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Sterility of the Border Fence Debate



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U.S. News (yes, it’s still around, in some form anyway) has an online commentary thing called Debate Club and the most recent question was “Should the United States Build a Fence on Its Southern Border?” There were five responses (including mine), and disregarding the lame “No” response from a representative of a sketchy group with “tea party” in its name (who’s also lobbied against E-Verify), the four germane responses were split, two Yes and two No. But when you read those four short pieces, you find they’re pretty much all saying the same thing — fencing is an important part, but just one part, of a broader border-control strategy. The fact that the same basic answer was described as a No by some and Yes by others suggests it’s the wrong question — and that’s not the fault of U.S. News but a shortcoming in our political debate.

Talking about border fencing is easy for pols, because it is visual, everyone understands the utility of it, and it doesn’t alienate big campaign contributors. But it’s ultimately a dead end because there are a lot of other things we need to do at the same time, like universal use of E-Verify, a functioning check-in/check-out system for foreign visitors, and full partnership of all state and local law enforcement agencies with immigration authorities.

But apart from the utility of fence-talk for politicians, it has an appeal for Americans, and not at all just for conservatives, as an assertion of our national will in opposition to the post-American opponents of borders and sovereignty. It reminds of a passage from Mahan’s biography of Admiral Nelson:

“It matters not at all,” he [Nelson] said, taking up a poker, “in what way I lay this poker on the floor. But if Bonaparte should say it must be placed in this direction,” suiting the action to the word, “we must instantly insist upon its being placed in some other one.”

In other words, if the chattering classes, dripping in their contempt for the sentiments of ordinary people, and the deracinated corporate right and leftist America-haters and the chauvinist government of Mexico don’t want a fence, well, f*** them, we need to build a fence! Believe me, I understand and share the sentiment. But if we’re going to control our borders and defend our nation’s sovereignty against all enemies, foreign and domestic, we need to do — and debate — what works, and fencing is just one piece of that.



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