Why is Immigration Such a Hot-Button Now?

There’s no denying that immigration is the main issue on the political radar right now. Some apparently find no reason for immigration’s sudden emergence. For instance Jon Henke, blogger at QandO, in a column for TCS tries his best to understand why immigration has “suddenly” come to dominate the airspace. He goes through the “threats to our way of life” argument, zips past the security argument, and never really arrives anywhere. Except to insist that the border has suddenly become an issue, and that the reason for that is mystifying. He runs through language like “nativist” and “restrictionist,” manages to leave out “racist”…but just barely, though it’s implicit in the mystery itself. Yet he never makes the case for his own position, which appears to be on the open borders bandwagon.

I’d love to hear someone from that side make a cogent argument that having open borders in the middle of a war is a good idea. And I’d love for anyone on the open borders side to acknowledge the recent history of the issue. Or to acknowledge that the previous seven amnesties since 1986 have not curbed illegal immigration, and have made it worse. And I’d love to hear the argument that rewarding illegal behavior won’t beget more illegal behavior. Many on the libertarian right are usually quick to note correctly that when government encourages a behavior by rewarding it, you usually get more of that behavior. Except when it comes to immigration. When it comes to immigration, it’s remarkable how many on the right adopt the tactics of the left–smear first, ignore the facts, engage in spin and pretend history has nothing to do with the present. They also pretend that issues–war with Iraq for the left, immigration for the open borders right–have suddenly emerged ex nihilo, when they have been building in the open for years and everyone knows it.

But back to why it’s a hot issue now. First, it hasn’t “suddenly” become a hot issue. It has been simmering for years, and 9-11 turned up the heat. The boss of this blog wrote a book about the threat that our open borders pose in 2002. That’s four years ago. It’s called Invasion, if you’ve not heard of it.

She opens that book with the same story we told in Vent the other day–two terrorists who helped fly American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon used the illegal alien fake ID trade to get the documents they needed to get on that plane. That seems to be a pretty solid connection from illegal immigration to 9-11 to me. Further, most of the other hijackers took advantage of our lax visa policies to stay here, study flight and plan mayhem long after they were legally allowed to be here.

There was, by the way, a chance long before Bush came into office to have a way to stop the terrorists using the visa process. The Clinton administration in 1999 or 2000 was contemplating tying visa expiration to legal immigrants’ drivers licenses. Had that been in place, Mohammed Atta might have been flagged and detained when he was stopped by a traffic cop in Florida on April 26, 2001. George Stephanopolous shot down the proposal to tie visas to drivers licenses, persuading President Clinton that it would amount to racial profiling. When did immigrants become a race unto themselves? This back story in the war on terrorism comes from Gerald Posner’s 2004 book Why America Slept, if you’re interested in reading up on it.

Why was the Clinton administration even considering tying visas to drivers licenses? Because there was a recognition even then that abuse of the visa process and the general immigration process was a problem. The issue ramped up after 9-11 and came to a head in 2004, so much so that that the president felt forced to say something–anything–about it two years ago. That’s when he essentially embraced amnesty for illegals, and enraged his base. The Minutemen formed up and headed to the border soon after that. The administration remained tone deaf on the issue, and remains so to this day. The president did manage to call the Minutemen “vigilantes,” though. That was in March, 2005–more than a year ago.

So why is illegal immigration such a hot button now? It’s actually very simple. First, it’s an election year and that always stokes the passions, and it’s worse this year because the tone deaf administration actually decided to tout its stance on immigration as a way to fire up the base. Well, it did fire up the base–against the administration. Slick move.

Besides the obvious fact that we’re in an election year, illegal immigration is directly tied to 9-11–pick either border, because both are relevant. 9-11 is also tied to our visa programs (which are part of the immigration process) and to the fake ID trade that flourishes thanks to having millions of illegal immigrants here who need to fool authorities for one reason or another. It’s all tied together and no one has done anything about meaningful it in five years.

But why the urgency on the southern border and not the northern border? For starters, you don’t have the Canadians openly undermining even the most basic US border security concerns. From the Canadian side you don’t have the government publishing comic books to help illegal entry and you don’t have the Canadian government threatening to sue us if we defend our own border. And the Canadians, whatever else their flaws, are actually an ally in the WOT. They’re fighting alongside our troops in Afghanistan. Mexico–well, they have been awfully quiet about al Qaeda. They have done nothing to help the war and have criticized us at every turn in it.

You don’t have an Aztlan equivalent in Canada that wants to break off a chunk of the US. Mexico is descending into chaos, as it tends to do every 60 or so years. Nuevo Laredo is a lawless badland and it’s right across the border from Laredo, TX. You don’t have shootouts between police and drug cartels on the streets of Canada; you do have them in Nuevo Laredo routinely. That lawlessness may spill over into Texas at some point. The drug trade already has. Canada and Mexico simply aren’t the same, as any fool can see. One is a first-world peer that mostly solves its own issues, the other is a Third-World problem that exports its issues to us.

Henke’s article misses most of these relevant points. In fact, it misses all of them.

Both borders and our entire immigration system need fixing. It’s a shame and a travesty that in nearly five years since 9-11 so little has been done to correct the problems that contributed to 9-11. It all needs a serious overhaul, but of the two the southern border needs fixing the most, and the most urgently.

UPDATE: Henke calls me out! Yes, John, I read your article. I just didn’t find it persuasive. And I think he’s confused on terminology–“peaceful migrants” and illegal aliens aren’t the same thing. “Peaceful migrants” do not overrun the property of law-abiding citizens by the thousands every day. Illegal aliens from south of the border do that every single day. “Peaceful migrants” do not break into your property and territory and then demand that you give them all the rights of citizenship without accepting any of the responsibilities that go along with it. Did you miss those massive marches for rights a few weeks back? Do you realize that the illegal alien population makes up about a quarter of our prison population? “Peaceful migrants” don’t live their lives in ways that undermine our basic national security. Or do you think the coyote smugglers always make sure their lucrative human cargo is from Mexico as opposed to, say, the Middle East before shuttling them into the US?

In short, what we have coming in through Mexico to the tune of about 6,000 “peaceful migrants” a day would be called a refugee crisis if were going on anywhere else in the world. We need to get our heads around that. And we need to find ways to encourage resource-rich Mexico to join the first world, which is where it belongs. One reason I supported NAFTA is that I believed it would help raise Mexico and over time its southern neighbors up to our economic level. That obviously hasn’t happened, and it won’t as long as Mexico can just keep driving its unemployed our way.

I will, however, accept that Jon didn’t mean to imply the racist charge in his article. We have been slimed with that charge often lately (right, Macranger?). I appreciate that Jon wasn’t sliming us and I retract that reference in the original post.