Thursday, June 30, 2005
You know those things people say over and over? Stuff that makes your teeth hurt every time you hear it?
Here are some personal favorites: “Why doesn’t the government send down the National Guard and seal the border?” Also: “If we can send an army halfway around the world and defeat Saddam Hussein, then why can’t we secure our own border?”
No matter how fast the very obvious answers leap to my tongue, I keep quiet. Persons who talk like this are not infrequently armed, and even a professional smart-ass like me would rather not die for the First Amendment.
And yet it’s so hard not to say, “Um, last I heard, the National Guard was in Iraq,” or “Hel-lo? Our entire military can’t secure the road between downtown Baghdad and the airport!”
This is nothing against our beleaguered, under-armored armed forces, or any member thereof. I’m sure the soldiers in Iraq are doing the very best job they can, just as, I imagine, the Border Patrol is. That they can’t keep eight miles of road clear is testimony to the extreme difficulty of controlling people who are determined not to be controlled. Any force short of a full-blown police state will fail.
The US-Mexico border should be closed? Well, how the hell would you do that? How do you police a very long imaginary line between a first-world country addicted to cheap labor and a third-world country full of people who really, really want to work?
It’s impossible under present conditions—even if Homeland Security goes ahead and completes the Big Fence and it stretches from sea to shining sea.
Because then we would have to start on the coasts! Because Latin Americans have boats, too! Imagine the horror of vacationing Tucsonans watching as flotillas of thirst-crazed migrants land and stumble up the beaches of Coronado Island. Picture gun emplacements and rolls of razor wire up and down the coasts from Canada to Mexico. America as West Berlin. Don’t you love it?
Here, in case I’ve been too delicate, is my point: A military solution to immigration from the south has not worked, is not working and will not work.
What will? The Kennedy-McCain bill is a good start. Also useful: Repealing NAFTA, and making a sincere, long-term commitment to building the Mexican and Central American economies from the ground up, with initiatives like micro-loans and universal education that would not only keep people in their villages, but also slow population growth. Economic opportunities for women and education for girls have had a dramatic impact on fertility rates in impoverished cultures around the world. It is critical that the population of Latin America stabilize. I say that not because I think there should be fewer Latin Americans, but because there should be fewer humans, period.
And if I were queen, once the mechanisms provided by Kennedy-McCain are in place, I’d use the Racketeering and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) to prosecute anyone employing illegal laborers. In other words, treat the employers like people involved in the drug trade: Don’t just fine or jail them—confiscate everything they own.
If our government really wanted to stop the flow of undocumented labor, it wouldn’t send guys on ATVs riding around the desert; it would start busting every single American who directly profits from the underpaid labor of an undocumented person, from the lawyer who hires a “girl” to clean her house to the board of directors of Wal-Mart. The county commissioners of Canyon County, Idaho, are currently trying to find out whether they can do this in their jurisdiction. I heard one of them on the radio, and he sounded like a racist prick, but I’ve heard people who are deeply sympathetic to the migrants propose the same solution. It’s just plain old supply and demand. Make things rough enough for the employers, and illegal immigration will stop.
Immigration reform is not a values issue: It doesn’t matter whether you think workers from the south deserve to live here. They are here. More are coming, any way they can. If nothing changes, life will only get worse, and hundreds more lives will be lost to thirst and heat.
Renée Downing writes for the Tuscon Weekly, where this column first appeared.