Send in the Clowns

To many observers, the construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall has all the makings of a three-ring circus. There’s tightrope walking, wild animals, overpriced toys, juggling, and plenty of clowns.

To begin, no circus would be complete without a ringmaster. That honor is bestowed on Congressman Duncan Hunter, erstwhile presidential candidate and champion of the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to build “physical infrastructure enhancements to prevent unlawful entry by aliens into the United States.” The bill mandates 700 miles of double-reinforced fencing along the 2000-mile border with Mexico to keep illegal immigrants out.

Walking the tightrope is Daniel Garza, 76. He was told the proposed 18-foot high steel and concrete barrier will cross his property and go right down the center of his modest brick house in Granjeno, Texas, population 313. Garza, who suffers from colon cancer, complains that the wall won’t traverse land owned by Dallas oilman Ray L. Hunt. The billionaire recently donated $35 million to help construct the George W. Bush’s presidential library at Southern Methodist University. His 6000-acre property in the Rio Grande Valley, called the Sharyland Plantation, is an enclave of gated communities where houses sell for up to $1,000,000.

No circus is without its wild animals. The construction of the border wall, according to ecologists, would put many endangered species at risk. Free roaming jaguars, ocelots, and long nose bats are among those animals impacted. What about the laws designed to protect these dwindling creatures? In an astounding disappearing act, more than thirty environmental and land management laws have been waived by the Bush Administration to get the wall built.

Let’s not forget the toys. A White Paper written by Dennis E. Nixon, CEO of the Laredo-based International Bank of Commerce, calls attention to Homeland Security’s unmanned aerial vehicle, the Predator drone. Secretary Chertoff of Homeland Security touted that it was designed to patrol and help secure the southern border. Nixon notes, “After seven months in operation, this $14 million piece of machinery crashed in the Arizona desert.” But, before crashing, the drone had flown more than 900 hours and is credited with the apprehension of 1,793 illegal entrants. That comes out to a cost of about $15,500 per hour or $7,808 per illegal entrant.

Nixon also highlights other failed high-tech tools like the Tethered Aerostat Radar. “Used by Customs for the War on Drugs, this blimp comes in three sizes, the smallest of which is twice the size of a Goodyear Blimp. Unable to operate in high winds, it had so many production problems that the government cancelled the contract with the vendor,” he writes.

Finally, there’s a juggling act. In the face of failed policies and crashing drones, Homeland Security has turned to the same military contractors who brought us the reconstruction of Iraq. Investigative reporter Melissa del Bosque of the Texas Observer found that the construction of the border fence was being supervised by Greg Giddens, the executive director of the Secure Border Initiative office (SBI) within the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office. Giddens is in charge of SBInet, a consortium of private contractors led by Boeing. Del Bosque reported, “The group received a multibillion dollar contract in 2006 to secure the northern and southern borders with a network of vehicle barriers, fencing, and surveillance systems.” Boeing then subcontracted the work to other companies that produce homeland defense products such as DRS Technologies Inc., Kollsman Inc., L-3 Communications Inc., Perot Systems Corp., and an entity of Unisys Corporation, writes Del Bosque.

Homeland Security is also turning to more reliable low-tech solutions. John McClung of the Texas Producers Association explains that the border wall will impede access for many private landowners. The proposed wall is not along the actual U.S.–Mexico border. In fact, in some areas of Texas it is as much as two miles north of the border. The construction of the wall could potentially cut into land that is currently in use. To rectify the situation, he was told that large gates would be built along the barrier so property owners could have free, uninhibited access to their land. McClung explains, “The government has proposed building gates that open and close with a remote control device. Landowners would be issued the remotes allowing them to access their land whenever they like.” McClung is not sure how much the gates with remote controls will cost, but he’s confident they won’t work.

But the biggest thrill of all is the price of admission. According to a 2006 congressional report, the cost to build and maintain the border wall over its 25-year lifespan is an astounding $49 billion. Ta-da! Bring on the clowns.

By Laura Barberena