Where There is Smoke…

It is no secret that I support securing our southern border due to security concerns. The situation as it exists now, where there are thousands of places where anyone can cross with law enforcement being none the wiser, makes us far too vulnerable.

Critics of my point of view usually point out that illegal immigrants from Mexico are hardly Islamic terrorists bent on jihad, and that my concerns are alarmist and unrealistic. They point out that fanatics bent on forging a global Caliphate will find little support in Mexico, a country with a long tradition of Catholic domination.

For some reason, I donít find their arguments to be very reassuring.

The news article linked to above hardly says that there are terror cells waiting to swim across the Rio Grande with their suicide belts primed and ready to go. But Hezbollah supporters in Catholic dominated Mexico?

We are engaged in a global struggle between mutually opposing ideologies. Our opponents are resourceful, dispersed, secretive and determined. It is worth our while to try and fix our vulnerabilities before they are exploited by the enemy, even if our efforts prove to be bothersome to those illegal immigrants who have no intention of committing terrorist acts.

21 thoughts on “Where There is Smoke…”

  1. The logistical problems associated with physically securing the border are daunting: Great distances sparsely inhabited and so on.

    And if Islamic radicalism is concern, you might consider focusing on the much longer, far more porous border with Canada, a country with a substantially larger Muslim population than Mexico. Besides being more plausible, such a focus may discourage people of accusing you of having it in for brown-skinned people.

    The political problems surrounding illegal immigration are hardly less thorny than the physical border security ones.

    A simple, effective, rapid, rational solution to illegal immigration is to make employing illegal immigrants a felony punishable by deportation and/or significant prison terms and monetary fines.

    But Republicans won’t support that, because too many of their constituents own businesses that rely heavily on illegal labor to cut costs and widen profit margins. Democrats won’t support it because too many of their constituents are sympathetic to illegal workers out of solidarity with their ethnicity or lack of socioeconomic status.

    This leaves illegal immigration as a problem no one with power has any motivation to solve.

    A much better start would be finding and implementing ways to prevent a dirty bomb from entering the U.S. in a cargo container. I understand that Bush has squelched that idea because it would slow down commerce too much. He’s probably right to do so.

    There’s never going to be anything close to full security against terrorist attack. All proposed measures deserve careful cost/benefit analysis.

  2. Not unrelated note:

    Mexico needs to recognize that the real villain is its corrupt system; rather than solving its own economic problems, Mexico prefers to complain about the U.S. That we might want to secure our borders seems a reasonable given.

    I’ve been consistently impressed by the work ethic, the care with which it is practiced, the strong familial values of the Mexican immigrants in our area. (Texas may well be different than California.)

    But any culture that sends many single males off to earn money to send back home is likely to end up with far too many knife fights. (In the old days of the draft, when some towns with nearby bases became disproportionally young single & male, bars near bases were famous for their fights. This is more biological than cultural.)

    Vicente Fox’s threats & anger are unattractive. The Mexican president should be ashamed that his people want to leave, feel obliged to work elsewher to support their families and, incidentally, the Mexican economy. We bought into NAFTA because we thought solving Mexico’s economy would help our security. But a growing economy needs a transparent, just rule of law. Instead of complaining about the wall, Fox might take some responsibility.

    It is attitudes like his that make me considerably more sympathetic to James’s point.

  3. Personally, I don’t like to bring the terrorism debate into the immigration/border debate. Were there never an Al Qaeda there would still be plenty of reason to gaurd our border.

  4. Holy crap, I’m finding myself in general agreement with Liar.

    Well, except for: “A simple, effective, rapid, rational solution to illegal immigration is to make employing illegal immigrants a felony punishable by deportation and/or significant prison terms and monetary fines.”

    There is no reason whatsoever to believe that such a measure would be effective, and lots of reasons to believe that it would immediately become just another unenforceable law. An analogy to narcotics Prohibition suggests itself, to say the least. Makes a great stick to beat on the GOPers and rouse the Dem faithful, though, so we keep hearing it.

    I’ll counterbalance that with my main area of agreement: “All proposed measures deserve careful cost/benefit analysis.” Leveraging antiterror measures with anti-immigrant hysteria may seem like a good tactic, but once again — and here my criticism is directed at ostensibly conservative mainstream opinion — the most likely result is a diversion of effort into completely ineffective intiatives, a diversion which both fails to manage the actual risk and leaves us with fewer resources to do so.

    Much, much more discussion — in quantity and quality — of risk management in this area is called for.

  5. Personally, I don’t like to bring the terrorism debate into the immigration/border debate.

    I agree with you in that I think framing the debate in terms of terrorism alone is irrelevant. Organized terrorist groups represent a small section of the possible threats.

    The first link above leads to a prior post of mine. In that essay I mentioned how drug smugglers were bribing corrupt, heavily armed units of the Mexican Army to provide muscle while they moved their product across the border. They have actively threatened law enforcement officers inside our territory, and I’m worried about someone pulling a trigger.

    The reason why I mention terrorists is because those who dismiss these concerns always bring it up. Can’t have any terrorists in Mexico, they say, because they would stand out too much and wouldn’t be able to find anyone willing to provide support.

    Terrorists might stand out from the general population, but it isn’t credible to claim that they wouldn’t be able to find a helping hand if they look in the right quarters.


  6. “In that essay I mentioned how drug smugglers were bribing corrupt, heavily armed units of the Mexican Army to provide muscle while they moved their product across the border. They have actively threatened law enforcement officers inside our territory, and I’m worried about someone pulling a trigger.”

    Bang on. Alien smuggling is a business and the religious demographics of Mexico are comlletely irrelvant. It takes only a few people to infiltrate and set up cells, and it is irrelvant how vanishingly samll a percentage they are of an overall flood of migrants. That is the security concern.

    Especially in northern Mexico drug cartels are the effective organs of local govenment. They have worked hard in the last few years to bring the very lucrative alien smuggling trade under thier control. They had already brought local army commanders under their control years before. The US recognizes this state of affairs. This is why there was no huge outrage last year when a platoon-sized group of Mexicans troops were detained well inside Texas. Formally it was an act of war, but everyone knew better, that even if Mexican soldiers were involved, the Mexican government wasn’t. So no war.

    Which means that the Southwest Border is an open highway for Chinese migrants, AQ or Hizbullah operatives, or whoever has the cash.

  7. IMO too much of the public debate confounds the issues of terrorism and illegal immigration. It is conceivable that anti-illegal-immigration schemes will conflict with anti-terror measures, as I suggested when I linked to this interesting press release.

    Note the dismissive responses to my post. Such responses suggest to me that many people will not bother to examine seriously the possibility of inherent conflict between immigration enforcement and anti-terrorism measures. IMO policies enacted without considering such issues are likely to be significantly flawed.

  8. The terrorists aren’t stupid. They know they can easily get in through the southern border. I expect the next time there’s a big attack, it will be found that they came in from Mexico. That’s my prediction.

  9. Great stuff, Jonathan. I note the general principle, from the article you linked: “… the more we can encourage otherwise law abiding people within our borders to participate in the system the easier it will be to identify those that pose a true threat.”

    In other words, busting employers and deporting aliens for engaging in voluntary economic activities, the current Democratic nostrum, is exactly the wrong thing to do if we want to manage the risk of truly destructive activities.

  10. Ginny,

    The illegal community in TX feels very different to me than the one in CA. I think this is for a couple of reasons. I also think it’s something that should be talked about more, because any worthy discussion on the subject will go to the roots of illegal immigration’s problems.

    Too long of a topic to write about in comments though.

  11. GFK – An excellent point, and one that I believe to be severely underrepresented in most discussions of immigration. TX ≠ CA in many ways, not least the “abundance mentality” of TX vs the “scarcity mentality” of CA. Illegal immigration is far from a unitary phenomenon.

  12. ‘”abundance mentality” of TX vs the “scarcity mentality” of CA’

    Jay, can you expand a little more on this and how you feel it relates to immigrants?

    I felt a different in ca/tx immigration was due to two main factors:

    1. The pre-existing hispanic community (tx has had a “tejano” population since it’s secession, where ca didn’t. Ca’s hispanic population came about, I believe, during wwii and a large part of it remained “chicano” and remained in ghetto type situations, never really assimilating.)

    2. The types of jobs illegals do. In CA, a large number of illegals comprise a labor class that serves only the elite, eg. silicon valley, san francisco, rich socal communities wanting cheap labor for yardwork, etc. Or they do seasonal work for big agriculture. That exists in TX, but not to the same extant and there certainly isn’t that stratification.

  13. Texas is tougher & more egalitarian. It also has less patience with flawed social science theories.

    Example A: another take on immigration. “The Borjas Blame Game,” reviewed by Diana Furchtgott-Roth (via ALDaily.) She summarizes Borjas’ argument:

    Low-skilled immigrants arrive in America and take jobs away from African-Americans. Due to the lack of job opportunities, African-Americans are drawn into illegal activities, get arrested, and are then put in prison.

    A problem with this argument is that “young black men began withdrawing from the labor force in the 1960s, when the share of immigrants in the labor force was less than 1%.”

    This follows Borjas’ increasing inability to support his earlier argument – that immigration was pulling down wages.

    If we don’t face facts we can’t find solutions. Agenda-driven research & sloppy, sentimental arguments have damaged us. Now, when we have some real problems to deal with, we are lacking both knowledge and the techniques to make distinctions, acknowledge & consider opposition. We talk about critical thinking, but we’ve lost its essence. (And I suspect government funding has encouraged us to lose it.)

  14. I think Borjas has a point.

    Illegals lower wages for low-skilled workers and do obviously take some jobs that americans would take otherwise, albeit at higher wages. Since blacks have a much higher percentage of low-skilled workers than whites, blacks are more affected my immigration than whites.

    I also can say from my personal experience as a teen working blue-collar jobs in soCal that immigrants were competition for jobs I was taking and it wasn’t just their “work ethic” that gave them an edge.* There is one big advantage for an illegal competing with an american kid, illegals don’t talk back, in fact they can’t, because they don’t speak the language. I saw alot of older white managers start hiring illegals for just this reason. They wanted to feel like “el jefe” and were afraid of hiring US kids that were smarter than them. Happened all the time.

    * Mexicans, as a rule, have crappy work ethic. All latin americans do, for that matter. Now a 30 yo illegal with kids may want a job more and may work harder than the 20yo american he is competing with, but to say mexicans “work hard” is to deny the very real fact that mexican’s prize graft and cronyism over hard work. Take a look south of the border if you disagree.

  15. I’m not an economist, so I’m not going to argue with you, GFK. However, Diana Furchtgott-Roth did. What is your impression of the series of years & stats she uses? (She, too, may be agenda-driven; certainly, there are plenty of people who want to keep a flow of immigrants in and her readings help make their case.)

    And I wouldn’t argue against the fence – I think a nation needs to control the flow of immigration.

    I have friends and certainly acquaintances who would agree with you. My observations have been that a system that is honest, transparent, and just is one that encourages appropriate work habits. It is true, I don’t like the politics nor the work ethic in parts of the valley, run in that traditional manner. And that is why I would just as soon the system wasn’t overtaken.

    Our school dropped a contract with a cleaning service because it hired illegals; the one we now have may be “legal” but besides theft (which never happened before), nothing is cleaned. We are now asked to sign up for “cleaning days.”

    I’ve never been in a position to hire illegals except indirectly, but I was in a position to hire a lot of young college kids. I tended not to find the ones that thought they were smarter than me as competent as those that thought it appropriate to at least pretend I was the boss. Some of that was my attitude but theirs toward their job became apparent in customer complaints.

  16. Looking at my earlier comment, I think suffered from being on a tangent and a soapbox at the same time. For that I apologize.

    I could dig into Diana’s article, but I think I’d again suffer the same fate.

    I’ll just say that my opinion is that her piece is very weak, her logic is laughable and her best lines are when she’s calling Borjas racist and painting immigration opponents as xenophobes.

    That’s not to say Borjas isn’t wrong, just that Diana isn’t right.

  17. A possibly useless response, but hey, what’s blog commenting for? — here goes:
    My strong impression from decades of acquaintance and friendship with a passel of Texans and a somewhat smaller number of Californians is that Texans are far more likely to believe that there’s plenty of everything to go around, and Californians are far more likely to worry about running out of something or other. There are, of course, individual exceptions.
    This makes Texans both more welcoming of immigrants and less likely to be seduced by the wiles of multiculturalism. I’d love to see stats on intermarriage for the two states. My falsifiable prediction is that anglos and latinos intermarry more in TX than in CA.

  18. I find the argument you are offering entirely unconvincing.

    Consider that the number of legal visitors to North America, mostly the U.S., runs to many millions a year. There is simply no way, short of closing our borders to practically everyone, that we can prevent al Quaeda or someone similar from getting ten or a hundred or a thousand people into the country. If they have the resources to be a serious problem, they surely can afford to buy fake or stolen passports, or to get a friendly government to provide them with real ones.

    The same point applies to bringing in stuff–assuming they bother, instead of simply buying arms and the needed chemicals here and mixing them up. Smuggling substantial quantities of arms and explosives into the U.S. by air might be hard–but consider the enormous quantity of goods that come in by sea, largely in containers. We don’t and can’t inspect all of them well enough to be sure that none of them contain contraband–and moving bulk cargo by sea is a lot easier than moving it by land across the Mexican border.

    The argument linking control of the Mexican border to keeping out terrorists is at best the result of not actually thinking about the question, at worse sheer demagoguery.

  19. I find the argument you are offering entirely unconvincing.

    Before leaving a comment on a post I come across, I always do my research. This means I click on the links in the post, read whatever they lead to, and I even read the comments left previously. I find that this prevents a fair amount of embarrassment.


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