President Bush’s call for reform in our immigration system brings to mind the 700-mile fence Congress authorized last year between the United States and Mexico, something that blessedly went unmentioned in his state-of-the union speech.
Nobody understood fences better than poet Robert Frost who wrote, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” Nonetheless, his fellow New Englander, John F. Kennedy not only acquiesced in the building of the Berlin Wall, but actively worked with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, well out of sight of everyone, to bring it about. Kennedy came to understand that Khrushchev’s political problem was the refugees who were pouring out of East Berlin to the West–most of them young, professional and indispensable to the German Democratic Republic he help captive in the Communist bloc.
While Kennedy never said a word of this in public, he realized that the wall would slow the exodus and prevent the Soviets from attacking West Berlin which they could have taken in less than a day since the U.S., British and French forces numbered only 15.000. Richard Reeves, who wrote a biography of JFK, considers it the most important achievement of his presidency, since the Iron Curtain, not Cuba, was the site of greatest danger. So here a wall, however tragic, had its uses.
The same thing could be said of the wall Israel has been building to shield itself from Palestinian attacks. Controversy swirls around that wall because it extends into Occupied Palestinian Territory on the West Bank. The International Court of Justice has ruled that this incursion violates international law, and Palestinians worry that the Israeli government means to turn the wall into an official border. Even so, people in Israel believe that the barrier has reduced the number of violent incidents.
Then there’s the Great Wall of China. In a documentary years ago called “The Yellow River Elegy,” some Chinese film makers lamented that their country had cut itself off from the world with that wall.
Surely that’s the case with the fence designed to wall off the United States from Mexico. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison has declared that Congress doesn’t seem to be “in the real world.” Indeed, cost estimates have zoomed from $2.1 billion to $49 billion to build and maintain the fence over 25 years, according to the Congressional Research Service which added that if 850 miles of the barrier were built, as might well be necessary, the price would be $60 billion. On top of that would have to be added funds to buy the land. All this was laid out by Todd Gillman in the Dallas Morning News.
Sen. Hutchison is right. Congress must recognize the true situation which bears no resemblance to Berlin or the Middle East. The president’s temporary worker program compels consideration. Hutchison too has a plan with many promising aspects. Congress should ditch the fence and take a look at these ideas, and also at Robert Frost who wrote, “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know what I was walling in or walling out, and to whom I was like to give offense.” Doesn’t that make sense?