If the problem is the U.S. border with Mexico, is the solution an alligator-filled moat? In 2019, former President Donald Trump reportedly asked aides to explore that idea. In a response worthy of Jonathan Swift, defense strategist and author Peter W. Singer worked out the costs of replacing border fences with a moat filled with alligators and snakes. Spoiler alert: It’s surprisingly doable, costing $2.5 billion to acquire the reptiles and $1.8 billion a year to maintain them as a “border force.”
If that’s a bizarre solution, recent reports that U.S. border agents on horseback grabbed and whipped at Haitian migrants on the southern border suggest an even more inhumane approach. As hundreds of thousands of Afghans seeking asylum add to the global refugee crisis, today’s Daily Dose traces the evolution of America’s policy toward migrants, identifies what the future could look like and introduces you to some of the world’s more surprising border battles.
The Merkel Model
Germany votes today to elect a new government that, for the first time since 2005, will not be headed by Angela Merkel. Yet the German chancellor’s legacy will continue to echo far beyond her country’s borders. In the summer of 2015, after a flood of refugees from Syria and other conflict-ridden nations risked death on the open seas to reach Europe, countries like Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia pushed them out. Then Merkel stepped in, opening the borders of Europe’s largest economy to 1.7 million asylum applicants by 2019. Now the world is facing a fresh refugee crisis as Afghans flee their Taliban-ruled country. So far, the U.S. and other nations have agreed to take in tens of thousands of asylum-seekers. But as their numbers rise, will governments remain as resolute as Merkel once was?
Dream Turned ‘Disaster’
Former Marine General Leonard Chapman’s first order of business when he became the head of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in 1973 was to seal off the border with Mexico. Chapman had previously served in Vietnam and was haunted by his inability to enforce South Vietnam’s borders. But Chapman’s push to secure America’s borders did nothing to stem the flow of migrants. By 1979, immigration had returned to pre-1965 levels — when controls were much looser — and continued to rise dramatically. In 1976, Chapman described a “growing, silent invasion of illegal aliens” as a phenomenon that could become a “national disaster.” Fast forward four decades and there’s a consensus among experts that even the most sophisticated physical barriers rarely work to stop immigration.
5G and self-driving cars go together like a GPS-bridled horse and artificial intelligence-controlled carriage. Autonomous vehicles rely on signals received through wireless networks to find out when the road in front of you will zag. But what if your network drops momentarily because the operator changes as you cross a border? You don’t want to be the latest self-driving car crash headline. Luckily, the European Union is building 5G highways at border crossings to realize its vision of unencumbered travel across international frontiers. It’s spending $47 million on pilot projects at crossings between Greece and Turkey, Spain and Portugal and Italy and Austria so that future travelers don’t need to worry about borders — or drivers.
Helpless and desperate migrants are rarely the most dangerous illegal actors at America’s borders. By hacking systems and changing data about shipments, sophisticated transnational crime groups can sneak illegal goods into American ports. Now the Department of Homeland Security is using blockchain technology to guard against this threat. Transactions made on a blockchain are theoretically tamper-proof. The tech could also allow people to cross borders without passports — while certifying their identity and keeping a record of their movements that can’t be adulterated. You could even include and store information about a traveler’s COVID-19 vaccination status on the digital passport.
Cities Are the Real Nations
But the future could look very different. The explosion of megacities — cities that have more than 10 million residents — is redefining the idea of borders, argues international relations expert Parag Khanna. “In a megacity world, countries can be suburbs of cities,” he says. By 2030, we will have 50 megacity clusters, most of them in Africa and Asia. Cities like Lagos, Nigeria, have made neighboring countries like Benin into economically dependent suburbs. Country borders will become far less important when you commute across them every day to get to work in a megacity. Just ask those who commute across state lines from New Jersey to New York every day.
Ain’t No Border High Enough
COVID-19 and its variants don’t need visas. Zoonotic viruses — which jump from animals to humans — are already adept at crossing borders. Currently, 60% of new infectious diseases originate in animals and that’s only going to increase as wild areas shrink, pushing people and animals closer together. Disease outbreaks were found to be more likely in areas with recent deforestation from industrial logging. A study published in 2017 determined that preventing the destruction of forests can help guard against new outbreaks. Building and maintaining a border between wild and populated areas by expanding national parks or preserving the natural areas bordering cities has become more critical than ever.
One Toke Over the Line
Trafficking marijuana between states is a booming business. One of Colorado’s largest-ever busts came from a group known as “The Syndicate,” which took advantage of the state’s legalization laws to grow weed and distribute it throughout the U.S. Colorado authorities charged 32 individuals and seized $10 million in cash from members of the cooperative. In 2018, law enforcement officials revealed that they had nabbed Colorado-grown weed in 34 states, proving that state borders don’t matter much when moving herb. The legal to illegal flow has even started to cross national borders. In a poetic turn of events, weed from California is being trafficked into Mexico, where the market for California-grown weed has exploded. Strains of marijuana that go for $150 an ounce stateside sell for $500 an ounce south of the border.
There are few journeys more dangerous than the one that thousands of migrants make each year from sub-Saharan Africa toward Europe, via Libya. If they pass through the town of Bani Walid in northern Libya, they might never make it out alive: It’s a city-sized torture chamber where human traffickers hold migrants until their loved ones cough up ransom. Meanwhile, Europe is working with Libyan militias to effectively stop migrants who are risking life and limb to reach its shores. Under international maritime law, ships are supposed to rescue those in distress out at sea. In the first three weeks of February 2021, more than 3,100 migrants were rescued at sea while crossing the Mediterranean. But a record number of them are on track to be returned to Libya this year. None of that will stop migrants from trying again . . . and again.
Bitcoin in Afghanistan
Amid the chaos following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, some residents are turning to cryptocurrency to weather the country’s deepening economic crisis. For 22-year-old Farhan Hotak, his cryptocurrency wallet represents the hope that he can remain dialed in to the global economy instead of being restricted by a border closely monitored by the Taliban. It’s a way for Hotak to preserve his family’s wealth despite the economic collapse that has caused banks in Kabul to close and run out of cash. Google trends showed a surge in searches about cryptocurrency before Kabul fell to the Taliban. The Islamist group has promised to allow Afghans to travel freely in the future, but young people like Hotak aren’t so sure. They trust Bitcoin more than battle-hardened militants who’ve reneged on other pledges.
Google and other mapmakers are guilty of changing borders based on the viewer’s country of origin. That’s because Google adapts to the rules, regulations and preferences of the host country. South Korean users of Google Maps see the “East Sea,” while “Sea of Japan” appears for users in its namesake nation. In India, online maps show national borders that fully contain Kashmir, even though much of that region is actually controlled by Pakistan — an on-the-ground reality depicted by maps elsewhere. Then there’s the confusing Line of Actual Control that’s the de facto boundary between India and China in the Himalayas. The problem? The two sides don’t agree on where the line actually sits — with each defining it in a way that theoretically gives itself more territory.
Frontiers in Porcelain
Don’t mess with Dutch women, especially over public toilets. When 23-year-old Geerte Piening was fined for peeing discreetly in public in 2015, a judge told her she should have used Amsterdam’s public urinals, designed exclusively for men. Thus the hashtag #hoedan (“but how”) was born. It’s a movement that saw Dutch women crossing the gender boundary, contorting themselves into increasingly ridiculous postures to attempt to pee in the men’s public bathrooms. A report last year found that the number of women’s toilets was still not equal to that of men’s, so the excruciating wait continues.
What’s the Time?
If you ever feel like you deserve a redo of your day, you could always cross the International Date Line. For example, if you live on the Russian island of Big Diomede, you can paddle just 2.4 miles to the American island of Little Diomede — and go back to yesterday. The distance can even be crossed on foot during the winter when the Bering Strait freezes over. Conversely, if you feel like skipping a day, you could head from Little Diomede to Big Diomede. But be warned, aspiring time travelers: Conditions on the islands are pretty harsh. The summertime temperatures average from 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit and range from 6 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit in winter. Brr!
Falafel originated in ancient Egypt thousands of years ago before spreading throughout the Middle East. Traces of the beans used to make the dish have been found in Egyptian tombs that date back nearly 4,000 years. Yet today it’s a symbol of the cultural conflict between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East. Falafel became popular in the newly formed Israel after World War II. Some Palestinians feel that Israel claimed falafel as its invention to legitimize its statehood in the predominantly Arab Levant. They also think that Israel’s campaign to make falafel its own with catchy songs or by designating it Israel’s national dish erases their history.