Trading new walls for old

Soon after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, I mused in my journal about the new walls to come. For as the old walls holding people in came down, it seemed inevitable that new walls would appear, this time shutting people out. Obvious, but slow to transpire. Reminded by a shard of the Berlin Wall that has been on my desk since 1990, I wondered more than once whether the outcome would be different. Through the innocent dawn of Globalization, walls continued to fall, as events from the passage of NAFTA to the enlargement of the EU made a borderless world seem possible.

Now we know better. New exclusionary walls are rising around the globe — and now along our southern border. Congress is engaged in serious talk of building a rampart the length of the US- Mexican border, and today, the President is proposing to militarize it with the National Guard. The consequences will be as profound as they are unpredictable. Perhaps frustrated immigrants cut off from their jobs will reprise images of the November 1989 tear-down of the Berlin Wall, though it is not likely. But if the wall stops the flow of workers — and the reverse flow of their repatriated cash– , we will need much more than a rampart to block the unwelcome consequences of a revolution in Mexico.

History tells us that all walls are folly. Hadrian’s Vallum was but a speed-bump for northern invaders. China’s Great Wall failed to stop the Manchu and its cost hastened the fall of the Ming Dynasty. The Berlin Wall was demolished by people who refused to be separated. If what some call the “Tortilla Curtain” is built, it will only exacerbate the problems it was intended to solve. This in turn will spur the fearful and misguided wall-builders to greater heights. Barriers both literal and figurative will appear at all our borders, further choking the international flows of people and commerce the US so depends on. And if they aren’t torn down, eventually walls built to keep strangers out will end up holding others in. If we are not careful, our new fortress will become a jail.

a chunk (allegedly) from the Berlin Wall: