Sunday, September 16, 2007

On giant walls and illegal immigration

I usually don't write on the subject. But as I was up in the middle of the night, trying not to sneeze, eyes burning, ears and throat itching (and for the love of GOD, why is there no freaking OTC allergy medicine in this blessed country!?!), I got to thinking about why building a giant wall to separate the U.S. from Mexico is a bad idea, IMHO.

1. Latinos are resourceful. They will find a way around, or through it. Especially when they are desperate. I mean, look, they're not risking their lives coming to the U.S., full of people who hate them, because they just woke up one morning, and thought, What the hell? Let's go to the U.S.! They're doing it because they're desperate. Their families are living below any sense of what we'd consider poverty; they have no food to feed their children. What wouldn't you do for your children? I'd do just about anything for mine, including stealing myself into a foreign country illegally if I thought it would make his life better.

To illustrate this point, I would like to turn your attention now to the pedestrian bridge that was built here over the Escazu highway from CIMA Hospital to the other side of the highway. It was built in order to help people crossing the highway not get killed in traffic, which has happened more times than you might imagine. Every heart you see painted on the highway? That's someone who's died, right there in that spot. But I digress... Anyway, the MOPT put up a big ol' fence in the median so that people would be forced to actually use the pedestrian bridge instead of running across the highway. What did they do, but cut a big hole in the fence (and we are talking about industrial-grade chain link fencing -- you'd need serious bolt cutters to get through it) so that they could sneak through it and run across the highway like fools. Stupid, lazy, I think. This is what people do to walls just because they're acting like spoiled children. Imagine what they would do if they were desperate people trying to save themselves and their families.

2. A giant wall separating Mexico from the U.S. could have a devastating effect on the wildlife. The Center for Biological Diversity had this to say: "Jaguars, Mexican Gray Wolves, Peninsular Bighorn Sheep, and other endangered species need to cross their borderland habitat often, and this wall will crush their ability to survive. ... More border walls further damage already-stressed wildlife and places, such as the Cactus Pygmy Owl and Sonoran Pronghorn in Arizona; Flat-Tailed Horned Lizard and Peninsular Ranges Bighorn Sheep in California; Jaguar and Mexican Gray Wolves in New Mexico; and the Rio Grande River, Ocelot, and Big Bend National Park in Texas. Walls harm wildlife by blocking critical migration corridors and destroying valuable habitat." That pretty much sums it up.

Here is an idea: Instead of taking the four to eight billion dollars it is estimated this stupid wall idea would cost, why not take that money and invest it in helping the Mexican people in greatest need get out of poverty? Build schools, train teachers, create good jobs (and I'm not talking about that colossally bad idea that was NAFTA), institute social programs that work. Why not? Because then American people will scream about how "We have enough problems of our own, why not use the money here?" And they have a point. So I propose an additional idea (neither of which is new, obviously): Take some of that 450+ billion dollars spent on "war" with Iraq that is killing our young servicemen and women and Iraqi civilians every day and doing a whole lot of nothing for national security, and instead put that money to ending poverty at home. For instance, with the money the U.S. government has spent on Iraq so far we could have built over 4 million low-income housing units. We could have hired almost 8 million more teachers. So let's face it, another 4-8 measly billion dollars sent south of the border is a drop in the bucket. Why not make lives better instead of pushing people away? Engender some goodwill for a change. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Don't you think people would prefer to stay home if they could have a good quality of life there? Thinking of my own family again, I certainly would.

We do, as Americans, in fact have a hand in poor Mexicans fleeing their country, via that "wonderful" idea known as NAFTA. Increased poverty, environmental degradation and workers' rights abuses are just a few of the effects NAFTA had on the Mexican people. We traded them self-sufficient rural communities for low-paying industrial jobs, destroying entire villages and polluting land and water, and now we wonder why they want to leave? And the sad part is, really, the only people to benefit from NAFTA were the big corporations, such as the one my mom worked for in the 80s.

An inspector at General Motors in Ohio, my mother was one of the few people whose job didn't get sent to Mexico. Back in the day, people were proud to work for GM and many a worker would stay with GM their entire careers. They were good jobs that paid well and provided good benefits. I often wished my mom would quit and move us to California, but she was afraid that she wouldn't be able to do as well there and we'd be in trouble, since it was just me and her. I hated her decision then, but now I see her point. Everyone at the plant drove American-made cars, except my mom, who had a British-made MGB. She received many a threat for driving that car to work. The point I'm trying to make is that people took pride in their jobs and it showed. American cars were good cars, and people knew it. Then NAFTA came along. I'm going to guess that at least half of the people with whom my mom worked lost their jobs, but that is probably on the low side. Entire plants shut down as operations were moved to Mexico. And why not? Big corporations like GM were paying skilled and "unskilled" workers upwards of $10-15 and even more an hour; they could pay the Mexican people a minuscule fraction of that. My mom kept her job as an inspector, but now she was seeing entire lots of cabling and connections for wiring harnesses (you know, the electronics that run your car) that were not making the grade. She'd reject them, but of course supervisors had to make their quotas, and so much of what she'd rejected got passed on to the consumer anyway. In the end, she was suffering health problems related to stress, and finally retired. That's just one story, which I'm sure was replicated at not just automobile manufacturers across the Midwest, but all other types of plants throughout the U.S. Remember when you could actually find clothes made in the U.S.? I do. So if you think the Mexican people got something good out of us shipping good jobs south, think again. They got to work for crappy wages under crappy conditions. They didn't have to take the jobs, you say. No, but they were lured in by promises of good-paying jobs that would be easier than farming, etc. and by the time they realized these promises meant nothing, it was too late.

So what say we reject the wall, and ask our senators and members of Congress to put that money where it will actually do some good?


  1. You hit some of the reasons that the border wall should never be built on the head. One key reason is that in south Texas, in the stretch spelled out in the Secure Fence Act calling for "at least 2 layers of reinforced fencing" runnig from Laredo to Brownsville (more than 200 miles), you have the merging of the central and Mississippi migratory flyways. Birds, bats and butterflies coming down from the Rockies to the west and from the eastern US bottleneck on south Texas. Many species fly over the Gulf of Mexico, and if they do not have riparian habitat to rest and refuel before continuing south they will not have the energy for the journey. For the past couple of decades the US Fish and Wildlife Service has been buying up land to create a wildlife corridor along the Rio Grande, which currently preserves much of the remaining habitat in the area. Rip out the vegetation and replace it with parallel 15 foot tall steel walls with a graded road in between and you destroy that vital habitat. Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, NABA Butterfly Refuge, Bentsen Rio Grande State Park and World Birding Center, Sabal Palms Audubon Sanctuary, and a number of other refuges are in the direct path of the border wall. If the birds do not have the strength to complete their migratory journeys it will be much quieter in the forests of Costa Rica in the winter. Having taught at the La Suerte Biological Field Station 7 times I know what a tragedy that would be. Normally the Migratory Bird Treaty Act would prevent this, but under the Real ID Act Chertoff has the power to waive it, along with any other law that slows the wall. As you say, it is important that people contact their Senators and Representatives and urge them to repeal the Secure Fence Act. There is more information at . If we don't force a reversal of the Act the wall will go up and the environment will be severely impacted. Immigration, according to the Border Patrol, will be unaffected. They say the wall will only slow someone down by 5 minutes.

  2. Thank you, my friend. I have signed the petition and I hope many, many others will as well.