No Fake Walls, Mr. President

By | 2017-06-02T18:30:05+00:00 March 4, 2018|
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With the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program tied up in the courts, the March 5 deadline for “fixing DACA” has been nullified for the time being. DACA recipients will still receive protection under the program, at least until Trump’s decision to end it has  been litigated fully.

With another “must-pass” funding bill approaching at the end of March, however, there is still the opportunity for pro-DACA patrons to try and strike a deal to codify DACA protections in exchange for funding a wall at the southern border.  As the New York Times speculated this week, “such a deal could be tucked into a broad spending bill that lawmakers must approve by March 23 when government funding is set to expire.”

Some on the right argue that codifying DACA protections for the current 700,000 recipients is worth it, as it may be the only way Democrats will agree to end chain migration and fund the construction of Trump’s “big, beautiful wall.”

They could be right. But only if the big, beautiful wall is actually that—a wall.

As I’ve written before, the immigration debate is rife with doublespeak. The phrase “border security,” for example, is used to paper over measures that are actually completely ineffective. Likewise, the various iterations of what constitutes a “border wall” can range from vehicle barriers—concrete posts that provide obstacles for drivers, but not pedestrians—to a few aerial drones that occasionally circle overhead.

Recall President Obama’s claim in 2011 that the border fence authorized in the Secure Fence Act of 2006 was “basically complete” with 652 of the 700 miles constructed. What constitutes “complete,” however, depends on what you consider to be a fence.

In reality, only 36.3 miles were built with the double-layered fencing that the law required, while 300 miles of the so-called “fence” were covered by rickety vehicle barriers and single-layer pedestrian fencing. The law itself granted a tremendous amount of discretionary authority to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), allowing the agency to waive the double-fence requirement as well as a number of deadlines. Worse still, a law passed in 2008 erased the requirement that the fence had to be double-layered.

In other words, the last major legislation passed by Congress to build a border wall resulted in nothing more than a hodge-podge of rickety pedestrian fencing, unmanned aerial drones (which the DHS Inspector General determined were ineffective in conducting surveillance) and makeshift vehicle barriers masquerading as meaningful border security.

This raises a critical point for the 72 percent of Republicans that favor a border wall.

If a deal is going to be struck that exchanges DACA for a border wall, it must actually be for a border wall that prohibits movement—not an assortment of flimsy solutions that have already been proven ineffective.

How will we know if Congress is considering an operationally effective wall? It will look like the 15-foot double-layered fence in the San Diego corridor, which reduced apprehensions from 100,000 a year to 5,000.

Or it could look like the border wall in Yuma, Arizona, where border patrol agents were arresting an average of 800 illegal aliens a day until the construction of a double and triple-layered fence that included lighting, roads and increased surveillance.

It may also follow the example of the border walls constructed in 65 countries around the world, many of which successfully keep the peace in regions fraught with tension. For example, Israel’s double-layered security style fencing dropped terror attacks by 90 percent. Morocco stopped Algerian terrorist attacks after it built a 1,700-mile system of sand berms, fences and ditches. Likewise, Saudi Arabia has just built a wall along its border with Yemen to prevent entry by Yemeni-based terrorists.

All of these successful walls share a fundamental trait: they are permanent physical structures with double, sometimes triple layers of fencing. Many have security zones running down the middle, in addition to lighting, video surveillance and technology for tunnel detection.

These are all features that make a border wall successful, requirements for which must be included in any legislation that authorizes Trump’s wall. The eight border wall prototypes currently awaiting Trump’s review in California are promising starts. But as we know from previous experience, the devil is in the details.

If a big, beautiful wall is going to be successful, three things will be guaranteed: money, a firm deadline, and criteria for a permanent structure that cannot be undermined by agency bureaucrats.

About the Author:

Rachel Bovard
Rachel Bovard is senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute. Beginning in 2006, she served in both the House and Senate in various roles including as legislative director for Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and policy director for the Senate Steering Committee under the successive chairmanships of Senator Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) and Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), where she advised Committee members on strategy related to floor procedure and policy matters. In the House, she worked as senior legislative assistant to Congressman Donald Manzullo (R-IL), and Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX). She is the former director of policy services for the Heritage Foundation. Follow her on Twitter at @RachelBovard.