When I first wrote about this photograph two years ago I marveled at the utter insanity of thinking that we could actually establish a 700 hundred mile wall fence across an otherwise barren dessert that would secure the 2,000 mile border that separates the US from Mexico. And, of course, I was right as there is no evidence that the wall fence has done anything to slow down illegal immigration (in fact there is some evidence to suggest that the number of people sneaking past the borders has increased), though there is strong evidence to suggest that it has resulted in “borderland frgmantation” leading to serious destruction of the border ecosystem. Notwithstanding the continuing need for serious immigration reform, then, the idea that we can maintain an impermeable barrier to secure us from “undesirable” outsiders is a preposterous fiction that only the likes of Stephen King can really pull off. And, of course, the above photograph underscores the futility of thinking that this can actually work.
I was reminded of this photograph earlier this evening when I read a report that President Obama has ordered 1,200 National Guardsmen to the borders in order to “provide support to law enforcement officers by helping observe and monitor traffic between official border crossings” and to “help analyze trafficking patterns in the hope of intercepting illegal drug shipments.” But for all that, “they will not make arrests … something they are not trained to do.” As with the photograph, the absurdity of the situation is pronounced, no matter which way we think of it. If the troops are going to be used for interdiction, it makes no more sense to think that we can secure a 2,000 mile border with 1,200 troops (that’s one soldier for every 1.6 miles—and it assumes that each soldier is working 24/7/365) than that we can do it by building a wall fence. And yet, if their primary purpose is not active interdiction, but to “help analyzing trafficking patterns,” one can only wonder why so many are needed on site to accomplish that task.
The bigger point to be made, however, is that we are not going to be effective in addressing the problem of our borders by resorting to simplistic and piecemeal military solutions. I’m quite sure that President Obama knows and believes this, and were he to allow himself to be guided by the “better angels of his nature” he would move in a different direction towards more progressive immigration reform. What is troubling is that he is doing it anyway, and for what are no doubt pragmatic political reasons that sadly (and ironically) belie an increasingly militaristic society.
Photo Credit: Don Bartletti/LA Times