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What the Devil won't tell you

Protective amnesia: Shutdown debate ignores 'wall' already on the border

Arguments ignore existing U.S.-Mexico border security measures

“Oh, Donald the Magnifient, First of His Name, Queens Born, Most Stable Genius, The Clinton Confounder, Hammer of Libs, Redeemer of Redneck, Bringer of Amarosa and Conjurer of Covfefe; We your humble subjects of Arizona have, in honor of your beneficence, built built for you a grand curtain of wonder. May it stand testament to your omniscient wisdom, eternal prowess and everlasting virility.

Behold, this gift we, your trembling and sad subjects, have built to sanctify your reign as we waited not for it to commence. We present to you the that which we do not deserve, as we toil daily to earn your gracious rule. For you, the toughest of the tough, we dedicate – on this day – the Donald J. Trump Wall of Beauty, Greatness and Love. For your flawless administration is so great, we chose not to wait upon it, to begin building this monument to your glory decades before your coming.

So it shall be done. Believe me.”

That's how you turn a fence into a wall, at least where our president is concerned. Suck up to Donald J. Trump. Name the border barrier after him and, I don't know, present him with the Golden Sash of Greatness and let him decide if it's a wall or a fence.

He'll christen it a wall faster than you can say “Bigly.”

We are Day One into the dumbest government shutdown on record because it's a shutdown demanding the government protect the children of immigrants who crossed illegally, and kids' health care. Congress, by all reports, has a consensus for both those things. But the wall is divisive.

For what it's worth, we have a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border already. Fence … wall … it's all semantics. It's big, vertical and divides us from them. Rebrand it, extend it if we must, and fix the system for the Dreamers.

A barrier by any other name

I get sorta tired of hearing people who have never been closer than the Ohio River to the U.S.-Mexico borderline hyperventilate about what's not there. It's as if they went fishing in the 1,000 Islands, criss-crossed the U.S.-Canadian border along the St. Lawrence River and projected that to the southern edge of Arizona.

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In baseball, sportscasters tend to use “wall” and “fence” interchangeably. Is it a left foot wall, or did the home run sail over the center field fence? Doesn't really matter if it's a home run, does it? It's there and outfielders can't really do much about it.

Let's try this. Go to the border and imagine the “pedestrian fence” in your back yard. Could you legitimately call it a wall? Sure you could! I know it. And you know it.

Reality meets aspiration

Let's apply the Trump Test. He said it in a tweet this week.

"The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it. Parts will be, of necessity, see through and it was never intended to be built in areas where there is natural protection such as mountains, wastelands or tough rivers or water,"

I'm not sure what “tough rivers” are but I'm pretty sure the Rio Grande would count.

Compare – not contrast – that with a 2016 report by the Center for Investigative Reporting, which found it very difficult to piece together a map of what is now on the border. Still, they pulled it off:

"Most of the border – 65 percent of the nearly 2,000-mile border – has no fence. In its place are natural barriers such as rivers, cliffs and mountains that make it difficult to cross or difficult to build. Some of these are places with so little movement across the border that previous administrations have deemed a barrier unnecessary."

Holy shithole, the problem is solved!

No one is talking about how perfectly reality meshes with conservative aspiration and lord knows the president is ignorant about it. So go all China on him, kowtow sufficiently to let him declare victory and get a major award for leadership so stupendous that America already built what he wanted simply in anticipation of his election.

He'll buy it.

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Part of negotiating is always about maintaining a way for the other side to declare victory. Republicans have changed that game on immigration and seek only full-scale capitulation on the other side of the table. That's not working.

And let's remember that holding family unity hostage to a wall works both ways. The president can point that gun at those heads at the expense of all else but so can Democrats. Both sides, again, are willing to make martyrs of the unwilling.

Hold the line, gatekeeper

All of this is part of a bigger “narrative” that's been bugging me. Voters across the country and right here in Arizona seem to have amnesia.

The border is not completely open. The U.S. has been bulking up our border fortifications for more than 20 years.

Operations Gatekeeper, Safeguard, Rio Grande, Hold the Line and the Secure Fence Act have all been part of the ongoing effort to beef up defenses of the busiest border in the world. Folks, the border gets crossed legally about 1 million times a day. By 2012, law enforcement was catching 61 percent of those trying to enter the U.S. illegally. I can tell you border reporters in Tucson throughout the aughts used the figure 33 percent because that's what border agents told them to use.

TucsonSentinel.com border guru Paul Ingram tells me the biggest spike in illegal crossings no longer come from Mexicans but Central Americans seeking asylum and turning themselves in to authorities to begin the legal process of becoming recognized as refugees.

Yet people are clueless about all that.

Tell me what you see

I remember when I did a ride along along the border to get a first-hand sense of what it looked like. How wide open was it? My Customs and Border Protection tour guide drove me along miles and miles of bollard and matte fencing.

When I got back, I called Glenn Spencer. He was the president of the watchdog group — characterized by some as extremists — that went by the name "American Border Patrol." He wasn't having any of what the feds were trying to feed him about a “fence.” He thought the whole border was protected by vehicle barriers and Rent-A-Fences. So I emailed him some pictures my photographer had snapped of the border that day of big polls – bollard fencing – stretching for miles.

“Hey! That looks great!” He said over the phone as he opened what I sent him. This was the group screaming bloody murder about a wide-open border and he didn't know what was along the entire stretch of the border at the time — even though Spencer lives within spitting distance of the line himself.

Now, with a bollard fence having been built along his property near the border south of Sierra Vista, Spencer said it's like a "gated community. Before it was built, it was the wild west down here."

Despite being a border-security zealot, Spencer told TucsonSentinel.com that the idea of a solid concrete wall is "crazy."

"That will never happen, (Trump)'s using the word wall as a marketing tool," Spencer said.

In an interview with the New York Times "The Daily" podcast, Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier said the plan to build a 30-foot was was a "medieval solution to a modern problem."

"I mean, 10,000 years ago we were building walls around things, and here we are in 2017, and this is the best idea we can come up with?" asked Napier.

His colleague, Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada, called the wall "a fantasy... it'll never work."

CBP agents prefer being able to see through any barrier into Mexico so they can keep an eye peeled for what's coming. My tour guide told me the story about how crossers would hop the jump off the top of a matte fence/wall, bounce off the top of agents' SUVs and sprint out into the desert.

A virulent strain of ignorance infects talk about what isn't and isn't at the border. That particular line in the sand has become a Rorschach test of political paranoia. It's as wide open as you wish to imagine it. On the other hand, if you have never been to the border, don't talk about what's not there now.

Presidents don't get everything they campaigned on because Congress writes the rules. So victories are always watered down. That's just reality in country ruled by a democracy when that country disagrees with itself.

Left out

That's the right. The Left seems to forget the U.S. has been militarizing a border defense. A wall would make America no more xenophobic than it is now.

The degree to which they are complicit in shutting down the government over the difference between a wall and a fence (recognizing Republicans might have been just as eager) is silly. Closing the government is a big risk.

More than that, progressives should remember the more the government looks silly, the less people will trust it to provide their single-payer health care system, universal college education and fix climate change.

Shutdowns are screwball things, literally. President Bill Clinton took the initial hit for a 1995 government shutdown until then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich griped he shut the government own because he didn't get a good enough seat on Air Force One. Opinions turned.

Voters blamed Republicans for the 2013 government shutdown until the Obamacare rollout swamped public opinion.

Public opinion tends to corkscrew and no one is safe when the government shuts down because public disgust adds a bunch of turbulence into the atmosphere.

Democrats tout polls of showing “80 percent of Americans wanting to protect the Dreamers.” Right, but that doesn't mean voters want to shut the government down to prove the point. Those polls don't tell us if it's a voter preference based on generosity or a voter imperative rooted in urgency.

The first party to screw up usually loses the hearts and minds and Lord knows Trump can be counted on to break message discipline.

Either way, it's so much ado that flies in the face of existing reality. One of those realities is that Democrats lost the last two elections and must go along to get along if they want anything constructive done. They can use the filibuster all day long to stop bad Republican ideas but passing their own legislation will require giving to get.

Also, the Saudis and Chinese have shown this president can be played like a Stratocaster. Strum his ego and he'll start singing Pink Floyd whether there are bricks involved or not.

So go fix the Dream Act, reauthorize the children's health care program and not play games with human lives.

Blake Morlock is a journalist who has spent 17 years covering government in Arizona and also worked in Democratic political communications. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.


TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

A teenaged boy runs from the border wall that separates the U.S. and Mexico in Nogales just after illegally climbing over with a ladder.

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