January 23, 2019

A Monument to Ignorance

By Stephen Tuttle | Jan. 12, 2019

The idea of walls is to either keep people in, or keep people out, or both. Almost none have ever worked. 
 
Any wall discussion should start with the Great Wall of China. Started in the fourth century BCE, it was supposed to keep out invading “barbarians.” When finally completed more than 2,000 years later — that's right, 20 centuries — it ran an astounding 13,000 miles. It didn't keep out many barbarians. It was ultimately finished, not as an effective barrier but as a point of national pride. 
 
When the Romans controlled a good chunk of what is now Great Britain, they tried a wall, too. Hadrian's Wall, started in 122 CE, ran a scant 75 miles and never stopped anyone either. It served the purpose of marking the northern boundary of Rome's territory, but entire invading armies poured across. 
 
Europe is full of walled castles and villages — most now tourist attractions, museums, or fancy bed and breakfasts. All worked for a little while; all eventually failed.
 
The president and his team now reference the wall around Vatican City as proof walls are good and humane. It's the smallest independent nation-state on the planet; its 100 acres would fit nicely in downtown Traverse City. Its walls were initially constructed to discourage pirates and competing popes. It never completely encircled the place, and today there are huge gates and openings. The “border” runs across St. Peter's Square, marked by a painted white line on the pavement. You don't even need identification to enter the Vatican. Hardly analogous to our southern border.    
 
A wall's success depends almost entirely on the harshness employed by those guarding it. The Berlin Wall is a good example.
 
Started in 1961 as an effort by East Germany to isolate West Berlin and stop a flood of East Germans trying to escape to freedom, it was reasonably effective. Stretching 67 miles around West Berlin, it was actually a double barrier with a nifty killing zone and all manner of barricades in between. Still, 100,000 people tried to cross it, 5,000 succeeded, and more than 200 were killed in the attempt. By 1989 the wall came down, another failure.
 
The ultimate barrier is the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea. Conjured up as part of the armistice to end the Korean Conflict, it runs for 160 miles, is 2.5 miles wide, and contains the largest concentration of land mines on the planet. It was designed to stop invading land forces from either side.  
 
But what about national security? The president, his director of Homeland Security, and his spokespeople have lately been perpetuating the myth that we've stopped 3,000, or sometimes 4,000, “possible or potential terrorists” from entering.
 
According to Homeland Security's own data, those folks weren't suspected terrorists; they simply arrived from countries known to sponsor terrorist groups. And fully 95 percent were stopped not at the southern border but at ports and airports. Six were on our terrorist watch lists. Six. 
 
We can safely assume the rest, including the 354 stopped at our southern border, were not terrorists since we did not arrest, interrogate, prosecute, convict, or imprison any of them. Nor did we even notify the countries from which they arrived. We just stopped them.
 
A wall won't even address the real illegal immigration issue. 
 
Those entering illegally through the southern border actually make up a relatively small percentage of those in the country illegally. According to the Center for Migration Studies, more than two-thirds of those in the country illegally arrived with proper visas; they just never left. At some point we knew who and where they were, but we've apparently lost track. No wall will stop those already here.
 
So what do the people on the front lines think we should do? The Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) surveyed border patrol agents in 2017. Nearly all mentioned new and better technology and more personnel as their top priorities. Less than one percent listed a wall.
 
“Build the wall” was an idea created by Trump's campaign staff so he'd remember to mention immigration. The anti-immigration crowd loved it, and it was easy to chant at rallies. Now he's shut down parts of the government to get his wall even though wiser heads know it will not make the country safer, will not much deter illegal immigration, will do nothing to solve the expired visa epidemic, and will cost a fortune.
 
So 400,000 people are furloughed without pay, and another 400,000 or so keep working without pay. All for the wrong solution to the wrong problem at the wrong place.
 
A campaign memory trick converted to policy will just be a monument to ignorance.

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