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|9/29: What's the Border Fence Good for?
Released 03 October 2009  By Yasha Levine
What's the Border Fence Good for?
Subsidizing Mexican Scrap Metal Entrepreneurs
By Yasha Levine
eXiled Online, Posted on September 28, 2009
Last week, the Government Accountability Office released a depressing audit
of the US-Mexico border fence we’ve been trying to put up for the past three
years. The report caused about 8 hours of pretend outrage and was promptly
forgotten. It found that we’d already shoveled $2.4 billion to half-seal 600
miles of the border since 2005 (we still have about 100 to 200 miles to go)
and we would need to spend an additional $6.5 billion over the next 20 years
just plugging up holes punched in the fencing.
The Christian Science Monitor notes:
block quote "So far, it has been breached 3,363 times, requiring $1,300 for
the average repair.... Despite the price tag of maintaining the border
fence, authorities have not found a way to determine whether it is helping
to halt illegal immigration, the GAO report says." block quote end
The only semi-relevant stats we got are the number of illegal
border-crossers being caught by the US Border Patrol, which has dropped by
25 percent in recent times. But that doesn’t tell us much. “No one knows
whether the decrease in crossers is due to the recession keeping people
home, the thousands of new border patrol agents or the more than 600 miles
of new border fence that has been built,” says NPR.
There is one thing we can be sure of: the massive steel pylons have been a
boon for Mexican scrap metal entrepreneurs, who are able to supplement their
incomes by dragging off whole sections of the fence right under the nose of
our beefed up Border Patrol.
Bush’s Secure Fence Act of 2006 mandated that the Department of Homeland
Security had 1.5 years to create a physical border fence bolstered by
surveillance technology. But it was obvious from the very beginning that
Bush’s push for a border fence was nothing more than a political show--there
was not enough time and not enough money--to boost Bush’s and Republicans'
creds with their base. Besides, the real Republican base--Bush’s corporate
sponsors, “the haves and the have mores”--were the ones who benefited most
from all that cheap illegal-immigrant labor, so naturally it was bound to be
a half-assed effort intended to quell the Tea Party suckers who believe the
Republicans. The building contractors were the only ones who stood to gain
from the massive, wasteful show of Republican fake-patriotism. A show that’s
still costing us billions.
I was down on the Arizona-Mexico border about six months ago doing a story
on a McGyver-style vigilante group called the American Border Patrol and saw
the total cluster**** that is our border fence up close and personal.
One day I was ATVing along a freshly built stretch of the fence on the
Arizona border, when I ran into a bored, young US Border Patrol agent. He
seemed skeptical about the wall doing much good. The wall wouldn’t make much
of a difference, he told me. “They” always figure out a way to get
through--or over, in this case. Burros carrying bales of drugs on their back
simply throw a rope up over the two-storey barrier, snagging it with some
sort of hook on one of the fence’s steel beams and scuttle up and over.
The amazing thing is that they’ve managed to get cars over it, too.
According to the agent, Mexican smugglers rig trucks with collapsible ramps
similar to those used at old-school airports for boarding planes. They would
have two trucks drive up to the fence--one on each side of the border--line
them up and have their hombres drive right over. Apparently, a whole caravan
of cars and pickup trucks could cross that way in a matter of minutes. When
they were done, the ramps would be folded up and concealed, and the operator
would drive peacefully home.
People who live on the border will tell you that the fence has reduced foot
traffic from Mexico. But in part that’s because smuggling routes have been
pushed into more isolated, less fenced and usually more deadly terrain. So
while border crossing apprehensions are down by a quarter, the number of
deaths have remained the same. Which means that the border patrol is
increasingly turning into a Search, Rescue and Detain operation involving
helicopters, medical supplies and hospital bills. Guess who’s paying for
When I was down in Arizona, I got in touch with an old Vietnam vet who
passed the time doing crazy Rambo ****: rigging a mountainous stretch of the
Mexican border with motion-activated “game cameras." Since they put up the
border fence across the open desert, he saw foot traffic go off the charts
in the nearby mountains, which are not fenced. His cameras captured group
after group of people crossing in areas that were before rarely active, if
at all. Border Patrol can’t get to them there, and it’s also not the safest
place to be. In one of his videos, there’s a huge bear hobbling down a foot
path that is frequently used by border-crossers. One of these days, those
two parties are bound to meet.
But the border fence isn’t a total, ineffectual waste of money just in the
In 2006, the Department of Homeland Security awarded Boeing with a contract
to develop a “virtual fence” prototype along a 28-mile stretch of the border
in Arizona. Dubbed SBInet -part of President Bush’s “Secure Border
Initiative” -it was meant to replace an outdated CCTV-style surveillance
system currently in use by the US Border Patrol and create a unified
surveillance system that linked tower-mounted cameras, ground sensors, UAVs
and radar. The project started off with a budget of $20 million, but quickly
ballooned to nearly $1 billion just two years later. They had to start from
scratch again at least once, and there is still no working prototype in
sight. The Department of Homeland Security was going to scrap SBInet due to
cost overruns, but recently decided to extend its contract with Boeing for
So there you have it. The Secure Fence Act of 2006, thirty-six months later:
Directive #1--”border surveillance through more effective use of personnel
and technology”--is a total ****ing joke. And Directive #2--”physical
infrastructure enhancements to prevent unlawful border entry”--is so
ineffectual and expensive it would probably be cheaper to demolish the whole
thing and hand the rubble over to Mexican scrap metal brokers.
Yasha Levine is a McMansion inhabitin’ editor of The eXiled. He is currently
stationed in Victorville, CA. You can reach him at levine [at]
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