Perhaps we ought to lament the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. It might have been less costly and more efficient to simply move it to the southern border of the United States.
Four years ago, the federal government initiated Operation Gatekeeper, a massive crackdown on illegal immigration into California. There are now more than 2,000 Border Patrol agents guarding one of the most busily used entry points for illegal immigration on the border. There’s also a 14-mile, 10-foot high metal fence, loaded with the latest surveillance technologies, designed to detect and prevent illegal immigrants from entering the United States. Stadium lighting, infrared scopes, and motion sensors have made illegal entry into the United States more difficult than ever.
It’s also made illegal entry more dangerous. Last month, Border Patrol agents shot and killed two men trying to get past the new barriers. Harold Beasley, the deputy chief of the Border Patrol division in Chula Vista, California, expressed regret over the killings, saying that the Border Patrol wants to save lives, not destroy them. What Beasley and so many others fail to recognize, however, is that such killings are, in the final analysis, the necessary ingredient to immigration controls.
Before Operation Gatekeeper was implemented, thousands of immigrants were crossing the border in violation of American law. It was clear, then, that the mere existence of a law that prohibited the illegal entry into the United States was insufficient. In order to have effect, the law had to be enforced.
But enforcement of government laws always entails the use of force or the threat of using force. There would be no point in fortifying the borders if law-enforcement personnel could do nothing to prevent a person from illegally entering.
Of course, if no one attempts to enter illegally, there’s no problem. But life is not that easy. Throughout history, people have taken enormous risks in desperate attempts to sustain and improve their lives. It has been no different along the U.S.-Mexican border.
What happens when a person whose goal is to cross a border encounters a law-enforcement agent whose goal is to stop the crossing. If both persist in achieving their respective goals, violence is the probable outcome. Thus, the bottom line of immigration controls is: “Persist in illegally entering our country, and we will kill you.”
The East German law-enforcement agents who manned the Berlin Wall had the same dilemma. The law they were charged with enforcing prohibited any East German from crossing the border into West Berlin. When an East German whose goal was to cross the border encountered a law-enforcement officer whose goal was to prevent the crossing, violence was the inevitable outcome.