News and views from the award-winning author of the novels The Skinny Years, America Libre, House Divided and Pancho Land

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Wall Mongers

Proponents of a continuous wall along our southern border are selling the barrier primarily as protection against infiltration by terrorists. But let’s be frank. It’s really about keeping out what many see as an unwanted brown tide rising from the south. After all, no one is proposing a barrier along the U.S. border with Canada although terrorists could just as easily sneak across our vast unguarded northern frontier.

Make no mistake. This wall is about fear and prejudice. Here is what the Emigration Party of Nevada, a group that advocates sealing our borders, has to say: “Mexicans have gotten the idea that they have the right to breed like flies, and that it is our duty to feed and clothe them. Our treasonous politicians have allowed this to happen. For that, they deserve to be dangling from a rope.” This text is preceded by this photo of a pregnant woman. One must suppose she is their idea of a terrorist.

Ironically, the wall these people so vehemently demand wouldn’t really do much to stop terrorists—or illegal immigration. Lest we forget, all of the 9-11 skyjackers entered the country through legal means. In addition, the latest research shows nearly half of the nation’s undocumented workers are legal visitors who simply overstayed their visas. But these facts don’t seem important to the wall mongers. Neither does the cost.

Official estimates for the border wall are $2.1 billion. However, an independent government study suggested the costs could easily balloon to $30 billion. How juicy is this potential pork pie? KBR, the engineering and construction subsidiary of Haliburton is planning to submit a proposal. Rest assured, anytime Vice President Cheney’s former company is at the table, there is serious money involved. KBR is the government contractor pulling down the lion’s share of the $440 billion cost of the war in Iraq and who knows how much longer that meal ticket may last?

Even if the border were completely sealed tomorrow, nearly one in five people in the U.S. will be classified as Hispanic by 2025. In less than a generation, we can expect a “bebĂ© boom” of young Hispanics entering the job market. Will our economy find work for them? Or will we have an unstable mass of idle youth alienated by years of bigotry and backlash?

Immigration is a prickly problem that defies bumper sticker answers. The people who feel it will be solved by simply building a wall are chasing a dangerous illusion.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez