Carol Platt Liebau: Going the Wrong Way?

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Going the Wrong Way?

It's being reported that, in his Monday evening speech on illegal immigration, President Bush is going to call for the deployment of the National Guard plus the installation of a "virtual fence" to safeguard the nation's borders.

Granted, the term "virtual fence" is subject to many interpretations. As the linked article by Deborah Orin points out, "[t]he virtual fence could include lasers and unmanned aerial drones as well as cement barriers." But to the normal observer, it sounds like a relatively porous concept -- and when I was in Washington last week, I noticed far more cement barriers surrounding the Senate and House office buildings than "virtual" ones.

Even the idea of stationing troops on the border -- no doubt inserted, in part, to overcome objections about the effectiveness of the "virtual" fence -- isn't lkely to be all that simple in execution. First, unlike concrete barriers, troops are fungible. If they're needed elsewhere, they're going to have to leave -- or the Administration will have to take the blame when, say, a governor of New Mexico claims he needed the Guard to help fight forest fires but that they were unavailable.

More importantly, it allows those who are opposed to any kind of border enforcement to argue that America is creating a "militarized zone" between itself and Mexico, and in addition, it may end up leading to more unfortunate and highly publicized skirmishes.

In short, the troops aspect of the plan lends itself readily to leftist demagoguing, while the "virtual fence" aspect is guaranteed to irritate the right. And while some politicians may see being criticized by both sides as a sign of virtue, it's not exactly a huge advantage six months before an election.


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