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home : opinion : opinion April 25, 2017

1/31/2017 12:57:00 PM
Editorial Observations on walls and fences

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offence.

From "Mending Walls" by Robert Frost

The most famous and oft repeated quote from Frost's "Mending Walls" is the line, "Good fences make good neighbors." It is most often cited in support of building fences, but that is just the opposite of what Frost was saying in the poem. It has been misinterpreted most recently by supporters of President Trump's Mexican border wall plan. I think my selection is more applicable to the plan.

I grew up on a dairy farm in Haverhill Township northeast of Rochester. Our herd was Holstein, Guernsey and Jersey cattle. Our nearest neighbor, Lawler McGovern raised Hereford cattle. We had no bull and used artificial insemination. Lawler had a bull that thought natural insemination was God's plan for our cattle.

Lawler's bull was huge, in the same sense as The Donald uses the word, and fast. It was always startling to come upon him when I went into the back pasture to get our cattle at milking time. Initially, Lawler had put a ring in the bull's nose. I was told that was to identify the bull as a bull, but there was no need for it. This bull was so big there was no way anyone would not recognize him. I was also told a ring could be used to lead a bull around, which may be true if there are no heifers in heat anywhere in the county. At any rate, with the ring in its nose, Lawler's bull jumped the fence between Lawler's farm and ours whenever he developed a love interest in one of our cows.

Lawler attached a long, heavy duty log chain, longer than the bull's body, to the bull's nose ring to prevent his crossing the fence to our pasture, but love finds a way and so did Lawler's bull. I never saw him do it, but he must have jumped clean over the fence, because there was never any damage to the fence and no open sections.

Since the log chain idea failed, Lawler filled a tire rim with concrete and attached it to the log chain. We all thought that had to solve the problem, but we hadn't gotten any input from the bull. The next time he saw a sweety across the fence, he came calling. I wish I could have seen him when he went over the fence. He had to really be flying to gather enough momentum so that he, the chain and the concrete filled rim cleared the fence without catching the fence, but he did it!

Spain has two enclaves, Melilla and Ceuta, in Africa, small territories on the coast of Morroco on the Mediterranean Sea across from Gibraltar. People seeking refuge in Europe use these territories as their entry points. Spain has built double 20-foot high fences around both territories to prevent unauthorized passage from Morroco into Spain. Spanish border guards patrol heavily along the 12 miles of fences and monitor it electronically 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but more than 400 people succeeded in crossing the 6.9 miles of the Melilla fence in December. That's an average of 58 people per mile in one month.

We currently average five border agents per mile along Mexican border, which is less than two per mile at any given time, and that includes those on duty at border crossings. Our border with Mexico is very lightly patrolled compared to the borders of Melilla and Ceuta, where Spain also has spotlights, noise sensors, movement sensors and video along the entire border.

Assuming that we built the Trump wall along the Mexican border and patrolled it as heavily as Spain does the Melilla fence, we could expect to be about as successful. Since the U.S. -Mexico border is 1,950 miles long, we can expect realistically to limit monthly border crossing to about 113,100 people, which is about double the present rate of unauthorized crossings. It seems unlikely that crossings would increase, but it also is questionable whether crossings would decrease with the addition of a fence.

According to the U.S. Government Accounting office, estimates prepared in 2009 of the cost to build a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border came up with an average of $3.9 million per mile. That's $7.6 billion and doesn't include maintenance. Some estimates run several times that much.

I'm sure we could have built a fence that would have stopped Lawler's bull, but it just wasn't worth the trouble. We had a couple of his calves we sold, but the cows milked okay. I grew to respect and like the bull. He didn't intend any harm, he was just doing what came naturally. I learned to herd him back to his pasture.

I'm sure our nation could build a fence along the Mexican border that, together with constant patrols and electronic monitoring, could stop unauthorized entry into the United States, but I'm not sure it is worth the trouble.

So far, there has been no evidence of terrorists crossing the border from Mexico. The terrorists we've had have either been U.S. citizens or authorized visitors, so the wall probably would have no effect on security.

People crossing the border from Mexico do not take jobs from the average American. They generally take the jobs U.S. citizens don't want because pay is low and workload is high. Immigrants who come taking good jobs are almost always authorized, so the wall would probably have no effect on jobs.

Criminals transporting drugs in any quantity into the U.S. from Mexico usually use boats, airplanes or tunnels. Using courriers is usually inefficient on a much smaller scale, even if using vans or other vehicles. The wall would create a minor obstacle for drug cartels that would probably have little impact on the quantity of drugs being transported into the U.S.

Most people crossing into the U.S. from Mexico are coming here for the same reasons the ancestors of U.S. citizens came here. They are seeking to improve their lives and build a future opportunity for their posterity. They are no threat to us and, in fact, are for the most part a blessing to all of us.

I've had some experience with unauthorized immigrants and, as with Lawler's bull, I've grown to respect and like them. I'm not sure keeping them out warrants the investment required to build the wall. It would make sense to work on updating our immigration laws, but I don't like a wall.

Larry Dobson




Claremont Service




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