Friday, September 22, 2006

Fortress America

By Nancy Jane Moore

The Department of "Homeland Security" has given Boeing a $2.5 billion contract to build 6,000 miles of "virtual fence" along the US borders with Mexico and Canada.

According to The Washington Post, this will be a "smart" fence: Boeing will build 1,800 towers with cameras, sensors and links to sophisticated computers.

But people are already skeptical about the value of this program. According to The Post, Gervasio Prado, whose company SenTech Inc. participated in one of the losing bids for the contract, described the project as great for his industry but not likely to be all that useful. Prado said:
I'd love to say that if you put thousands of sensors in that you could really solve the problem. But I think the help is going to be minimal.
Meanwhile, the Senate is considering a bill already approved by the House that would create 700 miles of actual fence along the Mexican border. For details, see The Post immigration reform wrap-up story here.

Even if the real fence is approved, it's likely to have a huge hole in it: The New York Times reports that the Tohono O'odham Nation, whose land crosses the Arizona/Mexico border, objects to the fence. The Times says the federal government could build the fence without the tribe's permission -- part of that "benevolent" oversight of Indian lands -- but that they would rather not do that because they want Tohono O'odham support on smuggling and other activities.

The land in question is sparsely populated desert and takes up an area about the size of Connecticut. Many people cross illegally along the 75 mile stretch of border, but the Tohono O'odham cross back and forth legally -- another one of those complex areas of Indian law dealing with nations whose boundaries cross national borders.

Odds are this fence won't do much more to stop people who want work and better lives from crossing the border than the virtual wall will.

And the hell of it is, we need those workers. The Times reports that growers in California lost a lot of crop this year because they couldn't hire enough pickers. According to the story, the United Farmworkers Union estimates that 90 percent of farmworkers are illegal.

We want them and we don't want them -- a classic story of immigration.

Maybe it's just that I remember the Berlin Wall, but all these fences make me nervous. Next thing you know, we're going to build an actual fence along the Canadian border -- not to keep them out, but to keep us in.

It probably won't work either.

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