The following is part of Tom Owens’ ongoing series ‘Truth and Justice in a New American Century’, an examination of Superman’s exploits across North America.
THAT TIME WITH THE WALL
My editor knows I have a love for tacos. Over time, he’s been witness to my water-cooler rants about the fine distinctions between Cal-Mex, Tex-Mex and Oaxacan cuisine. So, I suppose it was no surprise to anyone that I ended up with a month-long assignment traveling to several border cities to talk about immigration and the quality of hurricane relief in Puerto Rico. He thought there was a good story comparing America’s treatment of its neighbors to the south with its treatment of its territorial citizens. And, good point, I suppose, given the current administration.
That meant I was in Corpus Christi on assignment when Starro’s invasion of New Orleans went down. All the majors were sent there in the aftermath; even Catco sent in three separate media teams to cover the fallout. In brief, the basic details were that a piece of Starro lost in the deep ocean had been washed ashore by the same hurricane that had rattled Puerto Rico. It had regenerated and the infection had begun. Emergency crews had been hit first with mini-Starros possessing them; the population was rapidly going under next. Superman was on scene almost immediately after the word went out. He cordoned off the city and then began systematically isolating the worst parts, preventing Starro’s spread until the government could deal with the possessed citizens.
Simple enough tale, right?
They missed the big part.
Instead of New Orleans, I was send to San Diego on a hot tip that proved to be one hell of a follow-up. That meant I was on site when it all went down.
Overall, the San Ysidro border crossing is one of the busiest in North America, just shy of a hundred thousand vehicles and twenty-five thousand pedestrians daily. It serves as the connection between the city of San Diego and the city of Tijuana and the vast hub of trade between the two. It was pretty eerie, then, to see the border closed and people on both sides backed up to a safe distance.
The forces of the crowds on other end, out of their cars or on foot, pushed up against army barricades was intense. There was frustration, there was worry. Not unanticipated but still unnerving. My press pass got me closer than most, and that’s where I ran into my opposite number, Lois Lane. I have no ideas how she gets tips like these but she’s a Pulitzer Prize winner so she’s probably knows where enough bodies are buried to go wherever she likes.
Lane let me know that the military presence was all show and crowd control. Blue had chosen this spot for the meeting. I was about to ask about what when she shook her head and nodded towards a long staff car heading towards the center of the cleared zone. I noted the military markings and met her gaze long enough for both of us to roll our eyes. It was the transport for a four star general. They only call them out when they are annoyed at the Big Guy.
The general was barely out of his car, cap off, staring into the sky, when Big Blue descended, slowly and with a well-deserved confidence. The crowd erupted in a low, rumbling cheer that he acknowledged. Lane’s partner, James Olsen, was in there, immediately, snapping shots, instant uploads to the Planet’s media feed, dictating instant impressions into his headpiece. Lane and I were able to catch the opening words from the general.
“The whole god damned wall?”
Blue’s response was soft. But, the general’s wasn’t. He sputtered on about fences and construction and costs and irreparable damage. In total, it took a minute for it to settle in. I looked over at Lane. “The wall? The border wall?”
Lane nodded, with a smugness that gave me a sense that she’d had a heads-up on this. “All two thousand miles of it. Every fencepost, barbed wire, concrete wall. All of it.”
“Holy s***.” I was pretty blown away.
Superman was gently explaining things to the general, in a voice that seemed to carry out to the crowds. Starro. Evidently, the wall was used to contain that problem. And, in addition, there was a need for relief supplies for Puerto Rico, since apparently some calls for infrastructure help were being help up on the administration’s side.
The crowd erupted into laughter and a cheer at that bit. The general turned about four shades of red. He demanded that Superman put it back. Blue politely declined. He pointed out that doing so at the moment would endanger lives in both New Orleans and Puerto Rico, and later, he couldn’t honorably promise his attention because other crises could come to his attention that would prevent him from rebuilding. And the general wouldn’t want to endanger people’s lives by having Superman build something useless, would he?
That led to a prolonged lecture on how Superman had irreparably damaged national security. I have to admit Blue was a hell of a lot more patient with listening to it than I would have been. The lecture ended with the time-honored axiom delivered from every parent to a naughty child. If Superman was in the general’s position, what would he do?
That was a mistake.
Superman smiled, as if he knew this was coming.
Then Superman told him exactly what he’d do.
First came history: the policies that lead to the wall came strictly from racist politicians and their reactions, not from sound, evidence-based experience. He quoted not only the lines made famous by the Statue of Liberty, but the whole poem:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Evidence and historical experience showed that America became stronger with each wave of immigrants. Overall, they made the country safer, stronger, and that consistently they had proven to be law-abiding and beneficial to the communities in which they settled. Immigrants that had not received citizen status, due to payroll taxes and sales tax contributed to a system that paid back their hosts in a very palpable way.
As he spoke, the crowd was silent, hanging on every word. And, the general was not unappreciative of that and, I have to admit, the soldiers doing crowd control were looking a bit nervous as well.
Big Blue moved from the foundation of his arguments to specific suggestions.
Seasonal workers could return home if the borders were open, relieving infrastructure burden during the off-season. Forces focused on border control could instead be re-purposed to deal with any criminal activity, regardless of which side of the border in came from. Human suffering from crossing inhospitable territories would be vastly reduced.
Those were a few of the benefits.
How to enact them were equally simple.
Laminated cards with unique IDs, provided by software already possessed by the NSA and other government agencies, given to non-citizens who were there to vacation or look for work. In addition, vacation IDs could be ‘loaded’ with the information of length of stay of states intended to be visited. Work IDs would be valid for only a month, when they’d revert to Vacation IDs, unless work was located and registered with the IRS. Both could be altered or renewed at the local post office, using the passport office, which would bring another source of revenue to that government system and improve its services overall.
But, refugees were a different matter.
Superman asked the general to imagine something similar to the gardens build near Fresno by the artist Forestiere. One man who had build an oasis of green underground, a respite from the heat and beautiful to the eyes. Imagine being led into that green space, just a short walk from the border, down a staircase, and from there to a common room, where people could clean up and get a hot meal, prepared by culinary students from the local cities, eager to show off their skills. In addition, as they ate surrounded by fellow refugees, social workers would come and start the process that would lead to their eventual fate in the United States.
Overall, all for a fraction of the cost of building and manning a useless wall.
The general was chewing his lip, considering what had been said, considering the crowd. He offered that it was a nice dream, but was it even feasible. Superman simply stated that America was once founded on a dream.
After that, he paused there, listening to something only he could hear. He apologized to the general. A tornado was threatening a populated area in Kansas and a very suspicious earthquake had just happened off the coast of Madrid, possibly connected to doings in Atlantis. He was needed elsewhere.
The general nodded and Superman left.
What happened next surprised me. The general walked away from his car and straight towards us. Next thing I knew, we were face to face with him.
“On the record?” Lane asked.
The general shrugged. “I don’t know how the administration will respond. We don’t have the resources to just throw up another wall and we certainly don’t have the public faith to try and pressure that man into anything. But humans are a pretty damned stubborn lot, so I’m just not sure.”
Lane just matched the general’s gaze. She knew how to bring it. “A good man knows when to stand his ground. And when to give it.”
The general nodded. “Even so. Give my regards to your father, Miss Lane.”
Then, he looked at me. “Mr. Owens.”
After that, that was it. He left, the military on both sides backed off, and everything went back to normal. However, as Lane and Olsen and I sat there, eating tacos by the side of the road, there was an energy we’d never seen, a dream spread by word of mouth, from person to person.
Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…
Next from Tom Owen’s ‘Truth and Justice in a New American Century’: That Time with the Project