Even the Cold War border between the two Germanies, the most fortified manmade barrier, was breached about a thousand times a year. That, however, is not deterring House Republicans from demanding "fully secure" borders as a condition for immigration reform.
But just like the liberal quest for a pristine environment, money no object, doesn't boost public health — the GOP's quest for total border security, regardless of cost, won't enhance national security.
The comprehensive immigration reform that the Senate passed recently would, thanks to Republican insistence, increase border security spending by a whopping $46.3 billion over the next 10 years. This is nine times more than originally proposed. And coming on top of the $90 billion already spent on border security in the last decade, it mocks Republican calls for austerity.
Where will this money go? Basically, toward militarizing the southern border and expanding police surveillance in the homeland.
The Corker-Hoeven amendment, attached at the last minute to buy wavering Republicans, mandates: a surge of 20,000 border patrol agents, doubling the current force; 700 miles of pedestrian fencing, doubling the current fence; and 24/7 electronic and drone surveillance of the full border. If General Winfield Scott had commanded such resources in the Mexican-American War, he could have captured the whole of Mexico!
Even more disturbing, however, are the bill's "interior enforcement" provisions. It is no surprise that the bill would bar employers from hiring any worker — foreign or American — without first E-verifying eligibility with Uncle Sam. But the bill's special touch is a new digital visa entry/exit system at all air and seaports with the mandate of prosecuting 90 percent of foreigners with expired visas.
Not even hardened criminals face such odds of apprehension. Only 64 percent of murderers and 45 percent of all violent criminals face arrest and prosecution.
In a world of limited means, spending more on harmless unauthorized workers means spending less on genuine criminals, hardly a recipe for making America safe. This is the same illogic that enviros deploy when they waste billions to scrub superfund sites to make the dirt edible by children instead of prioritizing cleanup dollars to fight genuine health threats.
But even such harsh security provisions are not enough for Republicans. Why? The ostensive reason is because it would allow unauthorized aliens to convert their temporary work permits into green cards after 10 years — and green cards into citizenship after another five.
This 15-year-long path to citizenship — five years more than what Rush Limbaugh recently said would be acceptable to him — is anathema to House Republicans. They decry this as "amnesty" that will only encourage future border jumping unless the border is fully secured first. They want a double-fence on the entire 2,000-mile border and proof positive that all illegal border crossings have stopped.
This is an impossible goal based on a profoundly misguided analysis. But that hasn't stopped Bill Kristol and Rick Lowry from jointly calling this morning for the House to "Kill the Bill" although, one suspects, at least in Kirstol's case, the call has less to do with the flaws of the bill and more to do with finding the "missing white voters" that Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics says are sitting out there waiting to be tapped. Lowry has always been an implacable foe of friendly immigration policies.
There is no convincing those who regard politics as their first principle, although immigration reform is good politics for the GOP.
But those who care less about political machinations and more about rational policy that actually addresses the core of the illegal issue should bear in mind that if people can't fulfill legitimate needs and aspirations legally, they don't give up. They do so illegally. That's why outlawing alcohol spawned a mafia-controlled trade in illicit liquor during Prohibition. Likewise, Mexican workers thwarted by physical barriers from reaching American employers who need them will resort to human smugglers or "coyotes". This will mean that even if there are marginally fewer illegals overall — and the CBO, an agency that is never wrong!, tells us there will be — there will be exponentially more organized crime in the country.
The more effective and humane way of deterring illegal immigration would be by creating more legal avenues. So reasonable House Republicans interested in good policy — as opposed to playing cynical political games — ought to focus on its woefully inadequate guest worker program.
The bill caps the number of low-skilled visas at 20,000 in the first year with a possibility of raising it up to 200,000 subsequently — about half of what the economy needs in good years. But here's the rub: this higher quota will only be triggered if Big Labor agrees — which is as likely as North Korea agreeing to a Pyongyang chapter of ACLU.
Big Labor ought to be the Republican target not poor Mexicans or desperate American employers. They are not the villain and treating them as such will only make the GOP one — not make the country safer.
A version of this column originally appeared in the Washington Examiner