The Myth of 13-Foot Ladders

Why does American exceptionalism stop at the border?

By Mark Cromer
October 2007

In a year brimming with pre-election clichés, it has emerged as a popular-truism that is ripe and ready to be used in virtually any discussion about illegal immigration that turns to the issue of enforcement and border security.

“What happens when you build a 12-foot wall on the border?” the question goes. “13-foot ladders.”

This semi-clever throwaway line is currently in high-rotation among Democratic presidential candidates, major network news reporters and immigrant activists pursuing their ethnocentric agenda; apparently passing as some denouement that simultaneously highlights both immigrant ingenuity and the hopeless task of securing our borders against people committed to crossing it.

But the joke is clearly on us.

Long gone are American leaders like Roosevelt, Kennedy and Reagan, who embraced and sometimes embodied our nation’s great sense of exceptionalism; that exuberant ‘can-do’ drive that propelled us through World War II to the surface of the moon and to victory over the Soviets in the Cold War.

Perhaps this is the greatest dividend Americans ever earned for themselves and it came through determination and persistent pursuit of difficult goals—goals requiring quiet self-confidence in our ability to get even the hardest job done—a state of mind produced by the emergence of a large middle-class; that vast, stabilizing demographic which came to define us as we pursued so much of what really is “the American Dream.”

Today Americans find their government helmed by a smug cadre of nay-sayers who relentlessly insist that securing the nation’s borders and enforcing its immigration laws is simply “not realistic”—unless it is coupled with a mass amnesty and an even greater open-door policy to legal immigration.

Their claim that the only way to enforce the law is to conditionally pardon those who broke it doesn’t wash with most Americans’ common sense. But it’s the idea that we can’t secure the border that really sticks in the craw of main street citizens.

We know better.

No matter how many times that claim is regurgitated in spin sessions on cable news shows or on the campaign stump, Americans know that a president who commands the most powerful military in the world could indeed secure the border effectively—and quickly.

A commander-in-chief who truly cared about the abject chaos that now reigns along our southern border could—but with but a few strokes of his or her pen—order enough men and material immediately to the southwest American frontier and restore the rule of law.

The nation that won the space race could surely deploy its Army Corps. of Engineers and enough supporting military muscle to build the triple-layered fence from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean and patrol it aggressively until the message is unmistakably sent as far south as necessary: the game is over.

The cost of such a sweeping response would still be dimes on the dollars America will spend absorbing wave after wave of illegal immigrants if it continues its long-running charade at the border.

The president that acted so decisively would take a long overdue step in restoring the confidence of the American people that the federal government and its chief executive will put citizens first. Such a bold action would resonate south of the border as well, putting Mexico City on notice that the era of free passage north for its economic refugees was finally over.

That alone would likely be enough to provoke serious change in Mexico’s corruption-saddled economy—at least once the histrionic Yanqui! bashing subsided to a dull roar.

After the border was effectively closed to all but legal traffic and a sense of order prevailed, then perhaps Americans would be much more willing to again accommodate at least some of those who came here in violation of our laws.

That’s apparently wishful thinking as a result of those mythical 13-foot ladders that are just waiting to go up against whatever security barrier we may erect on our side of the border.

But those who evoke the imagery of those 13-foot ladders aren’t really doing so out of any sense of realism that 12-foot security barriers won’t work. To the contrary, they know that a concerted effort with multiple security barriers will absolutely work.

That’s why they are terrified of the day those security barriers go up.

For that’s the day those ladders will be seen for what they really are: 13-feet too short.

Mark Cromer is a Senior Writing Fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS), www.capsweb.org . He can be reached at Mrcromer@aol.com

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