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“The southern border is a national security threat of the first order,” Ambassador Robert O’Brien told me this weekend. “It is where I made my first trip with President Trump after he put me in the job of NSA. We are at risk of terrorists entering every day across that border, and of course illegal drugs and human trafficking are directly linked to the border. I don’t know any serious national security expert who doesn’t believe in securing the border.”
If the negotiations underway between Republicans and Democrats in Washington, D.C. on border security do not produce a bill that guarantees the rapid construction of a 900 mile Wall along the passable areas of the U.S.-Mexico border, the bill will not and should not pass the House of Representatives. Indeed, it shouldn’t pass the Senate. There isn’t any wiggle room here, no set of talking points to avoid the key issue: Is the Wall going to get built or not? If not, shut down the talks and let’s have a campaign on the issue. Trust the people on this one.
“[O]ur border is a national security threat.”
“[W]e need to lock down the borders, and do it yesterday.”
The first quotation is from my 2004 book “If It’s Not Close, They Can’t Cheat.” The second quotation is from my 2006 book, “Painting The Map Red.”
I’ve been writing and talking about the southern border since I returned to southern California in 1989 after the Reagan years having lived in Orange County from 1978-1980. The need for a significant barrier –now best known as “The Wall”—has been obvious to anyone within a couple hours drive of the border for more than three decades. Border security is a distinct part of immigration policy, but it is the most visible and crucial part of the issue set, and it is also the first issue that must be dealt with before any other aspect of the complex set of connecting controversies can be worked through.
Serious people with any knowledge of the border admit two things. The first is that we don’t need a Wall across the 1,951 mile U.S.-Mexico border. More than a thousand miles of that border are impassable to most humans.
The second is that we must have such a Wall along approximately 900 miles of those 1,951, the miles that are more or less passable on foot.
The Wall must be very tall and made of superb, durable materials. It can’t be “speed barriers” or a chain link fence. It has to be the real deal. It would be best if a well-maintained road accessible to the Border Patrol runs right alongside the Wall. And it is also preferable if a second fence exists some distance from the Wall itself. “Defense-in-depth” is not a high concept. It is a common sense policy if our nation wants to deter illegal migration.
Serious people will admit that the Wall will not end all un-permitted migration across the border, but that it will indeed significantly reduced the flow of migrants. They will also admit that tunnels will be dug underneath it, and holes cut though it –tunnels that will have to be detected and destroyed and holes that will have to be repaired. Technology will greatly enhance the effectiveness of the Wall, as would a significant increase in the number of Border Patrol agents. The U.S. also needs a significant expansion in the number and capacity of detention centers for migrants entering the country under any circumstance, a big jump in the number of administrative law judges adjudicating a massive backlog of immigration cases, and an overhaul of the legal immigration process. It needs a lot of things.
But it first needs a Wall.
The Wall has to be first because it is both the proverbial tourniquet and a much-needed signal amid all the noise around immigration. The Wall would be the visible expression of an invisible conviction that a country must control its borders and that the United States is committed to controlling its border.
Finland is building a wall on a large part of its border with Russia. Turkey has built a 515-mile wall along its border with Syria. Almost a decade ago, Hungary built a wall along its border with Serbia and Croatia. Two decades ago, Israel built a Wall in the Jordan Valley –the “West Bank Barrier”—which all but ended suicide bombings that had plagued the Jewish State during the Second Intifada. The massacre of 10/7 occurred after the terrorists breached a fence between Gaza and Israel. It is a certainty that a new fence will be built, and perhaps two or three, and that they will be stronger and much more formidable. Fences and walls are only as effective as they are well-built.
More than half of the country believes in building the Wall on the southern border. There isn’t polling data, but I have to believe similar numbers reject the efficacy of any set of “reforms” that isn’t preceded by the construction of the Wall. Key word: preceded. The Wall has to be built before anything else is done, before parts 2 through 10 or whatever follow-on provisions are imagined The Wall is the predicate on which any agreement involving immigration must be anchored.
The Wall strikes most people as a common sense solution. It is also now a political imperative. Nine out of ten Republicans want the wall. It is political suicide to ignore such a deep-rooted policy preference. Unless the Wall gets built, there won’t be an end to the mass migration and there surely won’t be “comprehensive immigration reform.”
There is one additional factor. After numerous failed attempts at both “immigration reform” and of crackdowns on illegal immigration dating to the 1990s, the voting public doesn’t believe the federal government or its elected leaders on the issue of immigration. One obvious reason for this “credibility gap” is that the Congress passed the “Secure Fence Act of 2006,” which turned out to be a head fake, one which copromised 700 miles of fencing along the border which never got built.
The second reason the public distrusts the government is the great difficulty in obtaining even straightforward data on the scale of the problem. It appears that the Biden Administration will admit to 8 million migrants being “encountered” at the southern border since President Biden took office, but getting to that number takes quite a lot of research time when one would think an “illegal immigration by year” table should be pretty easy to find. (Go ahead, try and find one.)
Beyond this “encounters” category, is no official estimate on how many “got-aways” there are, meaning migrants who crossed without contact with U.S. authorities, and the “estimates” of how many people are in the country illegally are laughably static over decades, at “approximately 11 million,” which is more than a million less than the 12.2 million number used in 2007. Absurd claims lead to a cynical public, and the public is very cynical about “immigration reform.” Administrations do not hide data that makes them look good. They don’t fudge figures when those figures tell a good story.
The disaster on the southern border is visible and indeed cannot be denied. Fox News runs story after story and your eyes are not lying to you. An unprecedented flow of millions of undocumented aliens into the county occurs every day, and the numbers are stunning: 302,034 “encounters” with migrants on the border occurred in December. The Border Patrol arrested 249,785 of that number.
That’s one month’s count and the distinct, undeniable trend is up. Blue states and self-declared “sanctuary cities” are now reeling from the impact of migrant populations being bused to their borders. It is fair to say that a huge majority of Americans believe that President Biden has failed to secure the border and that this is a significant failure.
What to do with the migrants who have entered the U.S. is a question on which people of good faith can disagree. I am one of the Republicans who favor a very generous policy of allowing people to remain provided they do not have criminal records and they are never eligible to vote. People of faith, and especially Catholic Christians and Evangelical Christians believe they are obliged to welcome and help the stranger. Welcoming the stranger does not mean conferring citizenship, buit it certainly means humanitarian care.
But even “immigration moderates” like me know we have to build the Wall. National security depends upon it and, unless and until it is built and patrolled, the signal to the world is that the border is wide open if you will but make the long walk and brave the Darien Gap and trust the untrustworthy coyotes. The lack of a Wall attracts the poor and the desperate, and leads to human trafficking, abuse and violence along the way, sometimes death, often de facto enslavement and of course the tidal wave of fentanyl flowing into the country through both legal ports of entry and across a border that is unmanned for most of every 24 hours.
We also have to understand that our fanatical enemies know our border is open. They aren’t going to not send operatives here because we can’t send operatives there. Did you know, to cite one statistic among many, that more than 24,000 Chinese nationals entered the U.S. in 2023, which, according to the New York Times, “is more than in the preceding 10 years combined.” It isn’t easy to skip out of the People’s Republic of China, much less get from there to here. What explains this surge within the surge? Perhaps someone from the FBI could be re-directed from monitoring Latin Mass-attending Catholics into a study of this cohort?
And the migrants on the “terror watch list?” 169 individuals on the watch list were apprehended attempting to enter the country illegally in the last fiscal year. Customs and Border Patrol arrested 35,433 aliens with criminal convictions or outstanding warrants over the same period, including nearly 600 known gang members. Those numbers are very small percentages of the tidal wave of migrants but the point is they came and millions more got across the border since President Biden was sworn in without any vetting at all.
All of this is a long way around to saying that if the Senate produces a draft bill that doesn’t build the Wall, it should collapse faster than the Detroit Lions did in the second half of Sunday’s game. Republicans in the Senate should not support it. House Republicans have already announced they won’t. Legacy media resolutely refuses to ask the president or the negotiators about the Wall and why it is or isn’t in the bill, and whether its completion it must precede and other provisions in the draft bill. Nobody wants to press on the issue, and certainly not hard. The fear may be in seeming hard-hearted, but condemning millions to the control of the coyotes and to the hardships —sometimes fatal— of their desperate trek north is genuine indifference to suffering. Turning a blind eye to the cartels and their fentanyl trade is irresponsible.
The Wall isn’t a panacea for anything. It is a necessary first step, without which no others should or will be taken via legislation.
Hugh Hewitt is one of the country’s leading journalists of the center-right. A son of Ohio and a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Michigan Law School, Hewitt has been a Professor of Law at Chapman University’s Fowler School of Law since 1996 where he teaches Constitutional Law. Hewitt launched his eponymous radio show from Los Angeles in 1990, and it is today syndicated to hundreds of stations and outlets across the country every Monday through Friday morning. Hewitt has frequently appeared on every major national news television network, hosted television shows for PBS and MSNBC, written for every major American paper, has authored a dozen books and moderated a score of Republican candidate debates, most recently the November 2023 Republican presidential debate in Miami and four Republican presidential debates in the 2015-16 cycle. Hewitt focuses his radio show and this column on the Constitution, national security, American politics and the Cleveland Browns and Guardians. Hewitt has interviewed tens of thousands of guests from Democrats Hillary Clinton and John Kerry to Republican Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump over his forty years in broadcast, and this column previews the lead story that will drive his radio show today.