The wall: Barrier or symbol?

Let’s be crystal clear: A wall has little or no advantage for law enforcement or border security.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Maybe not so pure, but definitely simple. If it has any value at all apart from keeping the spotlight on a president who craves attention, it’s value is symbolic. Like the Statue of Liberty, it is a physical representation of who we are and what we stand for as a nation. It defines what “America” means to the world. And there is no mistaking its meaning.

Meantime, way too much of the nation’s time and attention is being devoted to debating the pros and cons of building a wall. Remember Nero. Fiddling. While Rome burned.

Let’s be crystal clear: A wall has little or no advantage for law enforcement or border security.

No matter how high or how thick, a wall will never be an effective barrier to illegal entry. If history tells us anything about the efficacy of building walls as defensive barriers it is this: walls don’t work. By creating a false sense of security or taking resources away from other more effective measures or giving rise to back-slapping complacency, they be worse be worse than nothing at all.

The Great Wall of China didn’t keep the Manchu invaders from defeating the Ming Dynasty in 1644 and ruling the country for centuries to come. And then there’s the Maginot Line, the Iron Curtain, and the Berlin Wall. How well did they work out?

The plain fact is that most of the bad drugs and bad guys we want to keep out pass through legal ports of entry. There are 48 places to cross the U.S.-Mexico border legally and 328 official ports of entry in the United States as a whole.

It is the job of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and United States Coast Guard to control these ports of entry and enforce the laws. [Full disclosure: My son, Michael, proudly served in the USCG for eight years.]

Obviously, morale matters in any job. It matters all the more in high-stress jobs where risk is a fact of life and lives are on the line. No less obvious is the fact that when these people are not being paid, it’s not only demoralizing but also extremely unfair to them and their families. When they happen to be the very people the citizenry depends upon for safety and security, we are all less safe and secure.

The government shutdown has nothing to do with national security or a national emergency. It is purely political. Purely about big egos and bragging rights.

The Statue of Liberty is THE quintessential symbol of America.  It is universally recognized. It’s meaning is unambiguous. It has welcomed immigrants and refugees – including my own great-grandparents – for over 140 years. It is arguably the most famous statue – and most beloved symbol – in the world. (Don’t believe it? Google world’s most famous statues and see for yourself.)

And then there’s the wall.  If it is ever built it, too, will be famous, but not because it keeps the wolves away but because it keeps the world away.

As such, the wall will become a symbol. The worst kind of symbol. It will send the wrong message. A message that will negate all the good the Statue of Liberty has given the world and all the soft power – the goodwill – it has given this country.

To create a new symbol, one so diametrically opposed to everything that dear, old cherished symbol of America represents is a profanity at once unpatriotic and profoundly un-American.

Far from enhancing our national security, it will detract from America’s power in the Western Hemisphere and the world. America has been a beacon of hope to people, a symbol of freedom and democracy.

We have always believed that as a nation we are better than this. We are. We just have to prove it to ourselves again. Not by building more walls, but by building a better world. A world where walls become less-and-less necessary.

The wall will be a waste of the taxpayer’s money. It will not be a barrier; it will be a symbol. A symbol of a barrier.


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