Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Over a year ago, Congress passed a law to spend over $7 billion to build a fence to secure our Mexican border. Less than two weeks ago, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced at a news conference that a high-tech “virtual fence” project on part of the U.S. border with Mexico was finally ready for service, and that the technology that was a substitute for an actual physical fence — you know, cement, barbed wire, watch towers, moats.

The secretary was very specific. He said: “I have personally witnessed the value of the system, and I have spoken directly to border patrol agents … who have seen it produce actual results, in terms of identifying and allowing the apprehension of people who were illegally smuggling across the border.” The so-called Project 28 virtual fence was built near Nogales, Ariz. The $20 million project of sensor towers and advanced mobile communications was supposed to be ready by mid-2007, but was delayed by software problems.

Some of us want a regular, real physical fence. But the White House assured us that a virtual fence would be better. And, by the way, both Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in last week’s debate said they were for the virtual fence-which in their view might obviate the need for a physical fence.

So Mr. Chertoff’s announcement less than two weeks ago was good news. But only five days later, the media reported that the Bush administration has scaled back plans to quickly build a virtual fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, delaying completion of that first 28-mile phase by at least three years and shifting away from a network of tower-mounted sensors and surveillance gear.

Technical problems in the same 28-mile project that Mr. Chertoff had personally vouchsafed just five days before were cited by Homeland Security Department officials as the reason for the three-year delay — which, let me remind you, the secretary had said just five days before it was ready to go operational.



So, instead of starting the promised for partially funded border fence on President Bush’s watch, as he promised; his new plans provide for the first 28 miles of the 2,000-mile fence to be started in the third year of the next presidency. I guess he never really wanted to build that fence.

But Mr. Chertoff did promise to “double the fleet” of our unmanned surveillance aircraft-from three to six for 2,000 miles of border.

About 75 percent of the public wants our border secured. I guess that does not include the president — nor the Democratic Party candidates looking to replace him.

More pungently, Mickey Kaus, the brilliant, stalwart opponent of border insecurity policies (and the conniving politicians who undermine secure borders) laid out in his Kausfiles Web log a persuasive theory of what we have just seen: “1.) Border-control advocates want an actual physical fence; 2.) Respectable Bush comprehensivist types like Chertoff want to substitute a sophisticated hi-tech ‘virtual fence’ … 3.) Border-control types say the virtual fence won’t work … 4.) Bush [et al.] cut back on actual fencing, choosing virtual fence; 5.) Where it’s installed, the actual fence works; 6) Where it’s installed, the ‘virtual fence’ doesn’t work.” Mr. Kaus then approvingly cites Tammy Bruce for this conclusion: “In other words, we’ve all just been taken for a ride … In order to do whatever possible to avoid building an actual physical fence … Bush, McCain and their amnesty cronies made sure a monumental amount of money was wasted on a fake, untested, unreal fence to placate conservatives.”

I am not by nature a believer in large political conspiracies — noting that usually events can be explained by merely a conspiracy of idiots against the forces of reason. And so perhaps in this case, too. The Bush administration and the leaders of the Democratic Party both want (for different reasons) no obstruction to the full flood of illegal workers (for the Republicans) and voters (for the Democrats) into the United States: Thus their adamant opposition to a physical obstruction to such passage. Whether they truly believed in the efficacy of the virtual fence or not, I must leave up to soul readers.

But either way, the announcement last week demonstrates the complete political failure of those of us who have argued for an effective policy implementation to promptly gain control of our borders and staunch the flood of illegal border crossings. It is now highly likely that whoever wins the presidency, we are facing eight more years of unsecured borders and the addition of many millions more illegals into our already unstable body politic. Alea iacta est (the die is cast).

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