There are two kinds of borders that nations erect. One kind is to keep people in. The other kind is to keep people out. This may sound silly, since a border can and does do both of those things at the same time. But the function of a physical border has little to do with the reason for its being. It exists either to entrap or to protect. Deciding which is the case is the tricky part, because your interpretation will depend upon which side of the wall you sit. Walls are built when trust has vanished and the result is the creation of enmity where little may have been before. Walls destroy the spirit of freedom and the chance at prosperity. Walls may provide temporary comfort, but at what price? When you build a wall, you can’t see what is happening on the other side. You can’t hear what’s being said on the other side. The lack of trust grows. And in its wake, it breeds envy, and loathing, and bigotry, and greed.

And yet for a variety of reasons, but primarily for safety and peace of mind, America needs to seriously reform our own border security. It is easy, when talking about border security, to involve the matter of immigration, both legal and illegal. In reality, while the two do have obvious connections with each other, lumping them together as a single issue serves no purpose but to dilute the importance of both. Immigration is really a fiscal and social security matter, so I am not going to do that. In fact, I will go so far as to say that without a precise and practical border policy in place, the issue of immigration becomes a moot point. Border security, as I see it, must focus on creating barriers that it can defend, not on preventing the attacks themselves. It is from this standpoint that I submit this essay.

When we talk about our national border, many of us see an overhead map projection of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. We imagine the lines on the page to be like lines in the sand we used to draw on the beach. In fact, in many cases, a line would be better than what is there now, which is nothing. This begs the question, “What border?” Except for the ports of entry, established along major and minor highways, our land borders to the north and south are mostly non-existent, save for some latitude and longitude readings on some very old treaties. In effect, our borders existence is based mostly on arbitrarily agreed upon lines in the sand. This system has worked over the years because of the mutual trust between our neighboring countries to preserve the social and political sovereignty of each other. Due to the military advantage of America, security was never a real concern, at least not security of the life and death variety.

All that has changed. Since the attacks on the World Trade Center Towers in New York, America has a new enemy to deal with. This is not an enemy who will muster their forces and meet you on the battlefield. This is not an enemy with a single geographical base. This is not a foreign government with expansionist or resource driven policies. This enemy is an idea borne from anger turned into a weapon whose aim is to destroy. And while it is easily arguable that we not only created this weapon, but we helped feed its anger and continue to do so, we must still seek protection from its wrath where we can’t meet it head on. So, America must build its walls for protection.

In a society based on personal freedom such as ours, when does the publics right to safety outweigh the inconvenience to individuals? Because our newest enemy operates outside the boundaries of so-called “civilized warfare,” border security becomes increasingly complex. Defendable land borders still have relevance, but become just a small piece of the pie. You now have to consider coastal port security, airport and airspace security, and possible biological or radiological attacks coming from overseas in packages or suitcases or letters. You have to consider all of these “ports of entry” and devise effective security methods for them all or you are not protected at all. Our current security regime consists mostly of some land border checkpoints (mostly to interdict drug trafficking), airport security screening (yeah, right!), and unenforceable agreements with other nations. How does this protect the public? I’m not sure, but I’ve heard that it costs a whole lot of money. And I’ve heard that people can still pretty much slip in and out undetected at will, if they really have the desire.

Protecting our nation in the age of technology should be easier than we make it out to be. Surely our scientists could be better employed creating practical defense barriers instead of studying things like condom elasticity or pheromone production of the mole rat. We should have as a goal the creation of a land border barrier that utilizes sound frequency technology or a similar non-lethal incapacitating agent that would render all trespassers incapable of crossing. Of course, it would have to affect only humans and not birds or other animals whose natural migration knows no borders, but we’ve got some pretty sharp scientists. They’ve managed to exponentially increase our computing power in such a short time; they ought to be able to handle this too. For our ocean ports, which are vulnerable due to the amount of goods shipped into the country each day, we should utilize our satellite technology and create a system that could scan a ship for radiological material while still at sea and a decontamination/sterilization station just out of harbor. Further x-ray scans could be made as cargo is offloaded and all passengers could funnel through an inspection process to verify luggage, identity, and general health. Airport security should also utilize more non-invasive scanning technology. We have the capability to detect most metals, chemicals, nuclear, and explosive materials. We just don’t use them. We could end the cries of racial profiling and improper screening just by implementing the technology we have and creating better systems.

Some of these ideas might be expensive to get going, but others could probably begin at once. As a matter of national necessity, we should all chip in where we can, with business supplying the material, and education supplying the scientists, and government supplying the flexibility, and the rest of us supplying the support and the taxes. The drawback for most of us would be a decrease in the pace of travel and shipping, but is that really such a terrible thing compared to another terrible attack? Our society is moving so fast now anyway, slowing things down a little might just be good for us.

Border security really has nothing to do with racial attitudes or personal peculiarities. Border security is about protecting the integrity of the border. Period. If the system is to work, it has to be comprehensive, it has to be evenly applied every time, and it must be invisible yet strong. Without real border security, all conversations about immigration, terrorist invasions, and foreign relations become simply academic.