Thursday, May 26, 2005

Crossing Over

A decade ago, when I was living in Northern Mexico, I met a woman who had nearly died while crossing the Rio Bravo (as they call the Rio Grande in Mexico). She was traveling with a group of about ten men who were trying to get into Texas from a spot near Reynosa. The woman was too short and fat to wade the river herself so her husband put her and her baby on an inflated inner tube and began to pull them across. The men in the group stripped down to their underpants and piled their clothes onto the tube with her.

Halfway across the river the tube was somehow upset and the woman fell into the swift brown water. As she fell she dropped her baby. It was night and the water of the Rio Bravo is heavy with silt. It was impossible to see the baby. Someone held her up while the rest of the men frantically dove under the water and felt around for the drowning child who was being swept downriver. Luckily someone grabbed the baby and hauled him out. In the confusion everyone’s clothing was lost.

The group arrived in Texas dressed only in their underwear. They were quickly rounded up by the border patrol and repatriated.

The border is a dangerous place. According to a story in today’s New York Times, 190 illegal immigrants died while attempting to enter Arizona in the fiscal year 2003-2004. A person named Sue Goodman, founder of “Humane Borders” says the American people are at fault for forcing poor immigrants to go on a desert death march.

Ms. Goodman. . . said a common misperception since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks was that terrorists hid among the immigrants.

"I'm out there every day, and what I see is a 23-year-old man and his wife and their 2-year-old son, and they're coming here to work," she said. "They're going to pick cherries in eastern Washington. They're shoveling manure in Kansas, or they're landscaping yards on Long Island. Why should people die when they're on their way to work for us? We're willing to make them walk through a deathtrap to get to work."

The increase in patrols since Sept. 11 - not only by federal agents, but also by self-appointed border guardians whom some people call vigilantes - has meant longer walks through inhospitable snake-ridden terrain for immigrants who seek to avoid the patrols, many of which stick to roads and well-traveled paths.

Our border with Mexico is over 2,000 miles long and Ms. Goodman wants us to sleep better at night because she has not personally seen any terrorists crossing it. She has seen no mad prophet beards or greasy turbans. There’s nothing but young couples and two year olds as far as the eye can see.

I think, perhaps, that Ms. Goodman is being a wee bit na├»ve. If terrorists have not yet taken advantage of our border with Mexico (and there is evidence that they have), they will. It just makes sense that as we tighten up visa procedures (particularly for people from the Middle East) the terrorists will look for other ways to enter the country. Hundreds of thousands of Mexicans successfully scramble under the fence every year. It would be incredibly easy for a handful of bomb-laden jihadists to scramble under with them. (I wonder, for example, why the two Saudi’s mentioned in this story were on their way to Mexico.)

And Goodman’s assertion that we are making “them walk through a deathtrap” is ridiculous. We are not forcing them to do anything. No one has a bayonet to their back! We are simply enforcing our law and they are deciding to break it. And a border defense strategy that didn’t patrol “roads and well-traveled paths” would be a waste of time.

The best way to save these 190 lives a year is to shut down the border completely (except, obviously, for the legal checkpoints). If no one can cross, no one will try to cross. If this means mobilizing more volunteers, hiring more border guards, building a 2,000 mile long “Buchanan Fence” or sending out the national guard I’m all for it. The answer to saving these lives is not a looser border, it’s a tighter border.

This is a national security issue. In the wake of 9/11 the government has spent millions of dollars on “homeland security.” Much of this has been squandered on silly projects like providing highway patrol officers in rural Georgia with ATV’s. A significant chunk of our security budget should go to the Mexican border.

TommAy: my appreciation for Noah's experience with the Nortenyos (and Los Tigres del Norte)is due to one of the best dirty jokes I've ever heard, which Noah claims to have heard from some sweet Mexican college dude in some dusty and sweaty industrial town somewhere in the north of Mexico (though that can't be corroborated, so it might very well have come from Noah's creative noggin one night when he was dreaming, or talking in his sleep, in spanish. We won't ever know for sure). Here it is, the same way as told by Noah, starting with the punchline: Pero Doctor! No he hecho nada mas que ver peliculas pornograficas y comer chetos! English translation: But Doctor, I've done nothing more than watch pornographic films and eat cheetos! The joke is about a guy who goes to see the doctor about his orange penis. And for some odd reason this joke is even more funny when told in spanish.

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