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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

"The Great Wall of America"

The Great Wall of America "will cause more death in the desert":

Don't fence them in, by Rubén Martínez, Commentary, LA Times: I stood on the cottonwood-lined banks of the San Pedro River in Arizona recently...

If the Department of Homeland Security and the Army Corps of Engineers have their way, a "vehicle barrier" made of railroad ties will cut across the river (although it will have to be removed each year before the monsoon floods, which would easily whisk it away). There are plans for permanent vehicle barriers just beyond the riverbed -- steel posts sunk into 3 feet of concrete. And for "pedestrian fencing" made of double rows of concrete-filled 14- to 17-foot-high bollards. ... There will be a new "all-weather" road, lighting and electronic surveillance towers.

And a price tag of $7 billion. For starters.

Faraway Washington has forgotten just how much cowboys can't stand fences. And in this case, there are lots of cowboys: artists, students, activists, even politicians. ...

The San Pedro River, which runs atypically from south to north, will be virtually dammed as far as most people and many animals are concerned. Human migrants will be pushed from the river valley to torturous trails that cross the 9,000-foot-high peaks of the Huachuca Mountains; it is nearly certain the human death toll will begin to rise in the area.

This will happen because the Department of Homeland Security says so. The Secure Fence Act of 2006 mandates 700 miles of barriers... And although the department does indeed have the power to say so -- including the authority to waive National Environmental Policy Act rules in the name of national security -- resistance to the "wall" is proving to be a political obstruction Beltway politicos and Homeland Security functionaries hadn't counted on.

It's a new political convergence in the borderlands: environmentalists, social justice advocates and a cohort of new border activists who are apparently driven less by ideology than a simple Western love of open vistas -- and plain common sense. ...

The bulldozers were already within sight of the San Pedro River last week when a federal judge stayed further construction in response to a joint appeal from Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club, which argued that "immediate and irreparable harm" would come to the river and its ecosystem.

In Texas, meanwhile, several Lower Rio Grande communities also are threatening lawsuits against the Homeland Security Department. Brownsville Mayor Pat Ahumada said his city will "instruct DHS to stop the building of the wall." Some local officials have stalled construction by blocking the department's access to the border. ...

At the University of Texas, Brownsville students marched against a proposed barrier that would literally cut off access to part of its campus.

On the Tohono O'odham Reservation in Arizona -- which overlays 74 miles of the border -- tribal Chairman Ned Norris Jr. declared that Homeland Security officials would build a wall through O'odham land only "over my dead body." ...

All of these join veterans of immigrants rights campaigns such as Tucson-based No More Deaths, which each summer focuses attention on the terrible toll of migrants who die of exposure in the deserts -- the most tangible result of the 1990s wall-building frenzy.

As for the political imagination that urges the fence into being, a kind of post-9/11 paranoid optimism is at work.

The Great Wall of America underscores a delusional faith in technology as the only solution to a problem that has nothing to do with technology. Ultimately, such Ozymandian monuments say more about the minds that conceived them than any "enemies" they actually contain. Think of the grandiose barriers of history -- the walls of Troy and China and Berlin; the wall that kept the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto. Think of their fate, their ultimate symbolism. Each began with the idea that people -- and their ideas -- could be restrained by barriers, just like rivers can be dammed. A simple feat of engineering.

And yet we believe that our wall will be the exception. ...

The cowboys who can't stand fences -- the environmentalists and artists, the anarchists and the migrants -- know that the wall will cause more death in the desert and leave a scar upon the land. ...

    Posted by on Wednesday, October 17, 2007 at 02:34 AM in Economics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (115)


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