Roman Catholic Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe, N.M., secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, hurled a stinging criticism last week at the provision in the immigration reform bill passed by the U.S. House that calls for building 700 miles of double fencing -- together with "roads, lighting, cameras and sensors" -- along five stretches of the nearly 2,000-mile-long U.S.-Mexican border.
"When I think of walls, I think of the Berlin Wall," Sheehan said on Feb. 26, according to the Albuquerque Journal. "I think of it as a very hostile act."
The archbishop is not the first person to liken the proposed fencing to the Berlin Wall and to treat it as a hostile act. Leaders of the Mexican government have done so, too.
"What is not resolved by intelligent policies and by leaders is resolved by citizens. That is how the Berlin Wall fell, and that is how this wall will fall," said Mexican President Vicente Fox in January, according to The Washington Times. "I hope it isn't even built because, if it is, it will fall."
Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez declared in December, "Mexico is not going to bear, it is not going to permit, and it will not allow a stupid thing like this wall."
Now, if you were looking for "hostile acts," here would be two: the Mexican president intimating he would like to see the destruction of a proposed public structure in a neighboring republic, and his foreign secretary declaring that Mexico will not permit the neighboring republic to build it in the first place.
But the purpose of this column is not to examine the legitimacy of Mexico's border polices. It is to examine the legitimacy of a specific policy already passed by the U.S. House.
Is it right or wrong for the United States to build 700 miles of fence on our border? Should the Senate approve what the House has done?
Antonio Garza, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, has already aptly rebutted the inapt comparison of U.S. border fencing to the Berlin Wall. "One cannot responsibly equate the acts of tyrants to those of free people," Garza wrote in a Jan. 13 embassy newsletter. "Think about it. Does anyone honestly remember waves of people climbing over the Berlin Wall heading east?"
But Archbishop Sheehan's criticism -- and the Conference of Catholic Bishops' criticism of U.S. border enforcement in general -- runs deeper than a single bad analogy. It is spelled out most fully in "Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope," a pastoral letter jointly published in 2003 by the Catholic bishops of the United States and Mexico.