Don’t Fence Me In

Let me ride through the wide open country that I love

Jeff Sharlet had some trouble coming back from a trip to Canada because he took a picture. Remember when America was great and you could cross the border willy-nilly, both North and South?

Granted, I’ve not tried to sneak across from Canada with a trunk full of Molsons and Export A’s. Instead, I’ve just gone to the WASP homeland a couple of times and to some of our Caribbean colonies. But things are a wee bit less casual now than when you had to wake up the customs agent so he could stamp your passport for a souvenir. The inclination to make it harder has been there for some time, since at least Prohibition, but really took off after Sept. 11, 2001, prompted Congress to pass the so-called P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act they’d just happened to have had in a drawer for the occasion, and then reorganized the Executive to make things a bit more efficient.

Jacob Levy of the Niskanen Center writes that lawlessness at the borders bleeds beyond the border into the interior. That is, without due process at the border, due process can disappear elsewhere. While this could be a slippery slope argument, allowing the border–where Customs and Border Patrol have jurisdiction–to expand 100 miles from the border–where most of the people in the United States live–makes it much more a concern.

Do you carry valid identification?

Are you prepared to present your papers if asked?

Are you ready to disappear?

There’s an inside and an outside to a fence. National borders don’t only keep people out, but keep them in. And though I’m, almost, demographically in the majority (being a white male instead of a white female), my first thought whenever our dear leader talks about building a wall is not about how well the wall will work to keep the zombies out, but that I’m trapped inside.

There was a conceit during the Cold War that the United States didn’t have, and had never had, internal passports like those of Soviet Russia or pervasive bureaucratic identification schemes like Nazi Germany. Citizens of the Free World had freedom of movement; it set us apart from places like North Korea, Cuba, and Berlin. A free society doesn’t need to trap the serfs on the plantation. “Papers, please,” was a joke. Folks laughed at the concerns of those like Hal Lindsey that Americans would be marked with the Number of the Beast, but there was considerable opposition to national population tracking schemes, not just from the John Birch Society–concerns which not only disappeared, but appear to have inverted, in the past few years. Everyone is so scared these days.

The question of borders, artificial though they may be, is an important one, and will become even more so as migration due to climatic changes increases. The urge is to build walls to keep the flood out, and has been since at least the Great Wall of China. But I’m not aware of any way to stop this wave. It will crash.

I don’t want to be here when it does.