Steve Lopez of the Los Angeles times has an interesting interview this week with a guy who knows a thing or two about the southern border. He’s been talking to Albert Garcia, a retired federal employee who spent decades with the sole job of fixing holes in the fence on the Mexican border. The man is a welder who would sometimes be called upon to repair as many as 20 holes in the fence in a single day, while running the risk of having rocks (or worse) thrown at him from the opposite side. It turns out that Garcia is not much of a fan of the idea of building a massive coast-to-coast wall, but he does offer some other suggestions which are worth consideration.
“I don’t think anything they make is going to hold them back,” said Garcia, who took an extended vacation at one point in his career because the daily undoing of his work was taking a psychological toll. “They’re going to come across and it doesn’t make any difference. If you can see blue sky, they’ll go up and over the top, or they’ll crawl underneath.”…
But if it were up to him, he’d shore up electronic surveillance, modernize the wall in places and focus on building a vehicle barricade rather than a human barricade. He said humans will always find a way in, or over-stay visas, but vehicles carry drugs.
Garcia would support some form of penalties and legal status for law-abiding contributors here illegally, rather than foot the cost of mass deportation. And he’d institute a seasonal work visa program so workers can cross legally as needed.
I’m not going to question Garcia’s motives here, but it’s worth noting that he is a Democrat who voted for Trump. While he agreed with some (though not all) of Trump’s positions on immigration, he was more interested in the job creation and economic portions of the candidate’s platform. With all that as a backdrop, I would argue with some of Garcia’s assertions but we should at least be willing to consider a few others.
First of all, I completely disagree with the man’s premise which states that any sort of barrier is a losing proposition. Yes, he has seen far too many people crossing what passes for a wall these days and with enough determined effort there will be some ingenious folks who will find a way to get past any barrier in the future. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t make any effort at all, nor should we discount the fact that the bits of barricades we have in place today have clearly cut down on the incoming numbers quite a bit. Garcia says that people always find a way to “go over with ropes” or tunnel underneath any wall. We can’t rule that out 100%, but a high barrier with smooth edges where a grappling hook cannot find any purchase makes the job a lot harder and more time-consuming. Tunneling is always a possibility, but a wall tends to run a lot deeper than a fence and that further reduces the likelihood of such incursions.
One of Garcia’s complaints is a completely valid one. He talks about the fact that there are too many areas where large amounts of trees and other shrubbery grow very close to the wall. This is a problem. While we probably can’t force the Mexicans to establish a broad area cleared of all vegetation on their side, it would certainly be worth considering moving the wall back a few hundred yards from the actual border and keeping it clear on our side. The former maintenance worker also talks about electronic surveillance and that should be a no-brainer. A combination of cameras and microphones strategically placed along the top of the wall, particularly when combined with drones, would allow for the spacing of border patrol offices at considerable distances while still being able to provide rapid response using a combination of trucks and all-terrain vehicles. You may not reach 100% coverage but you could get fairly close.
The years of experience which Mr. Garcia has in his pocket isn’t something which should be thrown out the window lightly. I don’t think he has all of the solutions and his attitude seems a bit more bleak than it needs to be, but we could certainly learn a thing or two from anyone who has spent that much time on the front lines. A little good thinking (as a very smart man once said) could solve a host of ills here.