The Ongoing Insanity of US Border Policy (Fencing off Citizens Edition)

Another entry in the ongoing follies of US border and immigration policy.

Via The Independent of London (in a story from last May):  The town on the wrong side of America’s drugs war (although I would note that the policy described in the story is primary aimed at stopping illegal immigrant, not drug traffickers).  The piece has several vignettes about the fact that the border fence (hailed by many as a solution to the illegal immigration problem) has, in fact, cut off US citizens from their own country (a problem I have noted before).

First, the story of 83-year-old Pamela Taylor:

About 350 metres from her porch, an imposing metal fence looms into view. It is supposed to divide the US from Mexico, but by a cruel twist of fate, the 83-year-old grandmother’s family home has ended up on the “wrong” side.


The best-laid political schemes do not always work out as planned, though. When government engineers arrived in Ms Taylor’s neighbourhood, their plan hit a snag: the Mexican border follows the meandering Rio Grande in this area. And the river’s muddy banks are too soft and too prone to flooding to support a fence.

As a result, this corner of south-eastern Texas had its barrier constructed on a levee that follows a straight line from half a mile to two miles north of the river, leaving Ms Taylor’s bungalow – along with the homes and land of dozens of her angry neighbours – marooned on the Mexican side. “My son-in-law likes to say that we live in a gated community,” she says, explaining that to even visit the shops she must pass through a gate watched over by border-patrol officers. “We’re in a sort of no man’s land. I try to laugh, but it’s hard: that fence hasn’t just spoiled our view, it’s spoiled our lives.”

Then there are other examples:

The well-mown greens of a local golf course are on land that now sits on the “wrong” side, while fields and orchards farmed by generations of landowners have been sliced in two by the metal barrier.

“I’ll say right off the bat that I’m a conservative – I believe in hard work and I believe our border needs to be secure,” says Debbie Loop, whose 15-acre citrus farm is on both sides of the fence. “But when they signed this fence into law, nobody stopped to think Texas isn’t Arizona or California. Our border does not run dirt to dirt. Any idiot could have told them that. My grandchildren now live on the wrong side. Who is going to protect them? Who protects me when I’m in my orchards after dusk? I just want to work hard and earn a living. But they’ve changed this place forever.”

And, mind you, all of this for a policy that is unlikely to actually affect in any substantial way illegal flows (be they of people or illicit substances).   As the aforementioned Ms. Taylor noted:

“First of all, it doesn’t work,” she says. “Anyone with a rope and a bucket can just climb on over. Second, they’ve used it as an excuse to reduce border patrols. Thirdly, it’s left people like me unprotected. While the officers are guarding the fence, any drug smugglers can just walk up to my front door.”


Or, as former Brownsville Mayor, Eddit Trevino said:  “It made no sense to build this fence, other than making people in other parts of the country feel better and feel a false sense of safety. It’s like the old joke: build a 12ft fence and you’ll be having a huge demand for 15ft ladders.”

Also, indeed.

It is truly unconscionable to essentially cut off American citizens from their country for the sake of faux security (especially in lieu of trying to actually create rational immigration policy).  Quite frankly, cutting off citizens under any circumstances like this should be unacceptable.

According to an LAT piece from February, there are gaps in the fence:  Some angry Texans are stuck south of the barrier

In and around Brownsville, the fence slices through two-lane roads, backyards, agricultural fields, citrus groves and pastures for more than 21 miles, trapping tens of thousands of acres, according to some property owners’ estimates. (The Homeland Security Department did not keep track of the total.) Narrow gaps allow back-and-forth access for cars and tractors, pedestrians and Border Patrol agents, but they are as much as a mile apart.

So, the fence cuts across land, isolates American from their neighbors and still leaves holes.  While I understand that funneling illegal activity could aid in stopping it, this hardly sound like a good trade off.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, US Politics, , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Hey Norm says:

    Build the dang fence!!!!

    Sorry…just reminiscing.

  2. superdestroyer says:

    Maybe if any government at any level had bother to enforcement the borders and control immigration in the last 50 years, one could make the point that the government has failed.

    Yet, after the massive lying after the last amnesty (with a promise of enforcement and border security) and the government’t tacit approval of identity theft, illegal immigraiton, and out right fraud, the only thng the governmetn should be doing is improving border enforcement, punishing employers who hire illegal aliens, and deporting illegal aliens.

    It is sad that a wall could not be built but if the government is going to do such a poor job of controlling illegal immigration, i suggest they take it up with the lying, incompetent politicians who created the situation.

  3. An Interested Party says:

    Maybe if any government at any level had bother to enforcement the borders and control immigration in the last 50 years, one could make the point that the government has failed.

    Oh, like building a fence? Or perhaps armed guard towers with orders to shoot to kill or maim…

  4. I expected a rant like superdestroyer’s. Of course, the telling thing is that he utterly ignores the actual topic of the post.

  5. An Interested Party says:

    Of course, the telling thing is that he utterly ignores the actual topic of the post.

    In other news, water is wet and the sun rises in the east and sets in the west…

  6. Suddenly Ron Paul’s remark about how the fence would eventually be used against US citizens doesn’t seem so laughable, does it, Wolf Blitzer?

  7. jan says:

    Building a border fence between Mexico and the U.S. seems to be more a symbolic gesture of protection than an actual deterrant. While I’m for border security, building a fence to implement this has never seemed like the best laid plan.

  8. superdestroyer says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    so, it the point that the government should maintain a policy of open borders and unlimited immigration because any other policy will make life inconvinient for a few people.

    Of course, the federal government’s failure to enforce the border, control immigration, or even pass workable, effective regulations has made life harder for millions of Americans. Every U.S. citizen in Texas that owns a car is treated like a criminal when they register their automobile, get their car inspected, or renew their license because illegal aliens refuse to comply with the law.

    If a wall is going to be ineffective, then please propose what the govenrment should to eliminate illegal immigration. Just saying that is is hard on a few people who choose to live along the border, thus the U.S. should give up the idea of immigration control is beyond idiotic.

    The government has lied in the past about controlling immigration and is lying today. Until the government comes up with real policies and regulations that eliminate illegal immigration, eliminate identity theft, and stop forcing U.S. citizens to pay for illegal immigration, that those few people along the border will just have to get used to being treated just like the rest of us.

  9. @superdestroyer: I would note that still none of your response deals with the contents of the post. People such as yourself who call for massive and radical changes to the border have helped create the situation described in the stories cited. I see no response to that.

    And, btw, the notion that there is a policy that can “eliminate illegal immigration” is a fantasy.

    We need a policy that realistically assesses the labor market and figure out a method to deal with the existing supply and demand instead of pretending like, as you are doing, the border can be sealed (as well as pretending like that would be a good thing). We need policy based in reality.

  10. liberty60 says:

    I propose we let the free market determine how best to handle the supply of labor and capital.

  11. PD Shaw says:

    @liberty60: Does that include eliminating the minimum wage and allowing employees to negotiate workplace safety protections with their employer?

  12. WR says:

    @superdestroyer: ” Every U.S. citizen in Texas that owns a car is treated like a criminal when they register their automobile, get their car inspected, or renew their license because illegal aliens refuse to comply with the law. ”

    No, if every US citizen in Texas who owns a car is treated like a criminal, it’s because the government of Texas chooses to treat its own citizens like criminals. They’re not forced to do it by those mean old illegal aliens.

    Next up from SD: Rick Perry was forced to execute an innocent man because illegal aliens won’t stop committing crimes.

  13. ponce says:

    The piece has several vignettes about the fact that the border fence (hailed by many as a solution to the illegal immigration problem) has, in fact, cut off US citizens from their own country (a problem I have noted before).

    That could be an Onion post.

  14. @WR:

    Next up from SD

    Would you stop calling superdestroyer that? I don’t want to be confused for him. ;P

  15. WR says:

    @Stormy Dragon: But I would never call you SD — I like your name to much to abbreviate it like that!

  16. mannning says:

    What, then, are the viable solutions to controling our border with Mexico? So far, there have been a number proposed and partially implemented: 1. the border fence, which is imperfect and incomplete, and is thwarted by the drug dealers and everyone else; 2. Border Patrols augmented somewhat, but insufficiently; 3. All manner of technical surveillance systems coupled with pursuit teams, which has had some limited successes; 4. statewide patrols that catch some truckloads of aliens but not all; 5. a significant set of laws on the books that are not enforced; 6. and National Guard units deployed essentially unarmed. No one suggests that we shoot to kill any crossers, unless, of course, they shoot first, which has happened.

    I suppose the final idea is to simply leave the border open and unattended with “y’all come! signs posted around. This idea is a non-starter in my book. We do not have an EU kind of relationship with Mexico with no intra-border control at all.

    If we really want to shut the border as a first act, I am reasonably certain that we could reach a 95% to 98% seal, using the above closing methods far more thoroughly, including employing our armed forces, with a dispensation for posse comitatus along the border belt. The idea that the fence allows a reduction in patrols is simply wrong. The fence is meant to make it difficult for groups to cross quickly and to detect the crossings when they do occur, but we need constant surveillance and very frequent overlapping patrols and backups. This takes money; lots of money, and a fully completed and instrumented fence and border strip. A solution must be found for the instances where the fence disrupts our own citizens’ property. How dumb can you get? This problem must have a reasonable solution.

    The second act here is to create a realistic and effective large scale migrant worker program using new ID technologies, police-type supervision and really heavy fines for sponsors if they can’t supervise their workers properly. Perhaps the employers should deposit a heafty sum for each migrant worker they hire as a guarantee of their keeping control, or else.

    The third act is to use very heavy fines for employers that use illegal workers, and to supervise them very often. If the jobs dry up or are under the MWP fewer will come across illegally.

    The fourth act is very simple, but evidently hard to do. Have all US police organizations charged with the responsibility to identify and apprehend illegal aliens, along with the INS and Border Patrols. The police should enforce the current laws on the books, which would allow them to question suspected lawbreakers and ask them for ID wherever they are found on US territory. The police do not want this job, and they have allowed laws to be broken in their presence because they do not want to get involved. The concept of our law enforcement people refusing to enforce a law is repugnant to me. There are some legal problems involved, but they can be handled, I believe, if we want to solve the illegal alien problem at all. The INS and legal screening process would have to be streamlined and their personnel motivated to reach a deportation decision, or not, more rapidly then earlier.

    Such acts would materially increase the flow of illegal aliens from the US to their homeland. Provisions would have to be made to house and feed this crowd until they are shipped home en masse, possibly by using a combination of near border housing in camps, busses, and perhaps a string of leased cruise ships from our ports eventually to theirs.

    Over a five or even a ten year program, this approach could reduce the number of illegal aliens in the US substantially if it were to be fully implemented in all respects.

    Of course, there are those who wish to ignore the illegality of these people and would provide them amnesty and US citizenship sooner or later. Personally, I am against amnesty. Perhaps there are ways to grant some of them immediate migrant worker status or deferrals for humanitarian reasons, so long as they are gainfully employed and pay US taxes. Sooner or later, however, they would have to return home and apply for the normal and legal immigration route. There is nothing to prevent us from increasing the number of Mexican citizens that we would allow to immigrate per year either, through the standard channels.

    The “standard channels” themselves need a major overhaul as well, but that is another story.
    What needs development is the fairness of our system of permissions in the INS. What is the rationale for allowing, say, a large quota from Mexico to immigrate, but to block or reduce quantities from other nations? Should there be an upper limit per year, and on and on…?

  17. @mannning:

    So… your plan is to turn the US into a police state in hopes that no one will want to immigrate here anymore?

  18. superdestroyer says:


    The State of Texas was not the one driving around without insurance or assests. The State of TExas was not the individauls who were stealing license plates to get the registration stickers. The State of Texas was not the individuals forging insurance papers and stealing identities.

    However, the State of Texas was the one organization forced to treat everyone the same to include the illegal aliens because any regulations that did not treat everyone the same (like a criminal) would have been called profiling and would have resulted in lawsuits.

    So if illegal immigrants were eliminate from the U.S., then there would be fewer reasons to treat everyone like criminals.

  19. superdestroyer says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    The problem is that to libertarians, sane immigration policies really means open borders and unlimited immigration. Of course,, the resulting bad schools, high crime, sprawl, higher medical costs, higher automobile insurance, and lowering of the quality of life demonstrate that a sane immigration would be an end or illegal immigration and very limited legal immigration.

  20. mannning says:

    @Stormy Dragon:l

    Between having our society being dragged down by millions of illegal immigrants, and being able to count on the police to check the immigration status of suspect people on the streets and do something about it, yes, I would allow that function for the police, given proper training and supervision. Of course, that is a dreaded form of discrimination by the key tels or profile of a potential illegal, such as accent, looks, dress, lack of a job ,or what have you. How else can you identify open-door or border sneakers roaming free, working and living underground in our nation? Waiting until some crime is committed is sheer gutless folly. In the EU, you still have to have a passport or ID with you at all times, and you can be asked to show it, too. We are headed that way.