Guest Commentary

Hey, Secretary Napolitano: It's time to revisit the border-wall debacle

Dear Janet,

As governor of our dusty state, you set a bar for yourself that will be difficult to clear at the Department of Homeland Insecurity. In fact, my first reaction to the news of you being nominated to run the most bloated, dysfunctional bureaucracy in our nation's history was, "She's way too smart to take that job."

But take it, you did, because when the president calls, one must serve--especially when one's state budget is about to sink into a tax-cut tar pit created by a cabal of Neanderthal Republicans who would rather line the pockets of their wealthy cronies than invest in our collective future. You did a fine job of keeping such brutes at bay for the past six years, but in the current climate, all of that hard work may soon be undone, with or without you here. So, let me revise: "You were smart enough to get away while the gettin' was good."

That being said, you are walking into a situation that is, even for someone with your considerable cunning, no-win. Not only must you deal with the intractable problems of terrorism and immigration; you must do so with a bureaucracy that functions poorly (when it functions at all), has a reputation for disasters (creating them and not dealing with them) and carries the rap of being a rogue, lawless arm of the most corrupt and incompetent administration in memory. While your new boss may have to steam-clean a few puke stains from the Oval Carpet, the stains that outgoing Secretary Michael Chertoff left on the Constitution may never wash out.

Nevertheless, your task is to begin scrubbing. Your career was built on law and sensible order. The first and most important thing you can do to remove the foul residue of the Bush mafia is to declare that you will no longer employ the authority that Secretary Gollum used to waive all of our laws in order to construct his precious border wall. If it were so crucially important to build the damn thing, don't you think we could find a way to do it legally? Have you considered that Secretary Skeletor's aggressive use of the waiver is directly related to the fact that the wall conflicts with many of our laws? Or that--given the wall's exorbitant cost and limited utility, and the unconscionable damage it does to the landscapes and communities it intersects--it would never withstand the objective scrutiny mandated by those laws?

Come to think of it, how about a moratorium on construction while you conduct a top-to-bottom cost-benefit analysis of the entire border-infrastructure policy? I've seen enough of our government's own numbers to know that there is no statistically significant correlation between wall construction and undocumented cross-border traffic. In some places where the new wall has gone up, undocumented migrant traffic has increased dramatically. In others where no wall has been built, it has nosedived, driven largely by economic factors. While it may be politically untenable for you to admit that the wall is a symbolic exercise in political expediency, it is incumbent upon you to stop throwing good money after bad, especially if you want to preserve your reputation for competence.

And holy handouts, Batwoman--it is a lot of money! The cost of a single mile of "pedestrian-fence" construction now runs anywhere between $4 million and $16 million, depending on how you count it--several times the initial bill of goods we taxpayers were sold. And this lofty and ever-expanding figure does not include such ancillary costs as the huge maintenance burden that is beginning to show itself, a cost that DHS has not even estimated, let alone planned for.

You're smart enough to assess all of this as bad governance and shrewd enough to see right through the fear-mongering that Secretary Nosferatu and his crew have engaged in since Sept. 11. Unfortunately, you'll be working in the same political swamp that allowed this policy turd to blossom in the first place. But, with skill and determination, perhaps you can help steer the debate toward solutions that address the root causes of undocumented immigration and terrorism, and away from the mindless waste and futility of the wall.

In the meantime, ponder this quote from a famous and well-respected Arizonan: "You show me a 50-foot wall, and I'll show you a 51-foot ladder."


A concerned citizen who works with the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups to prevent 21st century Arizona from being mentioned in the same breath with cold-war Berlin.