San Diego Union-Tribune
June 2, 2009
If the United States had a rational immigration policy, there would be no need for costly fences and other invidious barriers along the Mexican border. Illegal immigration could be curtailed far more effectively, and cheaply, with a secure worker identification system and tough sanctions against employers who hire undocumented immigrants. Take away the jobs magnet, and the flow of illegal immigrants across the border would dry up.
Yet, because large sectors of the U.S. economy benefit from the cheap labor of illegal workers, Congress has stalled for decades on implementing sensible immigration reforms. Instead, lawmakers beat their chests and appropriate billions and billions of dollars to expand the Border Patrol and erect physical obstacles along the nearly 2,000-mile dividing line.
All that this has accomplished is to move the problem to more remote stretches of the border without decreasing the overall number of immigrants who enter the United States illegally. Consider that 40 percent or more of America’s 12 million illegal immigrants entered the country legally and simply remained here after their visas expired. All the fences in the world will not address this huge chunk of the problem. Indeed, the current recession has done far more to curb illegal immigration than the many billions spent on sophisticated sensors and obstacles along the border. This is because the recession has eliminated (temporarily) a big part of the jobs magnet.
We offer this overview of the immigration problem to bring needed perspective to the Department of Homeland Security’s hasty decision to bar public access to Friendship Park, a tiny swath of land straddling the border where it meets the Pacific. A century and a half ago an obelisk was erected on the site to pinpoint the new U.S.-Mexico border (one Spanish league south of the southernmost tip of San Diego Bay), as provided by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ending the 1846-1848 Mexican-American War.
For decades families living on opposite sides of the border have gathered at Friendship Park for picnics and other events. Even after a huge steel fence built by the Border Patrol cleaved the gathering spot down the middle, families continued to meet there and socialize through the fence. In December, however, the Department of Homeland Security barred access to the site as part of a larger operation to build multiple layers of fencing along the border.
Alan Bersin, the Obama administration’s border chief, says he is open to the idea of restoring public access to Friendship Park. The symbolism of such a move, coming at a time when the border is being reinforced like a hostile demilitarized zone, would be a powerful reminder that the United States and Mexico are not the combatants of 1846-1848, but rather are friends and neighbors.