What's the Border Fence Good for? Subsidizing Mexican Scrap Metal Entrepreneurs
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People who live on the border will tell you that the fence has reduced foot traffic from Mexico. But in part that’s because smuggling routes have been pushed into more isolated, less fenced and usually more deadly terrain. So while border crossing apprehensions are down by a quarter, the number of deaths have remained the same. Which means that the border patrol is increasingly turning into a Search, Rescue and Detain operation involving helicopters, medical supplies and hospital bills. Guess who’s paying for those?
When I was down in Arizona, I got in touch with an old Vietnam vet who passed the time doing crazy Rambo shit: rigging a mountainous stretch of the Mexican border with motion-activated “game cameras.” Since they put up the border fence across the open desert, he saw foot traffic go off the charts in the nearby mountains, which are not fenced. His cameras captured group after group of people crossing in areas that were before rarely active, if at all. Border Patrol can’t get to them there, and it’s also not the safest place to be. In one of his videos, there’s a huge bear hobbling down a foot path that is frequently used by border-crossers. One of these days, those two parties are bound to meet.
But the border fence isn’t a total, ineffectual waste of money just in the physical realm.
In 2006, the Department of Homeland Security awarded Boeing with a contract to develop a “virtual fence” prototype along a 28-mile stretch of the border in Arizona. Dubbed SBInet — part of President Bush’s “Secure Border Initiative” — it was meant to replace an outdated CCTV-style surveillance system currently in use by the US Borer Patrol and create a unified surveillance system that linked tower-mounted cameras, ground sensors, UAVs and radar. The project started off with a budget of $20 million, but quickly ballooned to nearly $1 billion just two years later. They had to start from scratch at least once, and there is still no working prototype in sight. The Department of Homeland Security was going to scrap SBInet due to cost overruns, but recently decided to extend its contract with Boeing for another year.
So there you have it. The Secure Fence Act of 2006, thirty-six months later: Directive #1—”border surveillance through more effective use of personnel and technology”—is total fucking joke. And Directive #2—”physical infrastructure enhancements to prevent unlawful border entry”—is so ineffectual and expensive it would probably be cheaper to demolish the whole thing and hand the rubble over to Mexican scrap metal brokers.