Last night there was a show on Fox “News” with the unwieldy title of War Stories on the Border: The Third Front, featuring convicted felon* and probable drug dealer Oliver North. Because some of it was shot in my neighborhood and I heard there was a chance that people I knew might be on it, I checked it out. But by the time I knocked off writing for the night, the show was half over. If my area showed up at all, it was in the half I missed. What I saw was mostly North running around as breathlessly as a man shredding vital government documents right before the authorities showed up, spouting statistics designed to scare people about the situation along the U.S. Mexico border.
To be sure, there’s plenty to be concerned about. Violence south of the border is taking a terrible toll on that already damaged country—damaged by its own political and economic realities—and could spill over into this country more than it has so far. Some of the practices of illegal immigrants are environmentally destructive, and they cause property damage that further complicates and adds expenses to the lives of hard-working ranchers, who feed us and whose lives should be made better, not worse. There are jobs lost to immigrants, although no doubt fewer than we are told, since many of the jobs they do, we wouldn’t. There are social services sucked up by immigrants, although this too is less costly than it first appears, since those who are paid by paychecks typically have taxes withheld, which they don’t dare claim refunds on since they aren’t here legally. If they’re using phony Social Security numbers, they’ll never see that money again either. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating—the immigration issue is one that is far more complicated than most people grasp, and the ones calling for easy answers are the ones who understand it least.
North seemed interested only in the issue as a scare tactic, and as a way to demonstrate the efficiency (though ultimately unsuccessful efficiency) of the militaristic response to the border issue—the hardware, the weaponry, the boots on the ground. He didn’t say these things would solve the problem, didn’t actually seem to arrive at any conclusion more sophisticated than “Things are really, really, really bad, and scary!” So I don’t know exactly what message he was trying to get across. I don’t know if he discussed the fact that the Obama administration has been far more proactive than previous ones about deporting illegal aliens, or that they’ve put far more money and resources on the border. And in the part that I saw, at least, he didn’t talk to anyone who—like us—moved here on purpose. He only talked to people who were trying to stem the tide, but he didn’t talk to those of us who love it here, who relish the natural beauty of the borderlands, who appreciate the cultural contributions of our southern neighbors. That doesn’t mean I approve of open borders—although that’s an approach to the problem that bears inclusion in any honest discussion of solutions. But it means that I don’t automatically distrust every Latino face I see. North seemed only interested in telling the story of those who are alarmed, and alarmist, about the border, not the story of the richness of life on the border. I guess he wasn’t here long enough to understand that part of it. I’d invite him back, but... naaah.
Today I spent some time, as I have been doing off and on for weeks, putting up new fencing in the dogs’ corral. I was using a kind of fencing called Hardware Cloth, which has a fairly close mesh, so the dogs can’t get their muzzles through to yank and tug at it. It comes from a company called Garden Zone, which I thought from the packaging was a strictly US company, but which the website says is American and Chinese. I buy it at our locally owned Ace Hardware, and it's good stuff.
Having used several rolls of this product, I realized today that the thin strands of wire used to hold each roll together have all been tied differently. That told me that the wire tying (and possibly, though not necessarily) the rolling, is all done by hand. Each person who ties off a roll adds his or her little fillips to the task, pointing to a sort of pride in work that most of us might consider more or less mindless. Certainly a college degree is not necessary to tie off rolls of wire fencing. It’s work that could easily be done by immigrants or uneducated laborers from China’s interior, or anyone. It’s no doubt hard, especially on the fingers and probably the shoulders, and it probably doesn’t pay well.
Neither, I might add, does putting it up in the corral. But it’ll keep the dogs in, and that’s worth its weight in gold
While I was working—in sustained 20-30 mph winds, the kind that tries to tear every last leaf from every last tree—I appreciated the work those wire-tyers had done. I appreciated the strands of wire that I could use to tack the fencing in place until I got out the heavier-duty stuff. I appreciated that someone was willing to do that relatively thankless task, and to do it well, and to add a little tiny spark of personality to each roll of fence. And in spite of the wind and the cold, I appreciated getting to work outdoors, in sunshine and nature and beauty, on my little patch of the borderlands.
Ollie doesn’t get it. Ollie will probably never get it. We don’t live in fear, here, most of us. If we did, we couldn’t live. Do urban dwellers live in fear of their own city streets? Murder is far more common in cities than in the country. Do pilots and flight attendants fear terrorists every time they go up into an airplane?
Bad things happen, and they happen when nobody expects them to, and there’s little, if anything, that can be done to prevent them all. If Ollie wants to fear the border, that’s fine. But people should know that there’s another side to the story, that it’s not a war zone, and that we’re not living in bunkers with our guns pointed out the firing slits. We love it here.
And we won’t be chased away.
*Overturned on a technicality, not because of any doubt about his guilt.