President Obama has taken steps to halt construction of the medieval fence on the Mexican border – a move that brings to an end a chapter of pointless environmental devastation in the southern United States.
In his budget proposal for fiscal 2010 released last week, Obama canceled plans to extend the fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.
So far about 624 miles of pedestrian and vehicle fencing has been built along the nearly 2,000-mile border Another 46 miles of fence had been planned, but what has been built so far may be the end of the project.
Instead, there are plans to switch to a “virtual” fence – towers holding sensors, cameras and communications equipment to detect smugglers and people entering the country illegally. Work on that far-less-offensive fence is set to begin this week.
Fences and walls were ineffective when they were built by the first Emperor of China, they were ineffective when built by the communists in East Germany and they have been and would have been ineffective in the southern U.S.
This was noted by Janet Napolitano when she was governor of Arizona. “Show me a 50-foot wall, and I’ll show you a 51-foot ladder,” said Napolitano, now secretary of Homeland Security.
Fences have their place in urban parts of the border, but are useless in isolated areas where smugglers go over, under and through them with impunity. The fence cost an average of $3.9 million per mile to build and a Border Patrol official called it only “a speed bump in the desert.”
The fence also has divided and irreparably harmed some of the richest biodiversity in the world that lies along both sides of the border.
The Bush administration ignored the Clean Water, Clean Air and Endangered Species acts, and three dozen other laws to build the fence. We are glad no more will be built.
The first version of the virtual fence built and tested in southern Arizona west of Tucson was not successful. But problems that came up with the various systems have been resolved.
Groundbreaking is to begin this week in southern Arizona for the virtual fence project’s first permanent detection towers. The towers are to be built first in Arizona, the busiest corridor for illegal entries.
Plans call for also placing such towers – along most of the Mexican border – in New Mexico, California and almost all of Texas within five years.
That type of fence will be more effective, less offensive and less environmentally disastrous. It’s a laudable change of strategy.