This post could also be called My Border Experience and What it Means for Immigration Policy
The US can not stem the flow of undocumented migrants into this country, by some estimates the flow is almost one every minute…drip…drip… All of our efforts in stemming this flow, have thus far, been largely ineffective.
As I’ve previously posted, I just got back from a two week vacation to SW Texas. Most of the vacation was spent within a few score of miles of the border.
My first intimation that things were not the same along the border as in the rest of the country was an impromptu stop by a Border Patrol checkpoint. A friendly Hispanic male in a sharply creased uniform approached my window while 3 well armed white males stood back and watched. “Where are you coming from,” the officer asked as I put down my window. My hackles were raised by this invasion, but I held it in check and told him. Next he wanted to know where I was going, which I told him. Then he wanted to know my citizenship and what I planned to do at my destination. I was mad, but I played along. “Alright, you can go,” he told me. Mad now that it was sinking in how invasive this experience had been, I told the officer that he should look for a new job. When he asked why, I told him that “when the Constitution is restored he would be out of work.” I held back on adding, “those of you not hanging from telephone poles, anyways” as I drove away.
I was angry. This had obviously been a search of my vehicle, it had also been a detention of myself and my vehicle. All with no probable cause. Therefore extra-Constitutional. It was a checkpoint in my country by my government to determine if I could freely travel…this is not a part of the America that I know and love. This invasive behavior is one step away from requiring travel documents to move around. And what if I wasn’t white? What if I was brown and spoke broken English, like so many of my fellow American citizens, what would my experience have been then?
I went on down to Big Bend National Park. Big Bend is a large desert park with the Southern boundary consisting of over 100 miles of Rio Grande River/Mexican border. There is no border crossing anywhere near but there is an isolated Mexican village across the river. The park’s newspaper is called the Paisano. Paisano translates from the Spanish as countryman, loosely it means country folk. What got me is the extent that the paper’s editors went through to make the reader fear those country folk from across the river. Almost every page contained an admonition to fear those folks across the river. And for humans, fear easily turns into hate. And while avoiding explicit warnings to hate the brown people across the river, the paper’s editors still managed to evoke this message at every turn of the page. Am I accusing the paper’s editors of being a bunch of racists? No, but I am saying that their attitudes and words tend to increase–and are in fact indicative of–the racism already present in those who visit the park. Fear the brown man, if not he will be arrested and deported to some place far away, your property will be seized, and you will be fined $5000. It is this sort of incendiary writing that we refer to as fear mongering. And, like Lou Dobbs, these folks will claim that they are not trying to incite hatred of the other, but the results are clear to anyone lucid enough to step back and critically view the situation.
When I left the park, I traveled along the border to the West about 75 miles to Presidio, TX. This drive contained an estimated 70 miles of Rio Grande/border for a total of almost 200 miles of border. Not a fence in site, the river is some places shallow enough to wade across. Running in and out of canyons and weaving its way through the desert it showed to me that there is no way to “secure” this area, it is too open, too vast, too isolated, and too barren. Terlinqua to Presidio was about 50 road miles, there is nothing in between. Not a town, not a retail business, a couple of ranches near Presidio and that was it.
When I headed North out of Presidio, and then twice more as I paralleled the border on I-10, I ran into border patrol “inspection” stations. Always it was either a woman or a Hispanic that approached my window and always armed white guys stood around watching in their para-military garb. I did my best at these encounters to be both non-cooperative and non-antagonistic, not an easy fence to straddle and I was successful to varying degrees. “Where are you coming from?” I am coming from the South I would reply. “No, where have you been?” I have been in the South. “Are you a US citizen?” Yes. “Where are you going?” I am going to the North. “What, do you have a problem?” Am I being detained, am I free to go? With this last I would repeat, “Am I being detained, am I free to go?” to any question they asked. At some point Smokey would start barking (her barking annoys me to no end but in this case I was glad to hear it) and they would eventually tell me to go ahead.
A couple of more observations to round out this account. In Arizona on I-40, many miles from the border, I noted many SUVs of different colors with whip antenna patrolling the highway. Sometimes two or three of these vehicles were parked together in the median. I noted many Border Patrol vehicles sitting along both the highways and the secondary roads monitoring traffic, these vehicles were seen as far North as Kingman, AZ.
I made a similar trip to Glacier NP on the Canadian border. I noted no such activity, no inspection stations, no Park Service exhortations to fear our neighbors, nothing at all like the atmosphere created at our Southern border. Despite the fact that terrorists have been caught trying to get in from Canada, but–to my knowledge–never from Mexico. Still, the two borders of our neighbors are treated far differently…and the only difference that I can see is the color of their skin.
These events and observations illuminated two things for me. First, the border is indefensible with anything but the most intensive and invasive measures. And, two, the border area is a de-facto police state, essential liberties have already been surrendered in a no-win attempt to thwart these erstwhile migrants.
So the question becomes, how far are you willing to go to secure the border and which liberties are you willing to give up to do so?
For certainly, we have the means to secure the border, should that ever become our passion. Here, for instance are some steps that would realistically secure the border:
Institute a national biometric based ID to be used for obtaining employment;
Make a stiff penalty for employing undocumented workers, say 5k for individuals and 50k for businesses;
Wall off the urban areas, perhaps a 20 foot wall separating the two nations;
Build a fence half a mile on our side in the rural areas and place land mines between the river and the fence;
Deport immediately any undocumented person who shows up at a school or a hospital;
Increase Border Patrol check points and patrols; and
Run ad campaigns offering rewards for any tips that lead to deportations.
The above is not very realistic, yet is, never-the-less, doable. Still, I don’t know how you feel about it, but that is not the nation that I want to live in.
With that said, something needs to be done with the immigration issue. Having 12-20,000,000 undocumented, unlicensed, uninsured, unprotected people in our midst is obviously not a good thing.
I would argue that far more benefits could be gained by abandoning our present course and adopting a course of investment in Mexico. Jobs, education, and health care should be the objectives of these investments.. By raising the living standards of Mexicans living in Mexico we avoid having our living standards fall to their levels (Which present trends make seem inevitable). With education, jobs, and opportunity, the pull of the North would decrease drastically and would eventually balance out with migration to the South. As more balance is achieved we could give logistical and military support to help Mexico seal its Southern border. As Mexico becomes more stable and secure in its borders we could begin dismantling the barriers between our countries. After all, goods and services already flow freely across the border, is it not time for people to join in that?
I see no one in leadership with the political vision to give us real immigration reform. Instead, incremental changes will be made that does nothing to stem the flow and leaves millions upon millions out in the cold while depriving the rest of us of our liberties, one at a time…drip…drip…
Disagree? Got a better plan? Leave it in the comments. But remember, my idea requires that WE GIVE UP ZERO CIVIL LIBERTIES, be sure to list which liberties you are willing to give up to implement some other idea. To state, “build a fence”, is jingoistic nonsense; anyone who spouts this has either never been to the border or is stupid.