WALLS AND ALL

President Trump wants to build a wall between the United States and Mexico.

His stated reason for building this wall is to take control of our southern border and keep out Mexican “rapists and murderers” and other “bad hombres.” His initial vision for this wall is a continuous structure running from San Diego to Corpus Christi, 30’ high, and loaded with high technology devices to detect and defeat any attempts by any person to cross into the United States from Mexico at any point. His initial commitment was to make Mexico pay for the construction of this wall.

This proposal has been popular with his followers. A common chant at Trump’s campaign rallies has been, and continues to be, “Build the wall!” But it seems obvious to me that those who favor this wall have given little thought to the salient facts.

First, we can dispense with the idea that any static defense will work to keep two populations separate. We may be seduced by the effectiveness of prison walls, and it is true that most prison walls are hard for inmates to penetrate. But prison walls also require armed guards, cells and unarmed prisoners inside them to be effective, and even then they may be breached.

On a larger scale, and our southern border represents a pretty large scale, a physical wall embellished with armed guards, searchlight towers, sensors, mines and whatever other forms of denial we can contrive is still vulnerable. For one thing, we cannot and do not want to completely isolate the US from Mexico. American businesses have facilities and customers in Mexico, as Mexican businesses have here. So there must be passage points in the wall. A passage point is an invitation for human creativity to defeat.

Walls have been tried in other places and times. The Berlin wall, the Maginot Line, Hadrian’s Wall, even the Great Wall of China have all been built with the idea of keeping people separated. All have been defeated. The Great Wall of China took almost two thousand years to build during a time when tunneling was primitive and flight non-existent, and Genghis Khan still invaded that country.

General George Patton once said of walls, “Static defenses are monuments to the stupidity of man.”

Second, we should not underestimate the strength of resolve it takes for someone from Mexico to enter the US by walking across the border. If a few hundred miles of arid desert doesn’t stop them then why should a 30’ wall do it? And for those who believe armed guards on a parapet will finish the job I would mention that the Berlin Wall had armed guards, too, and quite a few people crossed in spite of them. Sensors that might detect illegal entry are only useful if law enforcement shows up right away to apprehend, detain and return those who violate the border. That will call for another level of commitment to establish, supply and man such outposts.

But these considerations are really beside the point. The real point is, why do people from Mexico brave the border in the first place?

You may notice that we don’t have a problem with the border we share with Canada. We should, though, because the kinds of terrorists we are most concerned about today are more likely to come down from the north than up from the south. It is a simple thing for terrorists to fly into Canada and drive down to the US. In fact, all of the 9/11 terrorists came into this country legally – on student, visitor and business visas. The only wall that might have prevented this particular act would have been administrative, not physical.

Personally, I reject Trump’s assertion that the preponderance of Mexican nationals who enter this country illegally are “rapists and murderers.” Citizens of Mexico have been coming into the United States since Texas was a part of Mexico. One hero of the Texas revolution is Juan Seguín, one of a number of Mexicans who fought at the Alamo. Seguín is the one who carried the message of the Alamo’s siege from Travis to Sam Houston before the final assault. (The walls of the Alamo didn’t defeat Mexico, either.) Most of the citizens of Mexico who come to the US, either legally or illegally, do so for economic reasons. Mexican migrant workers once came into the US annually for manual labor, mostly on farms. These “braceros” followed three annual “migration paths” in the eastern, western and mid-western US. These workers were so common that in 1942 Congress enacted legislation for what became known as the Bracero Program, and it called for “decent living conditions” and a minimum wage of $.30 an hour.

This is an important clue about “securing our borders.”

If Mexican citizens are coming into this country so frequently and in such large numbers for economic reasons then the solution to our porous border must also be economic.

Recent history bears this out. Until the late 1970s, when American businesses began in earnest to move production facilities to other countries to take advantage of equally skilled but less expensive labor, Mexico had no real middle class. Almost all the wealth of the country was held by a tiny fraction of its population. The vast majority of Mexicans lived in what most American would consider poverty. But when American companies started building factories in Mexico and hiring Mexican nationals to work in them, things began to change. Mexican citizens realized that they could make more money and live better by working in an American factory and living in Mexico than they could by working on an American farm and living in America. Consequently, over the past ten years or so, America has seen a net “out migration” of Mexican nationals.

This was the real border wall with Mexico.

The structure of this wall was provided by the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.

And one of the first things Trump did after taking office was to tear it up.

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