The Fence and the Kitchen Sink: John Pomfret's Oct. 10 WaPo article, "Fence Meets Wall of Skepticism," has gotten a good deal of Web attention. Pomfret makes no attempt at balance--it's a straight "let's let fence critics piss all over the idea" piece. That's fine--advocacy journalism is finding a home in the MSM as newspapers try to woo a generation of younger readers! I must have missed the equally provocative story in which WaPo let one of its conservative reporters make the case for the fence--but never mind. Pomfret cites several arguments:
1. The fence "does not take into account the extraordinarily varied geography of the 2,000-mile-long border." Have you ever driven through the Southwest near the Mexican border? "Varied" is not the word that comes to mind regarding the geography.
2. "This is the feel-good approach to immigration control. ... The only pain is experienced by the migrants themselves. It doesn't hurt U.S. consumers; it doesn't hurt U.S. businesses." (Wayne Cornelius, an "expert on immigration issues at the University of California at San Diego.) We're the U.S., right? If the solution doesn't hurt our consumers and businesses, isn't that a good thing? Of course the fence will hurt businesses and consumers, if it works, by blocking a supply of inexpensive labor. But it will probably help low-skilled American workers, whose wages would rise. And it will avoid pain to "migrants themselves" by deterring them from attempting to cross the desert, where many have been dying. I hope for Cornelius' sake he was misquoted. **
3. When they built a short stretch of fence in San Diego, it "forced illegal traffic into the deserts to the East." Somehow this is supposed to be an argument that a fence doesn't work.
4. "T.J. Bonner, the president of the National Border Patrol Council, the main union for Border Patrol agents" opposes it. Isn't that a little like the president of the tolltakers' union opposing E-Z-Pass? Of course the border patrol agents oppose a fence, because a fence is an inanimate object that will do the job it would otherwise take hundreds and hundreds of dues-paying human union members to do! Duh.
5. Litigation might delay construction: This is a more or less circular argument--you can't build the fence, say anti-fence groups, because those nasty anti-fence groups will sue and delay construction! Under this argument few public projects would ever be built if they were opposed by interest groups with enough money to hire lawyers. (In fact, according to WaPo, the Department of Homeland Security can defeat some lawsuits by invoking a law that exempts border fence projects "from federal and state regulations in the interest of national security."
6. The fence will cost too much. The San Diego fence wound up costing "more than $5 million a mile." At that rate, the 700 miles of proposed fence would cost $3.5 billion, rather than the $2 billion estimated. A cost overrun! But still cheap. Other estimates run as high as $9 billion. That's also relatively cheap--the Alaska pipeline, for comparison, cost $26 billion in today's dollars. Keep in mind that fence opponents claim they are going to use other, alternative means that are allegedly equally effective at deterring illegal immigration. And compared to all the cameras, vehicles, and "ground based radar"--and of course, all the additional well-paid camera-watchers, vehicle drivers, radar operators and border guards--a fence has some virtues. A fence doesn't need annual raises. It doesn't need a pension. It doesn't unionize or sue for back pay. It also doesn't take bribes or accidentally shoot poor immigrants in the night (or get shot by narcotics traffickers). It just sits there. Compared with more labor-intensive alternatives, fences tend to be cheap, which is why most people build fences around their back yards rather than employing "ground based radar" and guards.
7. "[E]fforts to protect pronghorn sheep and encourage the jaguar to return to the United States could be seriously affected." We can patrol the whole border with high-tech cameras and "ground-based radar," yet we can't cut some holes for pronghorn sheep and patrol just them with cameras and "ground-based radar"? That would be something for the unionized border guards to do! But I guess we might have to give up the jaguar.... Oh wait, we don't have jaguars. We might have to give up re-acquiring the jaguar. OK. Which will it be: No new jaguars or no new illegal immigrants. Let's vote!
Another argument against the fence, not made by Pomfret, is that it will offend Mexico. It might! But of course, Mexico isn't worried the fence won't work. Mexico is worried the fence will work. Which is the same thing many Americans who say the fence won't work are worried about.
P.S.: None of these arguments matter, of course, because President Bush has already said he'll build the fence.
Question: "Are you committed to building the 700 miles of fence, actual fencing?"
President Bush: "Yes ..."
He's committed! And he's as good as his word. Right?
**--The Chinese government, apparently unaware of Prof. Cornelius' expertise, is building a "large barbed wire and concrete fence" along parts of its border with North Korea. The Saudi government--almost as susceptible as the Chinese to "feel good" solutions--is planning a 900-kilometer fence on its border with Iraq. 10:50 P.M. link
Majority Leader Boehner boasts to fellow House Republicans that the Secure Fence Act is "set to be signed by President Bush." [Is there a paranoid, Clintonian reading of that one?--ed. Yes, but I'll spare you.] 5:24 P.M.
Pomfret is a fish in the Indian Ocean that is delicious when eaten and the most sought-after seafood delicacy in Mumbai. Wonder if the author above is any relation?