Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Maginot Lie.

Remember the Maginot Line? The 'impregnable' wall of fortresses that the French built all along their border with Germany following World War One, at a cost of billions of francs, with the single goal of stopping a German invasion at the border, should there ever be another, after the end of the 'Great War'? The wall was designed to be able to fight World War One-- largely a static war with great masses of men engaged in futile efforts to take heavily fortified positions, and with tremendous losses on each side-- again. Marshal Foch was one of the few Frenchmen who had anything right after the end of World War One, when he said that the treaty of Versailles, which levied enormous damage payments upon a Germany already bled dry by the war, was 'not peace, but a twenty year truce.'

Of course, when World War II came, the Germans simply went around the Maginot Line.

Today, in the United States, the influx of immigrants-- people coming into the United States in search of work, in many cases, illegally-- has been likened to an 'invasion.' Personally, I reject this comparison. An invasion is an organized military action taken with the explicit goal of gaining territory or overthrowing or forcing some action upon the government of the country being invaded. There is no way that this flow of people looking for work meets that definition.

So, there are those who propose to build a wall along the border. Some proposals envision a wall only in some areas with heavy border patrol concentration along the rest of the border, while other scenarios envision a wall along the entire 2,000 mile long border from the Pacific coast of San Diego (where there is already a seven mile wall) to South Padre Island along the south Texas coast.

If this wall is built, will it stop illegal immigration? No, of course it won't, and even its supporters acknowlege that nothing is 100% effective but argue that it would change the millions who have been crossing illegally to perhaps dozens or at most hundreds per year, as they would have to climb, blast, dig, hang-glide or otherwise find a way over, under or through the wall.

But will it? Only if you have the one dimensional imagination of the French planners who assumed that any German invasion would come directly across the border.

Consider this:

The 9/11 commission, mostly concerned with the possibility that terrorists could sneak into the country hidden in cargo containers, or perhaps that they could smuggle in explosives, weapons or maybe even something more sinister, noted that only 2% of the millions of cargo containers entering our ports are inspected. They recommended inspecting 100% of the containers.

To date, the Bush administration has done absolutely nothing meaningful about this recommendation, and the inspection rate remains at 2%.

Very few of the thousands of Chinese and other Asians here illegally came across the Mexican border. In fact, one of the main ways they get in is-- yup, hidden in those very same cargo containers that the Bush administration doesn't think is worth spending the money to inspect, and which aren't even on the radar screen of anti-immigration groups.

There are also many millions of cargo containers that are shipped from Latin American ports to the United States (particularly if your target market is the eastern United States, driving cargo up through Mexico and the central U.S. is not as economically feasible as shipping it.) If we built that wall, who honestly believes that undocumented immigrants from Latin America wouldn't start hiding out in shipping containers?

For that matter, there are may ways to come through the border we have now. Every day millions of private vehicles, railroad cars and trucks cross the border and it's not practical to inspect every one of them. Smuggling in trucks is already quite common, and a border wall will do nothing to prevent this mode of transportation into the U.S.

So what should we do? The answer is complex. First, we have to realize that the 'legal' immigration numbers are unrealistically low and a guest worker program has to reflect realistic numbers, not what Congress has been deciding it should be (a fraction of what the labor market requires.) Second, we should demand that there be no more 'Wal-Mart' solutions (the world's largest retailer reached a negotiated agreement with the government a couple of years ago to 'donate' $11 million to anti-illegal immigration programs while not admitting guilt for the hiring of undocumented workers by subcontractors who all ran the night cleaning crews and which occurred simultaneously in more than twenty states). Instead, how about serious prison time for executives and employers who are found to either by intent, or by intentional negligence, have hired or have authorized the hiring of undocumented immigrants. Once a few have gone to prison, you wouldn't have much more hiring of undocumented immigrants, and with no jobs available, their incentive to come would be gone, and the word that the well had run dry would get back very quickly.

In fact, Republicans and conservatives are trapped by their own dogma on this one. There is a way to end illegal immigration, but it involves targetting employers which they are loathe to do. So they prefer to target the individual workers. But no matter how difficult we make it for workers to get here, or how difficult we try to make life for them once they are here, for someone who has little or nothing before heading north, this is not much of a deterrent (since a job here under any circumstances is still an improvement over what they have now.) So they propose quixotic solutions like a wall, which is doomed to fail.

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