Soliloquy: Border intelligence: north, south, dumb, smart

Farm Forum

“Where is your farm?”

“South Dakota North.”

“South Dakota North?”

“South Dakota, but on the top.”

Most northern South Dakotans probably know these lines from “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” with Gary Cooper. We laugh because we know it’s hard for the world to keep the Dakotas straight, and when you mention northern South Dakota (or southern North Dakota), it’s even more confusing.

Even northern South Dakotans have trouble getting the Dakotas straight. When we travel to Sioux Falls, we routinely take our passports in case we want to drive a little further south and visit Winnipeg. We wonder which Canadian province boasts Lake Kampeska. Occasionally, we’ll worry about hurricanes hitting the Outer Banks of North Dakota.

So it isn’t surprising that Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana mixed up her Dakota geography when scolding Sen. John Thune for his immigration bill amendment.

She suggested that Thune wouldn’t know about southern border problems because South Dakota borders Canada.

Landrieu thinks we can keep a handle on Canadians without a fence, but in southern states, we need a smart fence and not a “dumb fence” like Thune supports.

A Google search for “smart fence” resulted in short, thin, electric fences, good for livestock but not great for border security — except maybe for Canadians.

An “immigration smart fence,” however, turns out to be a string of cameras along the border, aided by sensors and radar. The United States started building such a smart fence in 2005. Who knew?

The Memphis Commercial Appeal investigated the glitch-ridden project in 2010. “Among other things,” the story said, “the radar system had trouble distinguishing between vegetation and people” during windy conditions.

Another problem was that recording devices locked onto “the wrong cameras, hindering agents trying to collect evidence against illegal border-crossers.” The recordings probably showed wind-blown trees. Just how smart is a smart fence?

When you hear of Boeing, the first thing you think of is fences, of course, so Boeing was placed in charge of the 2005 smart fence project.

The fence was supposed to be built and ready to think by 2011.

Five years and $267 million later, there “wasn’t much to show for the smart fence,” according to the article. Of 2,000 miles of border, 23 miles were completed by 2010.

I’m not sure where those 23 miles of smart fence are, because in geography class we never learned about Sasabe, Ariz.

But if Boeing had been savvy, it would have erected the fence on the Arizona/California border, because with California’s economy faltering, Arizona can depend on waves of fleeing Californians over the next few years.

But maybe this 2005 fence was what Landrieu meant by “dumb fence,” and she has some super-smart fence plan in mind instead. If so, I hope the NSA reveals where that plan is.

We all know where Landrieu’s state is. It’s that boot-shaped one near Texas along the Gulf of Mexico. Cajun food. Jazz. Mardi Gras. I don’t think Louisianans will erect fences along the Gulf beach, but it wouldn’t surprise me if someday its Texas neighbors planted one on the Texas-Louisiana state line.

Meanwhile, here’s a primer to keep the Dakotas straight: The one with Mount Rushmore is South Dakota. The one with the oil boom is North Dakota. Maybe we should unify to make it easier on our esteemed senators in Congress.

Donna Marmorstein writes and lives in Aberdeen. You can contact her at