Good fences? Good neighbors?

There is an old saying that good fences make for good neighbors. Such sentiment is borne of the belief that what is mine is mine and what is yours is not mine. A fence is a demarcation, a boundary marker. If your neighbor put up a tall wall or high fence, you would not get the impression your neighbor wants to be friendly or, for t≠hat matter, ever wants anything to do with you.

Put up a simple demarcation like a picket fence, and your kids can still play ball, you and your neighbor can talk over neighborhood matters as proximity inhabitants should. In short, a good fence does make for good neighbor relations because, precisely, it removed any dispute over whose is whose and yet allows for sharing of commonality.

The problem we have with the wall or fencing along the southern border near where I live is that no one on either side of the border needs a fence unless something nefarious is taking place. Look, if your neighbor came to you, over the picket fence, asking for help because someone was violating their home ... would you not take them in? Would that mean such refuge was permanent? No, but you sure as heck would not turn people, neighbors, away in time of need. That would be both un-Christian and inhuman.


Now, if the border between you and your neighbor is continually violated, the police may want to erect a more permanent barrier — at your house — if only to make their job easier. And that’s the point here, walls or barriers are sometimes necessary to make police enforcement easier, more affordable. No wall or barrier is ever necessary for the home owner if, and I stress if, law enforcement is properly able and financed to do their job. But you see, that’s the problem here, Border Patrol on the southern border is not properly financed, officers not properly paid, equipment not properly made available. And the courts dealing with legitimate asylum seekers are under-staffed, underfunded, and working on years of backlog cases.

So, what’s the cheapest way to claim you are doing law enforcement? Put up a wall and claim you are protecting people. You get the funds for that by preying on their fears that without a wall there is no protection. You pay no attention to environmental issues (four  National Parks on the border), you pay no attention to animal migration, you pay no attention to land and homeowners’ rights and swipe their land, divide families who have lived on both sides of the border for more years than the USA has been in existence ... you claim a wall will make all issues go away.


No sane person believes that. It is cheaper — just like robots building cars instead of trained workers — to stick a wall in the sand and hire less humans to patrol the border, less judges to hear court cases. Put up a wall and you can pretend-claim that America is safe.  The East Germans and the Russians quickly found with the Berlin Wall that the only way to make the wall work was to put a minefield in front of the wall. And then put up watchtowers with soldiers instructed to shoot on sight. Was that wall effective? Short term, perhaps all the while building global hatred. Long term? Ask any German today ... East and West citizens tore down the wall with their bare hands and tools. That failure, that public resentment lasts to this day.

Should a border be respected? Of course. Should a country find the means to protect that border if necessary? Yes. Protection does not mean detesting and vilifying anything on the other side. It means doing the work — not a wall — to make your property truly safer, more respected, and friendlier. If your neighbor is in trouble, you help. That’s the American way. If your neighbor has criminal intent, you call the police, fund the police, to do their job properly. Until you see that a barrier is not the solution but acting as a good neighbor — with all the protection by authorities you have a right to — being a good neighbor is the solution, all you will do is barricade yourself and your property hoping, in abject fear, that you will be okay. That’s what bigots and racists want, for you to feel so threatened that you’ll live in fear. Talk to your neighbors as equals instead, you may be surprised to find they are good friends in short order.


Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.