This evening 60 Minutes is scheduled to air a segment about the virtual fence at the U.S. Mexico border. The piece is likely to focus on the immense cost overruns and the ineffectiveness associated with the fence. By almost all counts, the virtual fence has become a multi-billion dollar failure.
The bigger question—beyond effectiveness and cost overruns– has to do with corporate control over sovereign borders. The Bush Administration handed Boeing the keys to the sovereign border by hollowing out the SBI project (almost a billion per year) and delegating immigration powers to Boeing. Back in 2006, the Bush DHS forged agreements that allowed Boeing to make important decisions over design and implementation of the SBInet project as well as control over oversight. While Boeing entered into a power sharing agreement with the CBP, it also excluded the CBP from input (something that has since been modified). The result: Boeing had hegemony over sovereign borders. wow!
In addition, according to Rep Loretta Sanchez during September ’09 hearings, Boeing was given the power to blackmail the feds. Were the federal government to end the Boeing contract, Boeing would own and control the virtual fence. At the least, Boeing would dissemble its virtual fence and retain control over the technology the component parts and the federal government would be forced to start from scratch.
Not even neoliberal free market theorisist Milton Friedman went so far as to give the market control over sovereign borders, yet that is exactly what is at stake.
This is the real story of the virtual fence that 60 Minutes ought to be covering. The DHS’ SBInet is a gross distortion of democratic governance. Boeing continues to be unaccountable to the rule of law and the federal government. Obama’s White-House has enabled this system by extending the contract and giving it $100 million in stimulus funding last March.
The only choice is to scrap the virtual fence and rethink the government’s approach to border control. This new start must consider the fundamental role of government in controlling sovereign borders, the rule of law and operating policy pursuant to the constitution.