Your money has created a Border Security Industrial Complex
Arizona Republic
April 20, 2008


Those who say illegal immigration saps vast sums of taxpayer dollars don't know how right they are. Unless Washington grows a brain, the giant sucking sound will become so loud that even plugging your ears won't help.

So, hide your wallet.

This is worse than illegal immigrants using the public library.
Much worse.

We're witnessing the birth of a Border Security Industrial Complex, and it's ready to chow down on your tax dollar.

This misbegotten child was fathered by a national policy that treats illegal immigration like a law-enforcement problem instead of a social phenomenon.

It's a policy that misses the point entirely.

The challenges of being the Land of Plenty right across the line from the Zone of Want are enormous. But they are human challenges. They are economic challenges. They are about people yearning to be better, not criminals scheming to do evil.

Until we recognize that, we will continue to pay for increasingly expensive and ineffective enforcement efforts.

The challenges presented by our geography and their poverty extend beyond Mexico, which is relatively well off compared with some countries farther south. Increasing numbers of illegal border crossers are from Central America. The American dream reaches into rural areas of poor countries like Guatemala and Nicaragua. It offers hope for parents who can't feed their kids.

They are not motivated by a desire to break laws. They are animated by the most basic of human needs.

That's why walls haven't stopped them.

That's why walls won't stop them. They wouldn't stop you if your child's future depended on jumping a line.

Unfortunately, building walls - particularly high-tech virtual ones - can be profitable.

It's time for a very scary bedtime story.

The story is called "Secure Border Initiative: Observations on the Importance of Applying Lessons Learned to Future Projects." It was prepared by the Government Accountability Office and presented to Congress in February. You can find it at new.items/d08508t.pdf

I think that cumbersome title might be part of a vast federal conspiracy to make everyone fall asleep and snore past the important stuff. So, outfox them and stay awake. This matters.

In analyzing the 28-mile stretch of virtual fence along Arizona's border with Mexico, the GAO found lots of problems. The high-tech goulash of gee-whiz surveillance stuff was supposed to spot illegal entrants as they set foot in the United States. Instead, the radar was being set off by weather events, the images were fuzzy and the information was slow to come up on the agent's computers.

The laptops that agents were given to receive data in their cars weren't mounted firmly enough to withstand the rugged roads on which Border Patrol agents drive.

Rather than declare the whole thing a failure, the GAO played the Glad Game and invited everybody to use this as an opportunity to learn from what went wrong.

One of the lessons learned? It's a good idea to talk to Border Patrol agents when designing a system that will be used by Border Patrol agents. Honest. That's in the report.

Another lesson? It's a good idea to do tests to ensure the components of your system, like radar and cameras, are integrated before they are deployed. That "did not occur," according to the GAO.

In February, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff officially accepted the 28-mile virtual system on behalf of the buyer - that would be you, dear taxpayer. It was the same month that the GAO said much of the equipment in the system would have to be replaced at additional expense - that would be to you, dear taxpayer.

Boeing got $20.6 million initially to build Project 28. In December, Boeing was given an $8 million contract to maintain and support Project 28 and $64.5 million to upgrade Secure Border Initiative software.

According to the GAO report, Boeing was awarded $733 million in January to "execute tactical infrastructure projects" in connection with border security.

Pretty soon, this is going to add up to real money.

Imagine if it were used more wisely.

That money could have a huge impact on illegal immigration if the policy shifted from law enforcement to human empowerment. If creative non-profit groups had that level of funding for education and economic development in rural Mexico and Central America, rural Mexicans and Central Americans would have a reason to stay at home.

The smart way to cut the costs of illegal immigration is to chip away at the reason people become illegal immigrants.

Reach Valdez at