Feelings mixed on border fence

November 02, 2006|by TIM ROWLAND

For some reason, I am really, really curious how this new, 700-mile fence along the Mexican border is going to go.

I'm not for it, not against it - just interested is all.

On one hand, I guess it could work. It's not like we're defending against armies and tanks. All it needs do is discourage hundreds of scraggly families armed with nothing but the clothes on their backs from scurrying across the border to the Land of Opportunity. If your annual income is $500, it's tough to budget for siege equipment.

And a fence is an idea that is elegant in its simplicity. You want to keep something in or out, you build a fence. It works for cows. How's anyone going to get around a big ole fence? It's one thing to crawl through an arroyo and splash through a shallow river. But a fence - what can go wrong? What, they're just going to go around it? I'd like to see that.


The other half of me is saying: A 700-mile fence - are they nuts?

First of all, I have trouble getting past the name of the project: The Federal Secure Fence Act of 2006. What the? We're a nation of laser-guided bombs and stealth technology. And we're passing something called the Secure Fence Act of 2006? That's not a policy, that's a chore. What's next, the Federal For The Last Time, Will You Take Out The Freaking Trash Act of 2007?

And how soon until the environmentalists weigh in on this? Aren't there herds of caribou or something that need to migrate?

I wonder too, has the government tried to hire a fencing contractor lately? I have a friend on the Eastern Shore whose sole business is tearing out improperly installed fences. He doesn't build new fences. He doesn't need to. He earns a perfectly acceptable, full-time living just ripping out botched fencing jobs so homeowners can try again with a different contractor.

And for some reason, fences are one of the most expensive home-improvement projects there is. Obviously, I am not versed in the technical and mathematical genius involved in sinking a post. Like, what part of "vertical" don't you understand?

There are a lot of things to think about, I guess. First, you have to dig a hole. Then, you have to make an effort not to fall in the hole. Then, you have to pour concrete in the hole, as opposed to, say, pouring it in a nearby flower bed. It is a highly complicated job, and many technical calculations must be factored in. With one tiny slip or a split-second loss of concentration, you can nail a fence section perpendicular to the property line instead of parallel to it.

And, if we common folk can't hire a fencing contractor for a reasonable price, what chance does the government have? Indeed, the initial price tag for our Mexico fence is $2.2 billion. Makes sense. If you're trying to save $10 million worth of illicit food stamps for illegals, I can think of no better way to solve the problem than to go out and spend $2.2 billion.

And I'm not sure, but I believe this to be the pre-kickback, bribe and cost-overrun price. Basically, the rule of thumb in these government projects is to multiply the announced cost by three.

You think contractors across America aren't salivating at this plum? You can bet that, as we speak, some executive from Halliburton is on the Do It Yourself network Web site doing a search on fence construction.

You know who else is happy about this? Me. I happen to own some stock of a company called Cemex that is about the biggest producer of concrete in the world. It will also be very convenient for the project logistically, since Cemex is located, get this, in Mexico. Potential ironies abound. Mexican politicians are opposed to the fence; I wonder if they will be opposed to a Mexican company providing the basic building materials. And our politicians? "We're going to build the biggest fence ever to keep your dirty rear ends out of our country! Uh, can we use a little of your concrete?"

But as long as we're building the fence, I hope we do it with some style. Personally, I hope we go retro. Big ole gothic monstrosity staffed by bearded soldiers in pointed metal helmets armed with pikes and cauldrons of boiling oil.

And look, even if you are not a fan of this glorified chicken coop or do not believe it will work, there is a bright side. Don't look at it as a security measure, look at it as a future travel attraction. Five hundred years from now, groups of Japanese tourists will be led from the concession stand out to the 700-mile, weed-covered wonder, where it will be explained to them that it was once built with the idea of keeping out illegal immigrants.

No doubt the tour guide will be Mexican.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324 or via e-mail at You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on

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