Our multiple walls will never deter a terrorist who has the means to come into the country legally.

By Andrea Guerrero
July 27, 2008

This month, the National Guard ended its two-year deployment at our southern border. On the California portion of the border, nearly 1,300 troops spent much of the last two years refurbishing border fences and building new barricades as part of the Secure Border Initiative. In addition, 5,000 troops served in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

While the efforts of the hard-working men and women who make up the National Guard are appreciated, use of the Guard to help build walls raises questions about how best to control our borders. The federal government is using taxpayers' money to build border walls as fast as it can. Where we have already built one wall, we're building another and where we've already built a second wall, we're building yet another to create a triple-layer obstacle course for would-be border-crossers.

The cost is enormous and the effectiveness limited. According to the Congressional Research Service, the cost of reinforcing the first fence and constructing the second and third fence in just the western-most three miles of the border will exceed $21 million per mile. The Congressional Research Service also reports that as a result of the first border fence and increased patrols, border crossings in this area have come to a virtual halt.

Border Patrol agents often joke that no matter how tall a wall you can show them, they can show you a ladder one foot taller. The joke alludes to the fact that as long as there is a draw for migrants and there is no legal way for them to enter, then they will find an illegal way.

Since construction of the first wall nearly 15 years ago, most border-crossers have changed their strategy and attempted to cross under much more dangerous circumstances. As a result, more than 5,000 people have died trying to cross the southern border. This is a human tragedy that should not be tolerated, but it is, in the name of security.

Our border enforcement strategy is failing. Every day in San Diego, a migrant crosses the border in search of a job, safety and family. And every day another migrant dies. In the same period that the Guard has strengthened our walls in the San Diego sector, crossing deaths have more than doubled. Have the newer, stronger walls made us any safer from the threat of terrorists and those who seek to do us harm? Given that none of the 9/11 terrorists attempted to cross the border illegally and all entered with valid visas issued by the U.S. government, the answer is probably no. Politicians tell us almost daily how “tough” they are on terrorism and illegal immigration. But are they smart on these issues? Not very.

Our multiple walls will never deter a terrorist who has the means to come in to the country legally. The walls might deter poor migrants from crossing at specific locations, but they will never deter them altogether.

So let us not waste the energies and talents of the Guard on building any more walls when they could be used more effectively on such efforts as protecting us from increasingly frequent natural disasters that endanger our lives and wreak havoc in the state. The onus of true border security rests on Congress to modernize our immigration system with legislative reform that is sensible and humane.

Guerrero, an attorney, is the field and policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial counties.

Union-Tribune op-ed