There seems to be two worlds out there. In one world — let’s call it the red world — the only thing standing between us and death and destruction would be a physical wall on the Southern border. In the other world — let’s call it the blue world — the fear leading to the call for the wall isn’t there, and there is the belief that other mechanisms will suffice. The red world believes that the blue world want “open borders”, when that isn’t what they are saying. Neither side is listening to the other, and the government is (partially) shutdown. I’m a believer in risk management and risk reduction, and so I would like to offer some thoughts on the subject:
- What is the threat? If the concern is true outside terrorists (as opposed to the homegrown ones who have been doing the mass shootings), they haven’t been sneaking through the unfenced areas of the Southern border. They have been coming through the airports, coming through normal border checkpoints, and overstaying visas. They are best addressed not through a wall, but through increased CBP mechanisms and personnel, technological observations, enforcement of visas. A wall does nothing to reduce this risk.
- If the concern is “bad hombres” — i.e., gang members — again, there is no evidence that they are sneaking through the unfenced portions of the border. There is also scant evidence that the threat is there. Yes, there have been a single handful of police officers shot by undocumented immigrants. But what is the overall threat to the population at large? That’s negligible. We must deal with acceptable risk, not complete risk avoidance — and there is a level of risk in law enforcement. We are not seeing crimes throughout the country by this particular group, nor is the percentage of crimes by this group demonstrably rising. In short, there is no evidence that a physical wall would provide any reduction in anything related to “bad hombres”. It is fear and uncertainty, animated by racial hatred and a particular segment of the media who are using the issue to divide when there is no significant risk.
- If the concern is the immigrant caravans on the border: they are not at unfenced areas of the border, nor is there any evidence that they are attempting to cross at those points. They are refugees, and the best way to address those individuals is to provide more personnel to process their requests fairly and expeditiously.
- A physical wall is a band-aid on a wound: it addresses the symptom of the problem, not why the problem is happening in the first place. Although the red world is loath to consider spending money outside the US, the funds proposed for a wall would be better spent making the home nations of the immigrants better places. If conditions are better at home, there is no need to come to America for opportunity. Further, the cost of making those countries a better place is much less than building a physical wall, and has much less environmental impact or impact on the lands and properties of Americans living at the border.
- Security must be looked at as a comprehensive picture. While we argue and shut down the government over a physical wall, we have furloughed significant work on improving and strengthening the Cybersecurity of our nation. NIST’s cybersecurity work is on hold. NSF’s cybersecurity research is furloughed. Increasing our cybersecurity is vital to our national security, and sacrificing that to the wall is idiotic. Our enemies have and will use our technology to subvert our systems and use them for their own aims — and they have done so in recent elections. They are perfectly happy to sit in their home countries and do it electronically, while laughing at our debate over a wall on a border they would never cross. The shutdown has also reduced the border security workforce at the airports (TSA) — again, weakening our security infrastructure.
Border security is important, and ensuring entry to the US is vetted and legal is significant. However, a physical wall is not the right way to do this, and it provides insignificant risk reduction. Fear has been created over a risk that just isn’t there, and the actual numbers don’t back up the claims. If there must be funding for a wall, let’s start the right way: determine the most impactful 100 miles that need new wall, and fund that now to provide risk reduction in conjunction with other security mechanisms, because the risk reduction of all wall segments is not equal, and not all require immediate funding. Most importantly, don’t let the focus on the wall battle distract from other border security, including securing our electronic borders.
P.S.: The answer to securing our electronic borders is NOT to declare a national emergency and shut off all electronic communications. Just imagine the impact of that on American business and commerce!