Can Obama Bridge America's Wall of Ignominy?

"The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down." -Barak Obama-

When Barak Obama visited Germany in July, he stood at the site where a wall once separated East and West Berlin. With his usual eloquence he praised the crowd of 200,000 for having had the courage to tear that wall down. He reminded them that the "greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us one from the other."

The day before his Berlin speech Obama was in Israel standing less than two miles from the 400-mile-long apartheid wall that separates Israel from the West Bank. He did not call on Israeli courage to tear their wall down, nor did he mention that wall to his Berlin audience.

I recently wrote about Obama's Berlin speech and his politically "prudent" silence regarding Israel's apartheid wall. I challenged him to walk his talk should he be elected president and work to tear down the world's most unconscionable wall.
Responding to that piece in an email, Eric Murillo, an activist from El Paso, Texas, reminded me that "there is another wall that exists on the US/Mexican border . . . this wall is still under construction . . .THIS wall is HERE! . . . Must we ignore it?"

Mr. Murillo was referring to the 700-mile-long, $2.2 billion wall along the US/Mexico border that will, in Obama's Kingesque prose, "separate us one from the other."

I should mention that Senator Obama voted for the 2006 Secure Fence Act, which authorized the construction of the five segments of the new wall along the 1,952-mile border between the United States and Mexico.

I should mention also that Kollsman Inc., an American-based subsidiary of the Israeli company, Elbit Systems Ltd., which supplies the surveillance and security technology for its apartheid wall, was awarded a contract from the Department of Homeland Security to supply "technology . . . to deter and prevent crossings . . . along the US borders with Canada and Mexico."

It seems American taxpayers, who are bankrolling Israel's million-dollar-a-mile apartheid wall with an annual contribution of $3 billion in economic and military aide (one-sixth of U.S. foreign aid budget), will be paying an Israeli company to help build our border wall using the experience and expertise the American nickel has already paid for-such is the way of boondoggles.

Mr. Murillo wishes America's million-dollar-a-mile border wall was a mere boondoggle. For him it is a "wall of ignominy," a phrase coined by Mexico's former president Vicente Fox. It is "concrete" evidence that the economic globalization policies championed by the Clinton and Bush administrations open borders for the "migration" of multinational corporate profits and natural resources to "countries with the most" from "those with the least," but closes borders to migration of those whose livelihoods have been diminished or destroyed by globalization's cynical reality.

Predictably then, the numbers of illegal immigrants from Mexico increased exponentially after the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement in the early 1990s.

Raising a family's economic status ten-fold by illegally entering the United States-and that's assuming only minimum wage or less-is a powerful incentive to attempt the arduous, if not deadly, desert border crossing. Consider for a moment why swarms of Canucks are not illegally crossing our pine-forested northern borders each year.

Just as Israel's American financed apartheid wall separates lives and livelihoods and imprisons dreams, so goes America's Israeli built "wall of ignominy."

Calexico, California, a community of 27,000, has a mutual aid agreement with Mexicali, just across the border. These two communities not only support each other with police and fire protection, but their economies are interdependent as well. Calexico's stores depend on Mexican shoppers. "If we don't have Mexico, we don't have Calexico," said former Calexico Mayor Alex Perrone.

This is not an isolated border relationship. It is one that occurs along the entire 1952-mile border. Mike Allen, an executive vice president with the Economic Development Corporation of McAllen, Texas, a community of 131,000 along the US/Mexico border, said, "Every single mayor from Brownsville to El Paso is against it [border wall]." He went on to say, "This will be a tremendous waste of money, and it will not stop [illegal] immigration. People will just go around it."

Jeff Passel, a demographer with the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington D.C., estimated that as many as one-third of the eleven million illegal immigrants in the United States in 2005 did not hop over or tunnel under or walk around a border wall. They entered the country legally on visitor, student, or work visas and stayed after their visas had expired. All nineteen of the 9/11 hijackers entered the country this way.

It is not "Israel-lite" walls we should be constructing between "[ourselves] with the most and those with the least." We should be constructing bridges to economic parity that will allow "those with the least" to cross over to a more secure, fulfilling future for themselves and their families without having to illegally cross a national border.

Obama's good looks and charisma and cadenced speechifying cannot help but remind one of John Kennedy. Hopefully, before he makes another speech about tearing down walls he will read Kennedy's "Alliance for Progress" and begin building bridges so that its vision of a "hemisphere where all men can hope for a suitable standard of living and all can live out their lives in dignity and in freedom" has a chance to finally be realized.

In such a hemisphere, people will be content to remain in the country where their roots are secured by the generations buried there.

Robert Weitzel is a contributing editor to Media With a Conscience. His essays regularly appear in The Capital Times in Madison, WI. He can be contacted at:

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