If Trump the Quack would be half serious about national security, he would call for building a wall, not on the border with Mexico, but along the beaches running from Maine to Key West, and from Seattle to San Diego. Our land borders are protected by fences (real and virtual), and thousands of border guards. You cannot board a plane without being screened and often patted down, sometimes even if you are a baby in diapers or an infirm senior citizen in a wheelchair. However, our coasts are wide open.
I first noted this when a relative of mine sailed with a bunch of friends from Isla Mujeres in Mexico and disembarked in St. Petersburg, Florida, without anyone checking her ID or the luggage she and her fellow travelers unloaded. I then remembered that when I was sailing in the Caribbean, we docked one night next to some twelve other boats, abutting what can only be described as a floating bar. At the bar I met a number of boat owners and their guests, several from nations in which terrorists are often found. I could have readily given a ride to any one of them -- and whatever was in their luggage -- or agreed to carry a "gift" back to the United States.
I did not connect these two dots until I met a former head of the U.S. Coast Guard at a meeting at the Charleston Plaza, in Charleston, South Carolina. I asked him, "If someone sails hundreds of miles away from the United States, visits another country, and returns, is he or his fellow passengers and crew ever checked?" (I was referring to the many tens of thousands of people whose homes abut a beach and have a private dock and a boat).
"No," was the short response. In effect, each year about 2 million leisure (and fishing) boats make such journeys, and "there is just no way to check them all." He added "If the boat comes from Colombia, or there is specific information that it might be carrying contraband, it surely will be stopped, most likely by the Coast Guard." I checked with a lawyer at the Naval War College, and she relayed that indeed this was a "weakness" in the defense of our borders.
No passport is needed, no visa has to be obtained, no customs declarations need to be filled out, no luggage is examined, if one arrives in the U.S. as a passenger on one of these two million boats. True, the law states that "operators of small pleasure vessels, arriving in the United States from a foreign port or place to include any vessel which has visited a hovering vessel or received merchandise outside the territorial sea, are required to report their arrival to CBP immediately." (See 19 U.S.C. 1433)
The master of the vessel reports their arrival at the nearest Customs facility or another such place as the Secretary may prescribe by regulations. However, the law is not enforced; indeed most people do not even know about it.
Much has been written about the low level of discourse of this election -- the name-calling and wild accusations that preempt most discussion of public policy. And when public policy is discussed, the focus is often on non-issues -- such as the claim that rapists and criminals are coming across the southern border and hence must be stopped with a wall -- disregarding completely where something like a wall (I mean more enforcement of the law) might deserve consideration.
Amitai Etzioni is a University Professor and Professor of International Relations at The George Washington University. His newest book, Foreign Policy: Thinking Outside the Box, was recently published by Routledge. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.