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Bad Fences Make Bad Neighbors

Recently, the news has been All Mark Foley, All The Time. Because of this obsession, another story seems to have gotten lost: Congress passed and President Bush signed The Secure Fence Act, a bill that calls for the construction of a 700-Mile fence along our southern border. I'd like to give my opinion on this fence, and I'll try to be as diplomatic as possible: It's ridiculous, it's embarrassing, it's shameful, and I'm against it.

One of the most famous moments in recent American history was when President Reagan, referring to the Berlin wall, said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." He added that "The wall cannot withstand freedom." It's incredible to me that now we are the ones talking about building a wall between countries.

And this structure won't be cheap. A 14-mile fence that is under construction on the San Diego-Tijuana border is costing approximately $126.5 million. Using my calculator, that means that a 700-mile fence should cost $6.325 billion. But it would really cost much more. Remember, we're talking about the federal government here — they can spend $6 billion before lunch.

How much graft, how much price-fixing, how much "friendly bidding" do you think will take place? Are we going to suddenly learn that Halliburton also makes fences? Will workers be using some of those $400 hammers that the Defense Department is famous for? The Senate might as well start organizing its investigative committee now to look into all of the shenanigans that are sure to take place.

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There are other reasons to oppose the fence. Environmentalists point out the proposed fence would interfere with the natural migration patterns of animals in the area.

Texas Rancher Mike Vickers, who heads a group that opposes illegal immigration, says, "The Rio Grande is the lifeblood of South Texas. A wall is just going to stand between farmers and ranchers and others who need legitimate access to water. It's not going to stop the illegals."

The wall would also stop Mexicans from spending their money in American border towns. And it would prevent Americans and Mexicans who live on the border from visiting their friends and relatives across the border.

The construction of the fence is also just not practical. As Arizona Representative Raul Grijalva said, this region is not "Iowa farmland." They're talking about putting a fence in mountainous areas and in rivers. What are they going to suggest next? Building a four-lane highway to the moon? Oops! I shouldn't have put that idea out there.

Besides, does anyone really think the federal government could build anything 700 miles long? Can you imagine all of the construction problems, delays, and just plain incompetence? Do the words, "Heck of a job, Brownie" ring a bell?

And who is actually going to build this fence? My son suggested that they will probably end up secretly using undocumented immigrants from Mexico to do the work.

Even some of those who are gung-ho for this fence were disappointed in the bill. There are more holes in the act than there would be in any fence constructed. GOP congressional leaders have pledged that Native American tribes, Congress, and local leaders would have a say in "the exact placement" of the fence, and that the Homeland Security Secretary can call for other measures "when fencing is ineffective or impractical."

In other words, there's a good chance this fence will never make it from the paper it was written on to the boondoggle it would become.

So, if it's impractical, expensive, and even unlikely that it will ever be built, why did Congress pass the bill and why did the president sign it? It makes for good campaigning. It's like getting a haircut before making a campaign speech: it really doesn't mean anything, but it looks nice to the voters.

In this case, it's a shame that the idea of this fence apparently "looks nice" to so many voters. Recalling Reagan's speech again, he referred to the wall as "this brutal division of a continent upon the mind of the world." And that's what our proposed fence would be.

America is supposed to be a beacon of liberty and a symbol of a free, open society. At a time when more and more people in the world unfortunately see us as putting ourselves above and apart from them, what could feed those feelings more than a 700-mile fence?

So, I have to say, "Mr. Bush, don't build that fence." And to all those politicians who plan on bragging during the campaign about the fence they voted for — get a haircut instead.

By Lloyd Garver