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« Cats and Dogs Living Together? | Main | Barack The Line »

Cutting For Sign

I first heard of WIlliam Langewiesche when he appeared on "Fresh Air," discussing flight dynamics and piloting in the wake of JFK, Jr's poor judgment and ultimate death. The Atlantic republished his article, "The Turn." Recently, I remembered another book had of his, published in 1993, about the US-Mexican border, Cutting for Sign" target="_blank">Cutting For Sign. Things have gotten worse since then in some ways, but even then, only a few years after Simpson-Mizzoli, the signs were there.

Langewiesche raises questions that conservatives, like myself, who support a border fence, need to take seriously. The border is 1951 miles long, and we're talking about 800 miles of fencing. There is considerable commerce along the border from day shoppers. Much of the land, though, is remote, mountainous, or thick with brush, and therefore difficult to patrol. Other portions are dense with people, and therefore difficult to control.

The boundary runs just to the south along the crest of low hills. All day the crowds gather in increasing numbers at the fence. By late afternoon you see hundreds up there, dark lines of people waiting for the sun to set. Vendors sell drinks and tacos. Where the fence is torn, the immigrants swell through and stand inside the United States. Border guards square offagainst them in scattered trucks, radios crackling. They face a near riot, an aftermoon ritual. The fence marks the territory they intend to defend, but they keep a wary distance from it: it serves the unintended purpose of sheltering the Tijuana toughs who jeer and throw rocks. The irony is not lost on the guards. (P. 38-39)

Later on, he talks with a San Diegan disgusted at the damage and accidents caused by immigrants trying to run across the Interstate. "They ought to build a fence," he says. We had a fence, and still the Border Patrol was completely overwhelmed. If we're going to push for a fence, we need to know what technology exists that will make the next one more effective, or we're going to have to know how many men it will take to make it safe.

Some analysts argue that the United States must let the border function as a pressure-relief valve, to give the Mexicans time to turn their economy around and to allow free trade an opportunity to work. They say Mexicans prefer Mexico and will stay there if their economy develops. It is a good theory, but there is evidence that Mexicans will not cooperate. To the extent that Mexico's economic growth is linked to the United States, it will continue to be concentrated along the border. As still greater numbers of workers are drawn to northern Mexico and their material expectations increase, the United States may continue to appear not less, but more desirable. The lesson of Tijuana is that the flow of immigrants may actually increase. Despite their denials, true free traders must in their hearts accept this possibility, the human exchange, as part of the package. (P. 53-54)

This was written 14 years ago. Attention Wall Street Journal editorial board, please pick up the white courtesy telephone. It's true now, even though US companies are building plants further and further away from the border, in Linares, for instance. to be the hottest town in the United States. Over the last five years its population has swelled from 1,900 to more than 3,800. The newcomers are Mexicans granted permanent residency under the immigration amnesty program. Most are not yet U.S. citizens and cannot vote. Still, their political weight is felt; by their numbers alone, they speak of the future and promise permanence to Latino power. (P. 165-166)

Which says all you need to know about the Democrats' position. Well, that and the fact that national security is a figment of their imaginations. The weak-kneed Republicans are another matter.

When Acosta (who ran the drug trade in the Mexican border town of Ojinaga -ed.) began to lose power, U.S. narcotics officers who were trying to work through him to get at his Colombian sources actually worried about his decline. In one of the more bizarre episodes, FBI agents fearfu of Libyan terrorists sneaking into the United States traveled to Ojinaga to ask Acosta if he knew of any. He did not, but volunteered to fight them for free if they showed up. He pointed out correctly that he owed his success to the United States.

Which is pretty much why Mexico helps us catch terrorists, too.

It's a good book, and most of it still seems to be true.

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