Every time the debate about illegal immigration reaches a fever pitch, the call for more border fencing gets louder and more hysterical. The current debate over an immigration bill in the Senate is no exception. The compromise bill under consideration calls for at least 370 miles of new fencing. The President wants 700.
Trying to tackle a complex issue like illegal immigration with more fences didn't make sense last year or the year before, and it doesn't make sense now. And it's not just here that it doesn't make sense. It didn't work in Cold War Berlin, doesn't work in Israel, and wouldn't have worked in Iraqi neighborhoods to separate Shias from Sunnis. Erecting fences to address intractable political issues doesn't solve whatever the underlying problem is, and creates more problems in the long run.
But the concept of a fence is one everybody can understand, and let's politicians stand tall on illegal immigration - they're doing something about the problem, right?
In this case, more miles of fence will not deter illegal immigrants. More likely, it will just mean more dead illegal immigrants. According to environmental groups in Texas - like those treehuggers at the Nature Conservancy - more fences could also hurt efforts to preserve the complex ecosystems along the border. This work has been ongoing for decades - environmental groups buy swaths of land, and turn it into wildlife refuges. New fencing could cut right through that, and cut animals off from the Rio Grande - an important fresh water source - and from potential mates during mating season.
Once you put up a fence like that, and you don't see the results promised in Washington, there will be a call for more fences. Fences cost money to put up, and they cost a lot to be taken down. Why not just focus on more border agents, better law enforcement against businesses that hire illegal immigrants, and - here's a crazy idea - working with the Mexican government to make staying in Mexico make sense?