500 miles of border with no fencing of any kind. It’s remote and primitive country, appealing to makers of Westerns because there aren’t even any jet contrails overhead. In Boy Genius, the authors wrote that gubernatorial candidate George W. Bush gushed in private about illegal aliens: “Hell, if they’ll walk across Big Bend, we want ’em.”

But the isolated and inhospitable nature of the area means there aren’t many people walking across Big Bend. The border patrol’s Big Bend sector records the fewest arrests of any part of the border, less than 1 percent of the nationwide total, fewer than 4,000 illegal aliens last year. It’s safe to say that if the Border Patrol is arresting an average of only about ten people a day along a 500-mile stretch of border, we probably don’t need fencing there.

This must be the way it was in the old days, before mass violation of the border became routine. The only man-made barriers, if you can call them that, are warning signs: “Up to $5,000 fine for crossing the border other than a point of entry” [sic]. Nature’s barriers are formidable; our guide on a canoe trip pointed out what he called the Great Wall of Chihuahua, cliffs and canyons that render portions of the border uncrossable.

The primary infiltrators are wandering Mexican cattle that a lone USDA cowboy has to round up and quarantine so they don’t spread contagion.

The retro feel of the border at Big Bend extends to the border patrol. While they have all the modern tools of the trade — including a tethered blimp bristling with surveillance equipment — the low level of traffic means they have more opportunities for “sign-cutting,” their term for tracking down infiltrators by following footprints and the like. The Border Patrol Museum in El Paso displays wooden blocks carved to resemble a cow’s hooves, which illegals tied to their shoes to make their tracks look like the work of cattle. (Agents were never fooled, since we two-legged animals have a different gait from our quadruped cousins.)

The Mexican side along this long stretch is home to only one actual town — Ojinaga, or O.J., in local parlance – and its people wouldn’t fill even half the seats in Yankee Stadium. The only other border settlement for hundreds of miles is the lonely village of Boquillas del Carmen, home to fewer than 200 souls, four hours from the nearest gas station and unconnected to the electrical grid. Even though the river has water again at Boquillas, there’s no bridge — you either pay the guy with the rowboat or, like so many before you, simply wade across the Rio Grande.

Reentering the U.S. there is similarly relaxed. The DHS port of entry has no DHS agents — just a kiosk with a video hookup (though there is a park ranger there to help you figure out how it’s supposed to work).

This splendid isolation may not last. Within the year, Ojinaga, now connected only to the interior of Mexico, will have new highways coming in from both the west and the east. This will open hundreds of miles of now virtually inaccessible border to smugglers of all kinds. Several years ago, local opposition succeeded in killing plans for a border fence in Presidio, the Texas town opposite Ojinaga. Once the Mexican side is connected to the metropolis of Juarez (across from El Paso), a fence will likely become imperative.

Border fences have an understandable appeal for people concerned about protecting America’s sovereignty. They’re a concrete, physical symbol of control, easier to envision than the work of a visa officer or USCIS adjudicator.

But it’s important to remember that they’re just tools, like ground sensors or cameras or helicopters, useful in some instances and not in others. Making a fetish of fencing merely enables backers of amnesty and unlimited immigration to use hyperbolic expressions of support for such fencing as political cover for their harmful agenda.

— Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Culture/Society; Government; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: aliens; borderfence; borderwars; illegals; immigration
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1 posted on 03/28/2014 5:47:55 AM PDT by SeekAndFind
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To: SeekAndFind

I have seen better fences at the local supermarket for keeping shopping carts on the property...

2 posted on 03/28/2014 5:50:40 AM PDT by 2banana (My common ground with terrorists - they want to die for islam and we want to kill them)
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To: SeekAndFind

I think Mr. Barrett developed a logical solution.

3 posted on 03/28/2014 5:59:27 AM PDT by moovova
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To: SeekAndFind

As a landowner in west texas that sits on the Rio Grande, I am against a fence along the entire border, and believe they are only needed in certain spots.

Any fence that cuts landowners off from the river will never be allowed. That is the only source of water in the region.

If a fence must be built... then build it on the Mexican side of the border.

4 posted on 03/28/2014 6:01:41 AM PDT by TexasFreeper2009 (Obama lied .. the economy died.)
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To: SeekAndFind

If we could trust the Federal Government to even attempt to get it right, I would have no problem with letting them make intellingent decisions about where fences were needed and where they are not, and allowing them to make decisions about the best techniques to use.

But we cannot trust the Federal Government.

They have shown, time and time again, that they have no desire to get it right.

So we have to insist on the most basic, idiot proof systems, which can be physically verified. We need a fence, coast to coast, with an adjacent patrol road. We have to remove the discretion from the system, because the Feds have shown that they have no interest in stopping illegal border crossings.

5 posted on 03/28/2014 6:02:30 AM PDT by Haiku Guy (Health Care Haiku: If You Have a Right / To the Labor I Provide / I Must Be Your Slave)
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To: SeekAndFind

Just build the damn thing in the parts where everyone knows it’s needed.

We can figure out the other stretches later.

6 posted on 03/28/2014 6:14:02 AM PDT by Balding_Eagle (Over production, one of the top 5 worries for the American Farmer every year.)
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To: SeekAndFind

7 posted on 03/28/2014 6:17:27 AM PDT by deport
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To: Balding_Eagle
Well, The problem is that when you force people to cross a desert, most will die.
Fences is only a small part. We need to really punish the people who employ these people and actively deport those who are here illegally. dry up the demand and it might stop people from wanting to enter here illegally.
8 posted on 03/28/2014 6:19:11 AM PDT by Yorlik803 ( Church/Caboose in 2016)
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To: SeekAndFind

It all goes to who hires who to build the fence...

The 0’ regime hired CGI to build a non-working website for 0’care.

The 0’ regime would do the same with a fence.

I *would* trust the equivalent of the Israeli government hire contractors to build an Israeli fence...

9 posted on 03/28/2014 6:20:08 AM PDT by C210N (When people fear government there is tyranny; when government fears people there is liberty)
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To: TexasFreeper2009

Stop making sense!

10 posted on 03/28/2014 6:29:14 AM PDT by mylife (Ted Cruz understands the law, and is not afraid of the unlawful.)
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To: Yorlik803

“Well, The problem is that when you force people to cross a desert, most will die.”

And the problem is?

Nobody is forcing them to cross the border.

11 posted on 03/28/2014 6:41:21 AM PDT by Beagle8U (Unions are an Affirmative Action program for Slackers! .)
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To: 2banana

Build a wall like the great wall of China!

12 posted on 03/28/2014 6:42:56 AM PDT by FES0844
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To: Beagle8U

That’s why we need to go after employers. They are the new slave owners and shutting them down would kill the demand.
I don’t like illegals anymore than most, but I don’t want to see people suffer.

13 posted on 03/28/2014 6:44:03 AM PDT by Yorlik803 ( Church/Caboose in 2016)
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To: SeekAndFind

Practically speaking, there are five things the US needs for border security. Importantly, it is impossible to have 100% border security, but that does not mean you cannot get *near* 100%

1) The vast majority of border crossings happen in a limited number of corridors. If you fence just these corridors, the degree of difficulty for the majority of crossers becomes intolerable. So this alone prevents about 60% of the crossings. Very cost effective.

2) Importantly, non-Hispanic border crossers are willing to go the extra length, so border fences won’t really work for them. The most cost effective approach is an odd one, to put a cash bounty on them, payable to Mexicans, just hundreds of thousands instead of billions of dollars. The amount of money this takes is “peanuts” compared to other solutions, but would make the southern border airtight to non-Hispanics.

3) Drug smugglers need a military response. They can have serious weapons and vehicles, and are likely willing to shoot it out. In Texas, they put boulders on roads, making them impassable to vehicles. But you need close to crew served weapons to put a stop to this.

4) Border crossing is publicity driven, south of the border. If there is news that crossing is hard, many will not attempt it. If some American politician talks amnesty, there is a run for the border. So it is not unreasonable that the US should engage in a propaganda effort down there, to persuade potential crossers that it is difficult and dangerous, even deadly.

5) The US needs judicial reform in several ways to stop the flow of illegal aliens. This can only effectively be done with conservatives in charge of the house and senate judiciary committees.

14 posted on 03/28/2014 6:47:52 AM PDT by yefragetuwrabrumuy (WoT News:
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To: Yorlik803

I don’t want them to suffer either, I want them to stay in Mexico.

Saying go after employers don’t work because there is no way to verify who is legal and who isn’t.

Libtardians like Runt Paul work to block any nation ID system.

15 posted on 03/28/2014 6:53:52 AM PDT by Beagle8U (Unions are an Affirmative Action program for Slackers! .)
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To: Beagle8U

That’s why I wouldn’t Vote for anyone with a “paul” in the name. Its in the DNA to be crazy.

16 posted on 03/28/2014 6:54:52 AM PDT by Yorlik803 ( Church/Caboose in 2016)
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To: SeekAndFind

We need 2 fences with Bouncing Betty land mines in between.

17 posted on 03/28/2014 6:59:42 AM PDT by BuffaloJack (Freedom isn't free; nor is it easy. END ALL TOTALITARIAN ACTIVITY NOW.)
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To: SeekAndFind

There is a solution here of using labor to build the fence cheaply.

Offer Mexicans who have been caught and are being deported, the opportunity to be forgiven their trespass by working X months on the fence project. The project would create labor camps that would build compressed earth blocks that would then be shipped to the fence location and be built into the wall. The labor camps would need support services such as food and cleaning so all kinds of workers could participate.

18 posted on 03/28/2014 7:02:41 AM PDT by taxcontrol
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To: BuffaloJack

A well placed sniper would be much less expensive.

After ten or twelve bodies hung up on the fence, the rte of crossing would drop precipitously.

The rate of crossing for women would drop to 0

19 posted on 03/28/2014 7:03:38 AM PDT by bert ((K.E. N.P. N.C. +12 ..... History is a process, not an event)
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To: SeekAndFind
Once Maine votes to secede, our immigration policy starts with this: Any individual or group entering the Republic of Maine, other than through a legitimate border crossing, is to be considered and armed invader, any citizen of the Republic may use whatever force, he or she determines as necessary including deadly force, to repel the invasion.
20 posted on 03/28/2014 7:19:19 AM PDT by The_Republic_Of_Maine (Be kept informed on Maine's secession, sign up at
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