September 20, 2006
Building a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border is no solution to our immigration woes, and it could result in more suffering and death.
This is nothing more than election-year pandering.
On Sept. 14, the House voted to build a double-layered fence along the border. The Republican-backed bill would construct about 700 miles of fencing, covering approximately one-third of the southern border.
Known as the Secure Fence Act of 2006, it calls for "the prevention of all unlawful entries into the United States, including entries by terrorists, other unlawful aliens, instruments of terrorism, narcotics and other contraband" within a year-and-a-half of the bill's passage.
This is an old political ploy. By linking terrorists and smugglers with people seeking work, politicians are exploiting people's fears -- particularly in our post-9/11 world.
Even some Republicans have criticized the bill. Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., calls it a "feel-good piece of legislation."
The border fence bill could lead to an increase in the number of migrants who die trying to cross into the United States. A recent Government Accountability Office report says the number of immigrant deaths has doubled since the late 1990s. Much like similar border policies over the past decade, this bill would simply push migrants into harsher and more dangerous terrain and make them more reliant on unscrupulous human smugglers who will be looking to profit by any means.
What's more, the fence could be counterproductive, causing more working migrants to stay in the United States because of the increased difficulty in re-entering the country if they were to try to return home.
Finally, the bill does not provide the billions of dollars in funding necessary to actually build the fence.
Building a fence will not stop migrants. It will simply give Americans the illusion that our politicians are doing something.
It's time we -- lawmakers and the public, alike -- start viewing migrants who are crossing the border as fellow human beings. Not numbers. Not terrorists. Not smugglers. They are simply people looking to improve their lives and those of their families.
While the United States has every right to control its border, the border fence bill is not the solution.
Yolanda Chávez Leyva is a historian specializing in Mexican-American and border history. She lives in Texas. She can be reached at email@example.com.