A Profound Sense of Unease

Jonathan has a thoughtful post about the problems that should be discussed in the immigration debate. It is worth your time to read the whole thing. However, Iíd like to discuss the 2nd paragraph.

ďYou also have to add likely enforcement costs into the equation. These include grand abuses of civil liberties, national ID cards (which will be completely ineffective for their ostensible purpose), rampant criminal extortion of employers, etc. How does anyone propose to track down all of those illegals — house-to-house searches?Ē

Any discussion of enforcement must, by necessity, take in to account the application of force. This is an issue that everyone seems to be ignoring, willfully or otherwise. The reason why is probably because our border guards are already outgunned and certain to lose if there is a confrontation.

Those of us interested in law enforcement issues have noted with alarm the growing number of incursions by heavily armed bands of smugglers on to US soil. The reason why this should be taken seriously by everyone, no matter their interest in law enforcement, is that some of these gangs are using bribed units of the Mexican military as muscle. Sometimes border guards and civilian law enforcement officials have actually been fired upon, although no one has yet been hurt.

Iím having trouble understanding why this isnít getting more airplay. So far as I can tell, reports have been made professionals in good standing that military units of a foreign power routinely violate our borders. Even if it turns out that there isnít anything to them, why isnít there an investigation of some kind in the works? Why isnít this a big deal?

One of the primary responsibilities of any government is to protect the citizens from foreign threats. That is, after all, why the government agency in charge of our military is called the Department of Defense. As this news article from San Antonio points out, that simply isnít being done. Local residents in a high-traffic area favored by smugglers are becoming increasingly uneasy. Death threats are routine, and the locals are arming themselves against trouble.

If there are more confrontations then it is only a matter of time before someone pulls a trigger. What happens if it turns out that bribed Mexican army units used their weapons to shoot and kill a few sheriff deputies or border guards on our side of the border? I think that discussions of guest worker permits and amnesty will suddenly seem hopelessly naÔve, as will the common wisdom currently being bandied about that the border is simply too large to lock down. After all, the Soviets managed to do a pretty good job even though they had more territory to cover.

The political climate of the United States means that it is absurd to think that our border guards will plant mines, string barbed wire and shoot whole families trying to cross. But political climates change, and they change fastest when the electorate suddenly realizes that their elected officials are doing a piss poor job of protecting innocent voters.

One of the reasons why the situation has gotten so out of hand is that the Federal agencies tasked with guarding the border are swamped. I mean, at least 11 million illegal aliens! My home state of Ohio has the same number of people! Considering the numbers involved it is a wonder that they manage to do as well as they have. But it also means that they canít focus on the really dangerous criminals when faced with a seething horde of relatively harmless ones.

The biggest problem I have with most of the articles concerning this issue is that the authors seem to assume that we have plenty of time to figure out what to do. There isnít any sense of urgency, which is certainly something to be strived for when discussing solutions which will take years to start to work and will probably be with us for many decades. I just canít shake the feeling that something might happen which will take the decision out of our hands.

7 thoughts on “A Profound Sense of Unease”

  1. Last I read, the Mexican government tried to fix the problem of bribed Mexican army units by not allowing them to be deployed within 30 miles of the US border. We will see how that works out.

    The reason this stuff doesn’t get much airplay outside the southwest is that Mexicans at all levels don’t want the problems in Mexico to spill over the border because they know it will prompt a firming of the border. In the past, they have moved rather aggressively to stamp out problems that bled over the border. Now, however, I think many of the traditional restraints are breaking down. The drug gangs are getting crazier and are divorced from the traditional controls of family and patronage. It is only a matter of time before they do something stupid north of the border.

    The problem of enforcement is huge. 1 in 10 living people born in Mexico currently reside in the US. Frankly, I am not sure we have the political will to really secure the border. Doing so will require hurting people who are merely trying to find work and alleviate the poverty of their families. Do we as a nation have the will to create a kind of photonegative berlin wall where we hurt people for trying to get in?

  2. “Why isnít this a big deal?”

    Because the US media routinely censor the news based on their own perceived need to avoid inflaming our bigoted passions. It wouldn’t be safe to let us know everything that’s going on, because we might not react to it the way their enlightened sentiments dictate we ought to.

  3. One key to this is the Mexican government. They have an economic interest in getting surplus workers out of their hair, and their economy needs the remittances sent from the US. We can’t solve the issue while they are giving their citizens guides on the places to cross and the best methods. Somebody – and I don’t think it’s going to be Bush – is going to have to get the Mexican government onside, one way or another. Their actions are not those of a friendly nation.

    Oh well, I’ve been avoiding this topic. I guess I’ll have to come up with something, but there are no attractive choices among the policies proposed.

  4. Last I read, the Mexican government tried to fix the problem of bribed Mexican army units by not allowing them to be deployed within 30 miles of the US border. We will see how that works out.

    One of the news articles I linked to above reports on a standoff between US Border Patrol agents and 3 Mexican army humvees armed with heavy machine guns. This incident took place yesterday.

    I’d say that pretty much sinks the idea that the Mexican government’s response is going to work.

    Frankly, I am not sure we have the political will to really secure the border.

    That is pretty much a point I made in my post. We don’t.


  5. Border security might prove to be something that only a Democrat can spearhead under the ole “only Nixon can go to China” idea. Like NAFTA, Democrats will fight the idea if they see it as a purely rightwing concept and it’s easier for Democrats to fend off charges of xenophobia and racism.

    Just a thought.

  6. Gentlemen, this is why the first thing I said in my comment to Jonathan’s post was that another elephant in the room is narcotics prohibition.

    Among the political/percaptual risks to be managed — and I must say that if they aren’t managed in this forum, they are most unlikely to be managed in mainstream political discussion — are: conflation of narcotics smuggling with illegal immigration; and bureaucratic opportunism, as we saw in the wake of 9/11/2001.

    The armed gangs, aided and abetted by corrupted military units, which have so changed the atmosphere along the Texas border are not smuggling people; they’re smuggling products whose unit price would drop by 99% if they were treated like alcohol or tobacco. The criminal activity associated with trafficking would simply disappear in a more sanely regulated environment. Every economist knows this.

    And we may be certain that so far from reluctance to respond, there are plenty of special interests in the Federal government who would love to get a massive enforcement mechanism out of the illegal immigration “crisis,” up to and including a cabinet-level department. I need hardly mention the likelihood of wish-list legislation, loaded with earmarks for (at best) tangentially-related projects.

  7. Another of the perceptual risks to be managed is my inability to properly spell “perceptual” prior to having had my second cup of coffee. See Turtledove’s King of All for what things might be like if caffeine were illegal.

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