Obenski column: Lost in wall debate are the logistics

Walls, like locks on doors, only keep out the honest, curious people. Anyone determined to get in, will, unless it’s built like a bank vault and even those get breached. People can go under, over, around or through.

A border wall will take years to build. The shutdown makes the immigrant situation worse immediately. With fewer people to manage the border, it’s easier to get in illegally and more difficult legally. Does that situation make any sense? If your house is on fire you don’t lay off the firefighters and then go shopping for a new furnace.


History is replete with stories of walls that didn’t work from the Great Wall of China to the Berlin Wall to the Mexican high security prison that El Chapo was tunneled out of and the POW camp in The Great Escape. All of those walls required guards because humans are creative. Anyone who has owned a dog knows that fences are not always as effective as hoped. Dogs escape. The dog inside, like the immigrant outside, is highly motivated and has all the time in the world to figure out a way. He has nothing else to do.

The $5.7 billion is supposed to build about 215 miles of barrier on a 2,000-mile border. Going around it will not be impossible; it might discourage the lazy ones and the dumb ones. Building it will be a government project, so expect the actual cost to at least double, quadruple or cause other expenses to go up. Much of the border is private property. Court battles over land acquisition can go on for decades. Nobody really knows how long this first phase will take to construct, building it across inhospitable terrain where there are no utilities and poor roads. Imagine 215 miles of steel “slats” (3 inches by 9 inches), over 1 million of them at least 30 feet long, that’s about 170,000 tons of custom rolled steel!

To hold them up will require about an equal weight of concrete for the foundation. It all has to be shipped from a mill to the border. A trench to pour the foundation in, with more steel for the re-bar. How much carbon dioxide does all that release into the atmosphere? What about gates for when the officers have to get across, and stiles or tunnels for wildlife.

For a wall to work, it still needs to be guarded. Otherwise it’s not much different than a line in the sand. Prison walls have guards with rifles in towers and alarm systems to alert the guards. The Berlin Wall had vicious dogs and guards with machine guns but people still escaped! All the high- and low-tech methods now in use along the border will still be needed. The number of immigration officers can be increased before the first steel can be rolled.

Cities used to have walls, then the cannon was invented. Even without a cannon to breach the walls the metropolitan area outgrew the city walls. Walls strangled a city from growing, before long the gates were left open, then ignored. Hundreds of thousands cross the southern border legally every day to work or shop. If the crossings need anything, it’s more officers to vet the crossers, not a wall 50 miles away.

America has existed for over 400 years as the land of opportunity, from Jamestown in 1607 to today. The place to get to for a better life for yourself and your family. Immigrants have been one of the great strengths enriching our culture. Immigrants like Einstein, Tesla, Stravinsky and the 800,000 Dreamers.


We are at a unique point in our history; the birth rate has fallen below the replacement rate, like Europe and Japan, we face a shrinking population. What do we do when there are not enough young people to do the day-to-day work, serve in the military, start new enterprises and finance our pensions?

Ken Obenski is a forensic engineer, now safety and freedom advocate in South Kona. He writes a biweekly column for West Hawaii Today. Email obenskik@gmail.com.