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Policy Debate Game, Set, Match

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June 8, 2008

It may not quite be theFrench Open,but James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation and I have beendiscussing the pros and cons of the virtual fence in a seriesof recentblogs.At least I thought that was what we were discussing. In his mostrecent post, Carafanodoesn’t mention the virtualfence once. Instead he takes a potshot at me for “condemningtheUnited States.”

Here’s a goodrule of thumb forpolicy debates: when your opponent can’t argue for the policyinquestion on its merits and tries to change the subject,you’ve wonthe argument.

Nevertheless, the ACLU isnever one toshrink from a fight when it goes below the belt. There is littledebate out there about whether we are succeeding in securing theborder. The Border Patrol is certainly not to blame for this: AsCarafano describesvividly and accurately, Congress hasrepeatedly failedto recognize the challenges dedicated Border Patrol agents face onthe ground and fund border security initiatives that will actuallymake their jobs easier. The virtual fence is a perfect example ofthis disconnect –a fat cash payout to Boeing Corp. for aprogramproven to be a miserable failure.

On human rights, we have along way togo. In the 14 years since OperationGatekeeper pushed the bulk of bordercrossing into theharsh Arizona desert, more than 5,000 migrants have died fromexposure. That’s an intolerablestatistic for both the United States and Mexico. Again, this is notthe fault of the men and women who go to work on the border everydayand approach their jobs with professionalism and compassion.It’sthe underlying national policy, courtesy of Washington, that isputting at risk the lives of migrants and Border Patrol agents alike.

In Carafano’sworld, criticizing afailed Washington policy that endangers Border Patrol agents istantamount to “bad-mouthing the Border Patrol.” Ifthat soundslike a bogus argument to you, that’s because it is. Carafanostillfails to answer my original point: that the virtual fence is a fiascothat not only threatens civil liberties, but is also indefensiblefrom the fiscal conservative philosophy that the Heritage Foundationclaims to promote. By questioning our patriotism, he is notfurthering an open, responsible discussion about policy –he’strying to short-circuitthe discussion because he’s out of arguments.

The ACLU and the HeritageFoundationoften disagree, and we like to engage them when we do becausethey’reknown and respected for defending conservative principles withpassion and intellectual rigor. Needless to say, we’redisappointed.

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