Whither The Wall

President Trump’s promised wall along the border between the United States and Mexico was part of the wrangling between Republicans and Democrats that led to a brief government shutdown over the weekend.

onrfrqd6mxsghuj5Surprisingly, some Democrats who had long opposed the wall signaled that they were willing to drop their opposition if Republicans would make concessions to give “Dreamers” — immigrants who were brought illegally to the United States when they were children — additional legal protections.  And, in negotiations with the President to try to avoid the shutdown, Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer evidently offered to agree to more than the $1.6 billion in funding for the wall that Trump has requested.  More recently, Democratic Senators are saying that Schumer has withdrawn that offer and it is “off the table” because it was intended solely as a last-ditch effort to avoid the shutdown.

And, as the politicians wrangle, prototypes of different models of the wall apparently are being tested to determine whether they really would deter illegal border crossings.  According to a report by the Associated Press, eight models of the wall have been constructed in San Diego, and U.S. military special forces and U.S. Customs and Border units spent weeks trying to breach and scale the models.  The models are made of different materials, including steel and concrete composites, and are as much as 30 feet in height.  According to the reports, the designs did have some success in repelling the military forces, which include members trained in trying to climb high walls.

Political positions are fluid, but it would seem to be difficult to take the position that a wall is wrong on principle after you’ve agreed to support it, and even throw more than a billion dollars at its construction, in exchange for other concessions.  And if the reports on the testing are accurate, that would remove one argument that often is made against Trump’s wall proposal — namely, that a wall would be ineffective because illegal immigrants would be able to climb or otherwise breach it.  Of course, even if the ethical and functional objections to the wall are set aside, there would remain other grounds for opposition, including enormous cost, the impracticality of a wall in rugged mountainous regions, and the aesthetics of a wall in certain scenic areas — but the signs indicate that Donald Trump’s wall may be moving closer to reality.

All About The Wall

You may have missed it, but Tuesday was the deadline for companies to submit bids for the design of “the wall” that President Trump proposes to build along at least some parts of our southern border with Mexico.

Customs and Border Protection is supposed to review the bids and announce finalists in June, and then some of the finalists are expected to build prototypes of their designs on government-owned land in San Diego.  The AP reports that the government is expected to select four to ten finalists to build 30-foot-long prototypes at a cost of $200,000 to $500,000 each.  Customs and Border Protection has indicated that it is looking for solid barriers, made of materials like concrete, rather than “walls” that rely on technology.

a0af3a441932abf668a4b1a868ee7b0aWe don’t know exactly how many companies submitted proposals, although apparently about 200 companies expressed interest in the border wall project.   I’m guessing that there were lots of bids.  What construction companies could resist bidding on a project that potentially involves pouring enormous amounts of concrete to build a barricade that extends for hundreds of miles?  The “wall” would make your standard highway construction project seem like a minor matter.

And although all of the bids haven’t been made public, we know what some companies are proposing because they have voluntarily disclosed their bids.  One bidder thinks the wall will become a kind of tourist attraction, and proposes a 56-foot-high wall designed with a walkway at the top to allow visitors to enjoy the desert vistas.  (“Hey kids!  Where should we go on our summer trip this year?  Mount Rushmore, the Grand Canyon, or the border wall?”)  A different proposal suggests that nuclear waste be buried in trenches along the wall — which presumably would quash any meaningful tourist activity, by the way.  Another company wants to erect solar panels on parts of the wall, to generate electricity that can be sold to communities in both the U.S. and Mexico to help pay for the wall’s cost, which would allow President Trump to say that he had met, at least in part, his campaign promise that Mexico would pay for the wall.

Will a wall actually be built, given the significant opposition to it?  We don’t know at this point, but we do know one thing:  the bids that have been made public so far indicate the this effort at large-scale wall building could be a very quixotic exercise.

The Costs Of A Porous Border

We’re learning more about the costs — direct and indirect — of the mass influx of unaccompanied minors and other illegal immigrants across our southwestern border, and the news is becoming more and more concerning.

At a closed-door briefing with members of Congress earlier this week, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson disclosed some of the direct costs.   According to members of Congress who attended, Johnson said the federal government is spending between $250 and $1,000 per day, per child, to house and feed the minors.  When you are talking about more than 57,000 unaccompanied minors already in the country and needing assistance — and U.S. officials predicting that another 30,000 will cross the border by September — you don’t need a calculator to see that the ongoing and future costs are enormous.

As everyone knows, our federal government is cash-strapped.  Some people may say we’ve been racking up huge budget deficits for years, and these costs will add just a little bit more to those deficits.  That reaction ignores the reality of our financial situation.  Every dollar of our deficit is financed through the issuance of U.S. government bonds and notes.  Do we really want to have to issue more bonds and notes to pay for these services, and pledge the full faith and credit of our country for them?  With our current budget situation, the inescapable reality is that we will be borrowing more in the future to pay the interest on these bonds and notes — which means that we’ll be paying directly out of pocket for our border problems for years to come.

There are indirect costs as well.  The U.S. government can’t house all of these minors on military bases, and already we’re seeing governors and mayors raising questions about whether these minors are coming to their states and communities — where they will need more housing, and food, and medical care, and attention.  Who will pay for it?  The NIMBY (not in my back yard) phenomenon is in full swing.  Pennsylvania’s governor has expressed concern about whether the illegal immigrants have infectious diseases, says there should be enough room on military bases in Texas and Arizona to house them, and wonders how he will pay for the needed services if they are sent to Pennsylvania.  Officials in other states are saying that the federal government has resettled some of the immigrants in their states without providing adequate notice to local authorities.  And officials in cities as far away from the border as New Bedford, Massachusetts are concerned that an influx of impoverished, non-English-speaking immigrants will further strain governmental and school budgets that are already stretched to the breaking point.

Massachusetts sheriff recently said, “we are all border states now.”  There’s some truth to that.  It’s becoming increasingly clear that our porous border is creating huge problems for communities and states across the country.  As we figure out how to deal with these unaccompanied minors, we also need to pay attention to the root cause of the problem — a border that sometimes seems to be little more than a line on a map.  We can’t afford to pay $250 or $1,000 a day to care for every child that crosses illegally into our country, and we also can’t afford the security risks of a border that permits them (and adults, too) to do so.  The Obama Administration and Congress need to figure out how to close that border and do it before the costs and consequences become overwhelming.

Fast And Furious And Foolish

Let’s ponder, for a moment, “Operation Fast and Furious,” an ill-conceived, botched initiative that apparently was the brainchild of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) during the Obama Administration.  The fact that the effort was named after a hyper-macho, testosterone-laden Vin Diesel movie probably tells you all you need to know about the wisdom and thoughtfulness underlying the operation.

Operation Fast and Furious was supposed to help the BATF track and stop arms trafficking across the U.S.-Mexican border.  As part of the operation, the BATF not only allowed loads of guns to be purchased and delivered into the hands of Mexican drug cartels but also, according to testimony from agents, prevented American agents from stopping the flow of arms across the border.  Unfortunately, the BATF couldn’t keep track of the guns, and they have ended up at crime scenes along the U.S.-Mexican border — including the scene where a U.S. border agent was murdered.  A recent letter from congressional investigators to Attorney General Eric Holder states, in part:  “The evidence we have gathered raises the disturbing possibility that the Justice Department not only allowed criminals to smuggle weapons but that taxpayer dollars from other agencies may have financed those engaging in those activities.”

The stench surrounding Operation Fast and Furious is exacerbated by the fact that congressional investigators are claiming that the federal government is not being forthcoming about who knew about and approved the operation.  Recently the acting director of the BATF came forward, with his personal attorney, to testify before congressional investigators about apparent efforts by the Justice Department to block his testimony.  The DOJ denies any cover-up or wrongdoing.

With respect to the cover-up allegations, we’ll just have to see where the congressional investigation leads.  What does seem to be undisputed, however, is that this hare-brained operation involved U.S. agencies facilitating criminal activities that resulted in violence and death, including — apparently — the death of an American border agent.  How could any federal agency (or agencies, if more than one in fact was involved) have thought that injecting even more guns into the Mexican drug wars along the border was a good idea, and then been so careless in keeping track of the guns involved?

We should all keep the foolish riskiness of “Operation Fast and Furious,” and the unbelievably bad judgment exercised by those who approved and implemented it, in mind the next time we hear that the federal budget can’t be cut, or that we should just trust federal agencies and bureaucrats to make decisions on our behalf.

Death South Of The Border (Cont.)

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently observed that the spiraling violence in Mexico was similar to the situation in Colombia 20 years ago, when drug cartels controlled parts of the country, and said that drug cartels are looking more and more like insurgencies.  A Mexican official rejected the comparison — but the fact remains that car bombings, the killing of mayors and other government officials, and similar tactics of insurgencies are increasingly frequent occurrences in Mexico.

It is encouraging to hear Administration officials publicly recognize the rampant problems in Mexico.  Having identified the seriousness of the problem, perhaps the federal government will now take more vigorous steps to address the dangers posed to our country by the escalating Mexican violence and our porous southern border.

Signs of Trouble

Yesterday an interesting story reported on signs posted in Arizona by the federal Bureau of Land Management.  The signs warn that drivers are entering “an active drug and human smuggling area” and “may encounter armed criminals and smuggling vehicles traveling at high rates of speed.”  The signs suggest that travelers drive farther north.

Given the presence of these signs, can anyone really question why Arizonans are so incensed about immigration problems and the lack of border security?  If the Obama Administration insists that enforcement of federal immigration law really is an exclusively federal issue, as is the case in its lawsuit against Arizona, then don’t those signs confirm that the federal government has miserably failed in that task?  Although Americans have many different views on immigration, I think a vast majority of Americans would agree that the borders need to be secure, such that “armed criminals and smuggling vehicles traveling at high rates of speed” can’t easily enter our country.

What is happening in Arizona is intolerable — and in view of the rampant drug-related violence and disorder in Mexico, is high dangerous to our national security.  Warning signs obviously are no substitute for personnel and equipment that actually secure our borders.

Death South Of The Border (Cont.)

The news from Mexico keeps getting more chilling.  I’ve noted in several posts — see here and here — the escalating violence in our neighbor to the south and the resulting risks for our country.  Time now has a story about the recent assassination of Edelmiro Cavazos,  the mayor of Santiago, Mexico.  The assassination of a political figure is bad enough, but what really makes the story disturbing is that the mayor’s own police officers apparently have confessed to participating in the killing.

Tales of corruption involving the Mexican security forces — where government officials shake down tourists or foreign businesses or accept bribes to look the other way when illegal transactions occur — are legendary.  There is an obvious difference, however, between petty corruption and outright participation in political murders.  If police officers and security personnel switch sides and join the drug gangs, there could be a breakdown of social order and Mexico could become much more dangerous than it already is.

America should pay more attention to Mexico.  We should offer them whatever assistance we can to help them deal with the problems of the drug gangs — and we should take the steps necessary to make sure that our border is secure and the violence cannot spill over into our country.