Friday, April 11, 2008

Border fence—the new symbol of creeping police state?

Once again, the bitter fruit of Congress' unwillingness to stand up to President Bush when he rattles his saber and invokes imagined fear of impending doom is being harvested.

Armed with the power to simply wave aside existing laws, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has decreed that existing environmental laws and the right of the public to a court hearing are too cumbersome, and therefore work must proceed immediately on fencing the Mexico-United States border, right through environmentally fragile habitat.

Congress gave Chertoff this power to march as quickly as he dictates. Lawmakers did so because they and President Bush collapsed under pressure of immigration hard-liners who would repeat the mistakes of other authoritarian regimes—building walls to keep people out or in that ultimately become foolhardy and unworkable symbols of police states.

One 22-mile stretch in Texas will boast an 18-foot high fence. A separate 472-mile stretch will have a variety of blockades to prevent illegals from crossing from Mexico. Some 390 miles of the 2,000-mile border already have been fenced.

Chertoff's justification for flipping off objections from environmentalists and some congressmen sounds coldly familiar.

"Criminal activity at the border does not stop for endless debate or protracted litigation," said Chertoff, as he dismissed the damage to not only wildlife habitat but to the ordinary democratic process of defending his actions in court. This from a man who once was a federal judge.

This is the same refrain invoked time and again by President Bush and his agents in brushing aside the U.S. Constitution and Geneva Conventions as they improvise their war on terror. Democracy must stand aside.

The remedy to this latest insult by Chertoff is for Congress to repeal its misbegotten blank check of police powers to Homeland Security. Long after the immigration situation has vanished, Chertoff's disregard for wildlife habitat will show its lasting devastation.

President Bush once had a reasonable plan for the immigration mess. But he was panicked by the lock-'em-up-throw-the-key-away crowd that always simplifies problems with heavy-handed laws rather than skillful finesse. Therefore, while the border fence serves to soothe the fiery anti-immigration demagogues, it still hasn't resolved the overall problem of possibly more than 10 million illegals in the country and the inevitable trickle of more finding their way around the fence.

Meanwhile, democracy and the rule of law continue to take a costly beating from a president and Congress that need to refresh their knowledge of the Constitution and the vision of the Founding Fathers.

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