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Throwing money at The Wall is pointless

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By Sherry Robinson

New Mexico’s border crossing at Columbus small but brisk.

Tiny Columbus’s claim to fame is Pancho Villa’s raid in 1916, commemorated by a state park. Snowbirds hunker down in the campground to spend a comfortable winter. The only shopping is a Dollar Store close to the international boundary.

Across the border, the much larger Palomas gets a steady stream of Americans shopping at the Pink Store, getting dental work done or buying cheap over-the-counter drugs.

Border guards on both sides are friendly and professional. The atmosphere is relaxed.

You can’t visit the border without contemplating The Wall.

The existing wall here of 18-foot steel columns is of fairly recent vintage. I try to imagine a new wall of the prototypes on display in California and envision a tourniquet that squeezes trade and relations between the two countries.

In October the U. S. Customs and Border Protection unveiled eight giant rectangles made of concrete or composites. If you live in Ohio, you might believe a wall of this stuff will keep us safe and hold the hordes at bay.

People here don’t believe it for a second. Farmers who operate on the border have said repeatedly they want boots on the ground – active, visible Border Patrol agents – and, in fact, the agency is a growth industry in Deming.

It’s hard to go anywhere without seeing a uniformed agent. The Border Patrol itself is using a lot of technology and wants more.

The president has said he will choose the prototype wall, and that it must be as transparent as a fence. “As horrible as it sounds, when they throw the large sacks of drugs over, and if you have people on the other side of the wall, you don’t see them–they hit you on the head with 60 pounds of the stuff? It’s over,” he was quoted as saying in a White House transcript.

I’m no expert, but I think drug mules are more deliberate.

Just two of the prototypes are transparent, but portions of the existing barrier along the border, some of it built under the Secure Fence Act of 2006, is already see-through. Undocumented Mexicans here hold emotional reunions through the fence with their loved ones across the border.

Then there is the cost. Estimates are all over the board. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has predicted the wall would cost $12 billion to $15 billion.

The Department of Homeland Security, in a leaked report, pegged it at $21.6 billion. Even the president has ratcheted up from $4 billion to $6 billion to $7 billion to $10 billion.

Two weeks ago Newsweek reported that nobody in the administration has calculated the costs of real estate or counted the number of U.S. citizens owning land in its path who are likely to lose acreage to eminent domain.

Two-thirds of the land is privately held or state-owned. And there is no timeline for land acquisition, according to a report by Democratic staff members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Texans whose land was acquired 10 years ago for border barriers are still waiting for payment, the report said.

Congress must stretch its budget around some big items. For example, it must pony up for hurricane recovery. Katrina cost taxpayers $110 billion, and Harvey and Irma will be twice that. And there’s the war on terror, which has cost taxpayers more than $5.6 trillion, or $23,000 per taxpayer, since 2001, according to a new study from Brown University reported in the Wall Street Journal.

In three visits to Mexico over the last year, I’ve seen in the state of Chihuahua a growing middle class and a lot less poverty. We can give the Border Patrol the tools it needs or we can spend money on a pointless wall.