money has created a Border Security Industrial Complex
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.
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
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
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
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,
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