If a ‘wall’ is built, make it smart

August 9, 2017 GMT

The sky-is-falling fixation of President Donald Trump and other elected officials on immigration is unwarranted. But at least a proposal for border security by Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and another by Reps. Will Hurd, Henry Cuellar and other House members have the virtue of being far better thought out than the president’s inane border wall.

Of the two, however, the Hurd/Cuellar measure is the most intelligent — why they call it a “smart wall.”

Cornyn, the Senate majority whip, wants the nation to spend $15 billion over four years on fences, levees, technology and other physical barriers; talking to local governments about these barriers and border security generally; swifter screening of unaccompanied minors by immigration judges; and the hiring of thousands more Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

Cuellar correctly labels a physical, brick-and-mortar wall a “14th century solution to a 21st century problem.” But, ultimately, all such barriers potentially represent what Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-San Antonio, has termed an attempt to wall off this nation from the world.

Certainly, swifter screening for unaccompanied minors crossing the border would be a good thing — if the screening is just and detention kept to an absolute minimum. But Homeland Security’s inspector general has cast doubts on the agency’s ability to hire and absorb the 15,000 new agents the president has called for. And, according to an NBC News report last year, the amount of money spent on border security has increased 14 times in the past 24 years. That’s translated into a 500 percent increase in Border Patrol agents and more barriers.

The approach by Hurd, R-Helotes, and Cuellar, D-Laredo, emphasizes technology. A physical wall will cost $25 million per mile; a technological one with sensors, radar, light detection and ranging, fiber optics, drones and cameras would cost $500,000 a mile. We’re not sold on the need for more border security, but if that “wall” is going to be built, $500,000 beats $25 million.

Undocumented immigration is a complex problem that requires more than an enforcement solution. Comprehensive reform that incorporates security, dealing humanely — with a path to legal residency — with the 11 million undocumented immigrants already here (and who contribute to the economy), and holding employers accountable is the better solution.

The sky isn’t falling. But if the plan is to make a relatively secure border even more secure, doing it smarter than a wall will be the best path.