To the south, east and west, Spain is bounded by water. Even at its narrowest point, at the straits of Gibralter, ten miles of ocean separates Spain from her nearest neighbor. To the north, the Pyranees mountain chain forms a continuous natural obstacle from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, with several peaks rising over 5,000 feet.
England is even worse. It is a fortress completely surrounded by water, with the English Channel twenty-one miles wide at its narrowest point. Due to decades of violence from the northern Ireland conflict, it has more surveillance cameras than any other country in the world, roughly one half million operating in London alone. Indeed, the average Londoner is caught on film over 300 times per day.
Yet, rather than considering these facts, Americans persist in believing that a six-foot cyclone fence would serve as a real deterrent to illegal immigration and – purportedly the real problem – terrorists.
The idea is absurd. Was illegal immigration the root of the problem for Spain a year ago or for London a few days ago? Was it even really the problem for the United States on September 11?
No, it wasn’t. We have all been watching too many Humphrey Bogart movies. Illegal immigration, spies smuggled into the country through clandestine means, this is not the source of the bombs or the men who planted them. By focussing on illegal immigration, we ignore the real problem.
Consider the terrorist’s situation from his point of view. In order to be a successful terrorist, I must blend into the society I intend to harass, wound and kill. I must raise the fewest possible questions about my origin and purpose. To be successful, I must become a non-entity, someone seen but never noticed.
If this is my goal, then I have a few rules of conduct. First, I must enter the country legally if at all possible. After all, to enter illegally, I must transit through small border towns where I attract attention if only because I am a stranger. I must negotiate with natives who do not share my objectives or my beliefs, men who are interested only in money and their own safety, men who would sell me out for the cash reward in a heartbeat if they somehow realized who I was or what I intended.
And how could I avoid betraying myself? I trained to simulate life in America, not life in Mexico or Canada. Why invest months of additional training to transit through an area I will only be present in for weeks at best?
Even if I were successfully smuggled into a country, I must obtain forged papers and present these to every person who requests them, never knowing who will see through the forgeries. To obtain the papers, I must again often deal with people who are not part of my organization: known criminals, people already being watched by the police.
Why go through this trouble? It is much better to enter the country legally, with real documents, never needing to come into contact with the American criminal class. That way, I can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the anti-immigrant crowd, vocally chastising those who seem uninterested in securing “our” borders with barbed wire. With such a cover, I can cry, “Look over there!” and you will look over there while I go about my business.
Many years ago, B. Liddell Hart wrote a classic on warfare called Strategy. In it, he pointed out that natural obstacles are no obstacle at all. Never in the history of warfare has a moat, a mountain chain or a fence stopped persons who were seriously interested in breaching the defense. The key to successful warfare is to hit the enemy where he is not and to lure him into a place where he cannot effectively use what he has.
So, we could build a fence. Better yet, we could dig a moat. But our moat would be measured in feet, not miles, and it wouldn’t stop people determined to get in. It would simply put resources where they cannot be effectively used.
No, illegal immigrant is not the problem and it never will be. It is the legal immigrant who poses the first threat. An even worse threat is posed by the American-born citizen who has become convinced of the rightness of the enemy’s cause.
So, here’s the question we need to answer: how high do you suppose the walls would have to be to separate each of us from the rest – all for our own safety, of course?