The lead editorial in this weekend’s USA Today newspaper comments on a tacit admission of failure by the federal government. After some 4 years of effort the Department of Homeland Security has quietly cancelled the SBInet, a $1 Billion project that it had contracted to the Boeing Company to build a high-tech network of fences and electronic surveillance mechanisms across 57 miles of Arizona’s porous border with Mexico. (That’s less than 3% of the 2,000 miles that make up the whole border.) The problems cited include bureaucracy, environmental reviews, construction delays, cost overruns, technology glitches and political wrangling. Even with the Great Recession and growing political resentment as deterrents to illegals seeking work, SBI net still wasn’t working.
This started me thinking about alternatives. What is the main reason most Latin American illegal immigrants want to come here, despite all the hazards and costs of the journey? In a word, it is jobs. It is these people, by the way, who are willing to take work at the lowest levels of the food chain such as picking produce, being maids, plucking
chickens, and hauling bricks. Most Americans seem to have made up their minds, however, that we don’t want them here and were willing to spend billions of dollars to keep them out. Billions, plural? Yes, the SBInet was only a small part of the efforts over the last decade, efforts that even included the National Guard. Many Billions have been spent and the bill is only starting to come in.
I think it’s a big mistake not to provide a path to citizenship for well-qualified would-be immigrants, but that is a different debate. What can we do for what everyone seems to agree is a necessary first step, i.e., sealing the border? Well, try this idea on for size: Issue every citizen in the United States who does not already have one a passport card at government expense. If you think that sounds too expensive, I am here to tell you that it’s less expensive than what we have already spent on the problem with virtually no success.
There are 330 million people in the US and, by one estimate 10 million of those already have passports. It costs $55 plus two 2 x 2 photos, call it $60, to get a “passport card”, good for entry from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean. (A full “book” passport goes for $135, plus photos.) So, if we multiply 320 million by $60, we get $19.2 Billion. This is a worst-case number. Probably 20% or more of the 320 million are children, and the State Department says that part of the cost of passport documentation is to support foreign embassy-type help to travelers, but surely there are considerable savings to be had there. And surely the issuance process could benefit from economies of scale if the effort were contracted out properly. Would there be problems with that? Sure, some. But checking birth certificates and issuing cards isn’t rocket science, whereas border technology comes close to it.
With all legal citizens properly identified it should be a simple matter to hold all employers accountable for hiring anyone without a legal document. The arrest and conviction of only two or three employers would send a powerful message, and the cards would make a case a slam-dunk.
Would a passport card be reliable? The State Department is proud of it. They say it is “state of the art” and contains RFID chip technology that enables access to secure government databases. Having passport cards in place would eliminate the main motivation for illegal immigrants to come here and the National Guard can go back to Afghanistan, or whatever other nation currently needs re-building at American expense, and the Arizona police can go back to looking for real criminals instead of rounding up poor peons looking for work. QED.
But, as they say in the infomercials, Wait, There’s More! How about greatly-improved data bases for criminals and sex offenders, identity theft, or voter fraud, or any of a legion of other problems now hampered by identity problems? How about the improvement of national security against terrorism? That IMO, would be very significant.
Worried about “Big Brother” knowing too much about you because of this? I can tell you I’m not. As a retired member of the U.S. Navy the government knows all about me and it hasn’t troubled me one iota. They’ve got my fingerprints, my picture, my service record, they know where I live and every place I’ve been. I’ve had a complete security background check that was periodically updated while I was in the service. Zero problems.
Now, who wants to challenge my latest Occam’s Razor solution?