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Thursday, May 12, 2005 | Only a short time ago, citizens across the planet celebrated the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. The age of old borders – of walls, barbed wire and machine guns mounted on towers – was thought to be over.
The United States led the charge toward a “post-border” world. In the 1990s, its leaders spoke of – “globalization” – a world of free trade and new technologies that would unify distant cultures … a world that no longer needed Maginot Lines and fortified fences. Americans sold remnants of the Berlin Wall on the Internet, to memorialize a passing era.
But today, some Americans want to turn back the clock. From politicians to federal agencies, from talk show hosts to citizen movements, there’s a clamor to bring back old borders.
Their mantra is heard everywhere: “the border is out of control.”
– “Minutemen.” These volunteer, lawn chair vigilantes patrol the Arizona border in search of illegal immigrants. Some are reportedly armed.
– Governor Schwarzenegger. He claims the Minutemen “have done a terrific job,” and, if California can’t control illegal immigration, it should close the border.
– California Republicans. They’re sponsoring an initiative called the “California Border Police Act,” which would create a new state border patrol force.
– “Friends of the Border Patrol.” This Southern California-based vigilante group has announced it is coming to San Diego this summer.
– Anti-immigrant movements. They are sprouting across the nation in places like Georgia and Alabama.
– The Department of Homeland Security. It is proposing a triple-fenced, militarized security zone stretching from San Ysidro to the Otay border. DHS is also crafting a new policy that will require all U.S. residents to show a passport each time they re-enter from Canada. Some 200 million Americans will need to have passports if they head for Mexico, 48 million who cross at San Ysidro.
– U.S. Congress. It’s considering legislation to waive all state and federal environmental requirements along international borders so that future fences and other barriers can be constructed without environmental review.
What is going on? Do the Bush administration, the DHS and citizen groups really think Al-Qaeda terrorists are gathering in bars on Revolución Ave.? Are global bad guys being recruited from the nightclubs in the Zona Norte? Are they sleeping in tents in the hills of Tecate waiting for the dark of night to slip into the United States?
Is this some weird déjà vu? Are we returning to the 1950s, or even to the 19th century, when nations fought wars on their borders?
“We won’t have homeland security until we have border security,” one Republican U.S. Congressmen recently told the media.
But, is “border security,” in the form of ugly fences, vigilantes and more police, the panacea for delivering a safety net that keeps global terrorists off U.S. soil? Or is it merely a symbolic act that gets politicians off the hook for now, while avoiding more complex anti-terrorism policy decisions that the Bush administration has yet to figure out?
This is more than idle chatter for San Diego. Our city faces a budget crisis. Its economic future – its attraction to global investors – is inextricably tied to Mexico and the international border. The region’s calling card is that it is a gateway to giant markets in Latin America.
South of our border lies one of the fastest growing urbanized regions in the Americas – northern Baja California. Some five million people live in Tijuana, Mexicali, Tecate and Ensenada. This dense concentration of consumers offer an opportunity for launching innovative global business initiatives aimed at Latino markets in Mexico and Latin America.
Latinos are more than just a market. They permanently define the region’s binational landscape. Mexican culture is a natural bridge across the land mass we call the Californias.
Anti-immigrant rhetoric and the construction of symbolic or real walls threaten to transform one of San Diego’s great assets – our border geography – into a liability.
We need a 21st century border – one that can monitor flows using high technology, but also remain porous and flexible to cross-border innovations and interactions needed to nurture global business and global citizenship.
We don’t need a 19th century border. We don’t need bigger fences, more police and greater passport scrutiny on the Mexican border.
Border fences have the same fuzzy logic as the now-fully discredited “weapons of mass destruction” rationale for invading Iraq. They are strategies that have high selling power with the public because they offer an impression of security. That can be psychologically satisfying in the short term.
A high security border zone might sound good at a Cabinet meeting inside the Beltway, but it will cost San Diego dearly. Shouldn’t the Department of Homeland Security have experts studying the costs and benefits of building fenced-in zones in south San Diego County before those structures go up? Why isn’t DHS weighing in on the wisdom of allowing citizen-based vigilantes to roam the border with guns, American flags and lawn chairs?
Neither DHS nor the Pentagon nor the Department of State has admitted publicly that the real work of anti-terrorism policy may not be in enhanced Canadian or Mexican border monitoring, but rather – in reinventing a high-tech, globally imbedded military and civilian intelligence that better understands foreign culture and foreign geography.
The answer to “homeland security” may not lie along the Mexico-U.S. border, but on the borders of Pakistan-Afghanistan or in the bazaars of Saudi Arabia, Morocco or Jordan.
Lawrence A. Herzog is a writer and professor of city planning at San Diego State University. He has published six books on the subject of cities, globalization and borders; his latest book is Return to the Center: Culture, Public Space and City Building in a Global Era (University of Texas Press, 2006 in press).