Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Great Wall of Arizona

Hey, we get it. The state of Arizona pleads almost frantically on its "Build the Border Fence" web site that walls work.

Take the triple-layer fence America's tax dollars built to buffet the southern flank of Yuma, Ariz., under the Bush administration. The state calls it "extraordinarily successful," thwarting "95 percent of illegal crossings in that area."

Of course, it simply shunted border crossers 20 miles north or south of the triple-layer barrier supreme. It worked there, though.

Now, to complete this vision across all 388 miles of its border with Mexico, Arizona is asking for your help, just not as a federal taxpayer this time. This time it wants your charitable donation.

In fact, if you have $50 million in change, you can relieve this idea's architects of their burden immediately, and Arizona can spend that money as God intended it.

The state that loves walls above almost anything else invokes the almighty in thanking you in advance for your tax-deductible contribution.

Visit suburban Phoenix and wonder about its love affair with walls. One resident calls it "ground zero for gated communities," and calls vertical cinderblock contrivances "the defining feature of the sterile, transient nature" of the place.

Then again, with the rifts, rips and tears since hard-right Republicans made brown-skinned Arizonans collateral victims of a go-it-alone border war, "community" must be seen as a quaint contrivance. It is hardly necessary anyway with good walls.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry got hammered by his presumed core national constituency when he revealed himself to be a relative softy on immigration, and spoke of the folly of walling Texas' rocks-and-river border.

Aside from challenges of building a barrier where only cougars and coyotes dare reside, Perry knows how dependent his state is on labor that blows in from Mexico.

Illegal immigration is the sunburned cousin of the outsourcing that so readily draws a wink from free-market fundamentalists. They know money knows no borders. And in so many states, labor knows none, either.

Last week Alabama lawmakers were trying to soothe agricultural interests after a new law roped public schools into recording students' citizenship status. Families that provided cheap labor for perishable farm commodities there are fleeing.

Back in Arizona, state officials want to sell you on the idea that a border wall is good for the environment. The claim employs the kind of Mr. Magoo sleuthing that John McCain conducted recently in blaming, sans a shred of evidence, catastrophic Arizona wildfires on illegal immigrants. Arizona has to go all the way to the sometimes-credible Washington Times to legitimize this claim. Oddly, few journalistic takers this side of Fox News have signed on.

The truth: Border contrivances built with your tax dollars are a joint eco-catastrophe. They blunt the migration of wildlife and subdivide habitat. They cause soil erosion, flooding, and everything that happens when bulldozers and jackhammers rule the land (which is God's plan, by the way).

And then there's the matter of money. The Government Accountability Office said in 2009 that every mile of border fence cost from $1 million to $3 million, whether it actually fenced anyone out or not. When the Obama administration said "no mas" to this specious squandering of tax dollars, the projected cost of a U.S.-Mexico border wall was approaching $10 billion. We can guess that an actual end-to-end border barrier would overshoot that by proportions that only Halliburton could appreciate.

Arizona says it will get more mileage for its $50 million investment — pending your charitable gift — by using inmate labor.

Rest assured, neither Arizona nor any other public interest could possibly find anything better to do with $50 million, or that $10 billion that was headed to the pipeline until Obama stopped it.

Would either dollar figure keep unwanted elements out? Well, who knows? But anywhere you install three layers of fence you'll feel like you did.

Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

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