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For starters, build a wall

The U.S. Congress ? the seat of American democracy ? is surrounded by a giant wall, concrete barricades, armed guards and German shepherds. You need to pass through layers of security to enter the Capitol. Has this diminished American democracy? No. Have the rules of the Senate or the House changed? No. Has the Constitution been altered as a result? No. Are lawmakers less tolerant of each others' views than they were before the walls went up? OK, maybe, but not because of the security outside.

In fact, except for it taking a little more time to get in and out of the Capitol, one would be hard-pressed to point to a significant change in the daily operations of our democratic system as a result of the "militarization" of Capitol security. You can play this game with universities, museums, hospitals, day care centers, many of our own homes and even churches and make the exact same point: Walls do not a prison make, nor do they magically "betray" all of the principles an institution represents. It's only when you talk about putting a wall, or even some extra fencing, along the U.S. border that ? abracadabra ? walls crush all that we as a people stand for.

Don't get me wrong, I can see the symbolism too. For years, I opposed a barrier between the United States and Mexico because of the symbolism. But this objection, while legitimate, isn't sufficient.

In principle, sure

It's funny, even the most liberal advocates of "comprehensive" immigration reform ? Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, et al. ? insist they're for "securing the border" in principle. It just seems they oppose it in practice. They may start by arguing that it can't be done, but when it is demonstrated that it can be done ? somehow, putting men on the moon can't really be easier than something even poor nations do every day ? they quickly fall back to the only argument that has any traction: symbolism.

Well, if symbolism is the most important issue, it's worth considering the symbolic importance of securing the border for millions of Americans. Right now, giving illegal immigrants a "path to citizenship" sounds like amnesty to many of us. The White House has a good case that requiring illegal immigrants to pay fines and penalties and jump through lots of hoops isn't "blanket forgiveness" ? which is what "amnesty" means. But Bush is wrong to say these people would go to "the back of the line." This makes it sound like there's one line to get into the country, when in fact there are many.


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