While Congress is holding hearings on immigration, let’s learn about illegal immigration from someone who just returned from a Rio Grande Valley border tour.
My colleague Chip Faulkner, who rarely takes a real vacation, surprised me last year with enthusiasm for taking a week-long tour of the Arizona border with the Center for Immigration Studies. He found it so interesting that he joined the Center staff again this year to visit the Texas border. Here are some of the things he told me when he returned.
As Obama releases his own immigration bill with its “path to citizenship” for illegals who are already here, we’ve been assured by Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano that the borders are secure. Chip saw mostly open desert between Arizona and Mexico, and mostly unsecured Rio Grande on the southernmost Texas border. Meeting with local ranchers and other homeowners he was told that her claim was “absurd”, that there are still a lot of illegals crossing the shallow river with its multiple S-curves that make this relatively easy.
Substantially increasing the number of Border Patrol agents has not solved the problem. They were hired so quickly that adequate background checks were not done; one of them was found to be an illegal immigrant himself!
Locals say that most Washington politicians/bureaucrats are “clueless” when it comes to knowing the concerns of the Americans living along these borders: They visit for a photo-op, stay a day or two, ignore what people are trying to tell them, and then fly back to DC to set policy that doesn’t help. This was true of officials from both the Bush and Obama administrations.
Chip missed his flight to San Antonio because of the blizzard so he didn’t get to the earliest part of the itinerary, the city of Eagle Pass, directly across the Rio Grande from the Mexican city of Piedras Negras, “where Yee Haw meets Ole!” There the group had found a new border fence near downtown, finally impeding what had been an easy illegal crossing of humans and drugs from Mexico.
Chip caught up in Laredo. Over the next few days, they drove along the border, walked to the banks of the river which was at most 200 feet across, saw no fences, Border Patrol or anything else that would prevent a crossing. They did see another fence at the University of Texas in Brownsville, and visited the immigration court in Harlingen where thousands of cases are adjudicated every year. Further on is Falfurrias, the location of one of the most active Border Patrol checkpoints in the country. Chip’s group met with local ranchers there whose lands are routinely trespassed by illegals who seek to circumvent the checkpoint.
One property owner said that he’s seen a 500-percent increase in people coming through his property since Obama announced the “Dream Act” last summer; other said that there are more OTM’s (Other than Mexicans) from Central America now.
Though there’s still some dispute over this, many Texans think that drug smuggling has taken precedence over human trafficking for the cartel the last several years. One official told of a 15 year-old Mexican caught bringing drugs over the river; it was discovered that he made $5,000 per trip, making three trips per day.
None of this sounds “secure” to me, Secretary Napolitano.
I have libertarian friends who think that anyone should be allowed to come here. This can’t work, logistically; we can’t fit in all the people from Central and South America, then Africa, then Bangladesh, who would find the United States a better place to live than where they are – especially when you consider not just job opportunities, but various welfare benefits that, incredibly, are available to illegal immigrants.
Of course in a perfect libertarian world, there would be little in the way of government welfare for anyone, so that would itself be a strong beginner immigration policy, similar to what existed when our grandparents (as well as most Mexican-American citizens) emigrated from various countries; only the strong would come and add value to the American melting-pot.
Until then, borders must be tightly closed before there can be an immigration bill that addresses the illegals who are already here. We hear about veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who can’t find jobs in this economy; why not assign or hire them to guard the border until more fence can be built? In a libertarian world, there would be plenty of Americans not getting extended unemployment benefits who can build it quickly. They’d probably also be also doing other jobs that we’re told Americans don’t want to do, like picking crops.
The Mexican government might be glad to co-operate with our returning National Guard in a joint venture to wipe out the border drug cartels; with them gone, Mexico might finally become a country that fewer people want to leave, as I remember it when I lived there as an exchange student in 1961.
As the U.S.A.., according to President Obama, loses all viability as an operating entity (as well as its mind) unless it can tax itself into prosperity, some Americans may be looking for a country that has learned some hard lessons and is ahead of us in facing fiscal realities. Mexico, Ole!
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation and a regular contributor to the opinion pages.