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The Collective
Thursday, May 18, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the NYT: Senate Votes to Extend Fence Along Border

The measure calling for an additional 370 miles of fencing and 500 miles of vehicle barriers carried by 83 to 16. Since the House of Representatives has already approved some 700 miles of additional fencing, it is likely that whatever immigration legislation emerges from the full Congress will provide for extra barriers.

Last time I checked, the border was about 2,000 miles in length. What this will likely is what current border fortification have done: shift the flow, but not dampen it. For example, the current problems being experienced in Arizona, especially the crossing of private lands, are a direct result of border barriers built in more urban areas.

And I still predict that with more fencing will come more direct (and successful) attempts at penetrating said object.

One of Alabama’s Senators got into the act with a little poetic citation:

The Senate fence measure was embodied in an amendment offered by Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, who borrowed from the poet Robert Frost. “Good fences make good neighbors,” he said. “Fences don’t make bad neighbors.”

Amusingly, however, as Mike Munger notes, Sessions misses the point of the poem he is quoting (Frost’s oft-quoted verse is actually anti-fence).

Regardless (the point of the poem is ultimately unimportant, although the misapplication is amusing), of the items that will survive the conference, there is no doubt that the fence/barrier elements will be one of them.

Of course, the conference is likely to be highly contentious, and will almost have to craft brand new legislation out of the ashes of the House and Senate bills:

Whatever emerges from the Senate will have to be reconciled with a House bill that emphasizes border security rather than chances at citizenship, and those negotiations are sure to be hard-fought.

Back to the question of the overall efficacy of a border fence, a piece in WaPo today has the information:

Starting in 1993, the Border Patrol blockaded major urban crossing points from San Diego to El Paso, where large groups of immigrants simply dashed across in what were known as “banzai runs.” In El Paso, agents continuously patrolled the Rio Grande, hoping to deter immigrants. A year later in San Diego, the government built a 10-foot-high steel fence for Operation Gatekeeper. Eventually, 106 miles of fencing was constructed near every metropolis along the border with Mexico.

But the illegal crossings have continued.

Gatekeeper and the other efforts did nothing to stem the tide of illegal entries to the United States. In fiscal 2005, the Border Patrol apprehended 1.1 million people, about the same as in 1993. Several academic studies have estimated that 500,000 got through, also the same as in 1993, despite the number of Border Patrol agents tripling to more than 11,000 in 12 years. But Gatekeeper and the rest of the deterrence campaign did have real effect: Instead of dashing across in urban areas, illegal immigrants turned to paths through the deserts of eastern California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. They began employing “coyotes,” smugglers who demanded thousands of dollars, to lead them and often traveled under hot sun with little water. More than 2,500 have died attempting such crossings in the past decade.

As noted above: the numbers coming through the San Diego area have no doubt diminished, but the flow simply shifted.

As, as the story notes, with the increased security at major urban crossings increased, once people cross, they are less likely to cross back for fear of being captured/the difficulty associated with re-crossing. In other words: our increased security and expense hasn’t stemmed the tide of illegals entering the country, but those policies have increased the odds that illegal aliens ill take up permanent residence in the United States:

Because it became riskier and more expensive to cross — coyotes charge $1,500 per person, on average — once illegal immigrants were here, they tended to stay. Also, a decade ago, most people crossing were men. Now, Van Wagenen said, “We catch whole families. Mother, children, grandma and grandpa are in the group.”

And the policy results have been perverse, in the sense that that which is often noted as one of the major problems with illegal immigration has been made worse by our policies aimed at stopped the flow:

“This means an increased rate of settlement, an increased rate of population growth, increased costs to society for schools, housing and medical care,” said Douglas S. Massey, a Princeton University sociologist who is running the study. “We’ve accomplished the very thing we set out to avoid.”

And, of course, there’s this:

The perilous journey has also left thousands dead. In 1993, 23 people died crossing the border, most of them hit on Interstate 5 north of the border in California. Now, on average, 1.5 people die a day

Regardless of anything else, this underscores what we are dealing with in terms of the forces we are trying to reshape via legislation. To date we have been singularly poor at accomplishing our stated goals.

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6 Comments

  1. Conference committees-with negotiators handpicked by the leadership, meeting in secret, and presenting take-it-or-leave-it offers to each chamber-are an abomination.

    The chambers should simply debate one another’s proposals in the open and pass them back and forth till they come to an agreement or decide to give up.

    Comment by Matthew — Thursday, May 18, 2006 @ 9:46 am

  2. I can’t argue with you on that one.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Thursday, May 18, 2006 @ 10:02 am

  3. 1. Estimates are that 40% to 60% of illegals don\’t sneak across the border - they enter on legal visas, and then stay. So a big, nasty wall will do absolutely nothing to stop about half of the illegals that enter.

    2. Of the remaining half, most will simply cross at a different point (as Dr. Taylor correctly pointed out). So the wall won’t stop most of them either.

    3. And, of course, those illegals that are are actually caught and deported will just turn around and try again and again until they are successful. Just as they do today.

    So the wall will be essentially a big waste of money in my opinion. But my overall opinion on the subject of the fence is…

    Whatever. (shrugs shoulders)

    I figure once you’ve wasted billions of dollars on boondoggles like subsidizing the oil/gas industry, what’s a few billion more to build a big wall. ;)

    Comment by LaurenceB — Thursday, May 18, 2006 @ 3:55 pm

  4. Steve,
    Greetings from the Mint400. I came here from a referrer log. The page you are linking to, Functional, if not decorative, on the left is not the root url. Could you please update the link?

    The Mint will be adding a reciprocal link in short order, thanks so much.

    Comment by seed — Friday, May 19, 2006 @ 11:37 am

  5. De-fence

    Steven Taylor and Carolyn Lochhead both riff on the unintended consequences of efforts to seal our southern border. Taylor:
    with the increased security at major urban crossings increased, once people cross, they are less likely to cross back for fea…

    Trackback by blogs for industry — Friday, May 19, 2006 @ 9:38 pm

  6. Language Classes In San Diego

    JAPANESE study course in New York Los Angeles San Diego San Francisco

    Trackback by Language Classes In San Diego — Monday, January 8, 2007 @ 9:28 pm

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