Thursday, February 08, 2007

OP ED: Passports and borders

Apart from a war raging in the Middle East, and millions of Americans dying without healthcare, the question of who can get in and out of the United States is a key issue.

In the constant tug-of-war between safety and freedom, safety dominates short-term thinking, and freedom is for long term pondering. That is why we become less free each day. Seems like the natural aging process of a democracy is government’s subtle and unrelenting acquisition of authority over the populace.

This week we saw another erosion as the first phase of the new rules for international travel have become effective. No longer will you be able to assume that just because you are an American traveling abroad that you have a simple right to come home. Now, you have to be passport-ed back into the country.

Now that may not seem like a big deal, but as surely as Paris Hilton will appear in Star Magazine, there will be a great number of terrible outcomes. Students stranded in Sri Lanka, missing a semester or two, because of some inevitable bureaucratic foul-up.

There was a movie called The Terminal in which Tom Hanks became a permanent resident of an airport because he did not have the right papers to go forward or backward. We may well see life imitate fiction over and over, with one exception. Those trapped in State Department limbo are more likely to be housed in detaining centers not as commodious as a nice airport.

Then we have the question of the Canadian and Mexican border. Oh, how fondly I recall my trips to Canada by boat, crossing the Algonac River upstream from Detroit. No bridge, tunnel or sentry booth. Nope. Just a leisurely sail across the waterway from the United States to Canada. A little shopping, nice dining and maybe some fishing in “Canadian waters.” No hassle. Now, no one will be allowed to cross without a passport. I do have one question. How in Hell is our government going to stop this? This is the longest unprotected border in the world. It is not a porous barrier; it is not a barrier at all. Only in cities and major “crossings” are there guard posts, with agents who act more like Wal-Mart greeters than security personnel. Frankly, I see no way that any law can enforce strict border crossing rules.

Mexico poses a completely different problem. It is a one way flow of illegal aliens eager enjoy the American experience. Mostly, they come here for the promise of jobs, to be united with family, or to simply enjoy a better standard of living. Of course, some come for the welfare and educational benefits. Others come because it is smarter to be where they can rob rich people instead of poor people. The lure of drugs and the glamour of gangs are another incentive.

Since almost all of the Illegals find ways to bypass the passport office already, the new law will not have much effect. For Mexico, the United States plan to enter the “famous wall” category. The long gone Berlin wall, the wall of Jericho and the Great Wall of China were massive public works projects that ultimately failed.

Securing our borders sounds good on the campaign trail, but let’s stop fooling the public. If we are to intercept terrorists effectively, intelligence (in both meanings) is our best hope. Border security is our false hope.

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