We are constantly told that there is no feasible solution to the problem of illegal immigrants crossing America's largely wide-open 1,800-mile border with Mexico. But recent news from Israel suggests that the cost of building a high-tech security fence from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico would be a bargain.
The Israeli coalition government, observing how effective the eight-year-old security fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip has been at keeping out suicide bombers, has just started fencing off the West Bank as well.
This West Bank fence will "cost up to $2 million a mile," according to the Washington Post.
Let's do the math. Two million bucks for each of the 1,800 miles of the Mexican border comes out to a grand total of $3.6 billion. That's chickenfeed compared to the couple of trillion clams the federal government blows through each year - less than 0.2% of annual outlays. Even if all the payoffs to lawyers, environmental impact researchers, Indian chiefs and the like doubles the cost to $7.2 billion, so what? It's cheap at twice that price.
What about operating costs? Say that once the fence is up and running, we then spend $1,000,000 per mile per year on guards and maintenance. That's 0.1% of the Federal budget.
The INS's Operation Gatekeeper experiment at building a wall along the border just south of San Diego has been quite a success, as the New York Times admitted last year. Up to 2,000 lawbreakers per day had been pouring through the backyards and cul-de-sacs of Imperial Beach, Calif., turning what had been a pleasant seaside suburb into a scene from Mad Max. But the new fence has reduced the torrent to a trickle.
The problem with the fences that the INS put up in the late 1990s was that they didn't link up into a complete chain. Many would-be illegals decided to try their luck in an end-run through the barely-guarded desert. Hundreds died of exposure. But constructing an uninterrupted barrier would make the odds against getting across the border absolutely prohibitive.
No fence is perfect. And obviously, we'd still have guarded openings for transit, as we do now in San Diego. But the Israeli success at keeping out the Gaza Strip's would-be suicide bombers - who are, by definition, extremely motivated - suggests that not building a true border barricade is not just foolish, but cruel.
July 02, 2002