The Core Dump

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[By Nic Lindh on Saturday, 02 August 2014]

Red immigration meat in the Arizona primaries

There are ways to fix the illegal immigration problem. They don’t involve yelling at children in buses. Nic explains.

Arizona is electing a new governor this year and the primary elections are upon us. This means the candidates are playing to their base and since there isn’t a snow flake’s chance in hell of a Democrat being elected governor here without Joe Arpaio’s blessing, the spotlight is on the Republican field. And as you’d predict, the Republican field is playing a hard game of being further to the right than everybody else. Which in Arizona is far, far indeed.

The candidates seem to have all settled on illegal immigration and, to a lesser extent, ObamaCare, as their push-button issues for this primary season, with all of them promising to be harsher on illegal immigrants than the next.

Which is interesting, in a sad way, since the border is a federal issue and something state governors have no control over. You know, what with the Constitution. Which of course hasn’t stopped any of the current crop of candidates from laying out their plans to seal the border. Which, again, they legally can’t do. Sigh.

But the base wants red meat, and red meat is what the base is going to get.

Former GoDaddy executive Jones has perhaps the most coherent idea (faint praise indeed), where she’d spend a bunch of money to build a fence, deploy troops, etc. and then send the bill to the federal government.

Uh-huh. That would go over just as well as my daughter sending me a bill for labor she performed doing her chores.

It’s pretty amazing. But then, they’re playing for the base of extremely agitated old and not very educated white people who want the brown people stopped, dammit! Stopped! What part of illegal don’t you understand?

The border between the US and Mexico is estimated at 1,933 miles long. For comparison, the Wall of China is 5,500 miles long. And the Wall of China was mostly built to keep people in. Fencing the entire border between the US and Mexico would cost an astronomical sum. And it turns out the state of Arizona is quite broke. (And New Mexico and Texas aren’t exactly full of chests of gold.)

Building a Berlin Wall across the entire border is a ridiculous idea as anybody who’s glanced at a map knows.

But there are realistic ways to significantly lower illegal immigration.

The far-right crowd running for Arizona governor is correct in that the federal government is doing a poor job of enforcing the border. It’s notoriously porous and most of the border defense is security theater.

But haven’t you wondered: Why is that? One thing I’ve learned in life is that when a bunch of people come up with a product and it’s bad, it’s not because those people are uniquely stupid. It’s that they are operating under a set of constraints I don’t know about. Using that idea, why is current US border security so bad?

Well, duh, because the people in charge don’t want it to be good.

Think about illegal immigration as a push-pull. There are people who desperately need to leave the places they were born. In most places we would call them “refugees” but in America today we have decided to call them “illegals.” Be that as it may. Then there is a pull: America desperately needs exploitable people to work in the agriculture and service industries; people to mow golf greens, clean hotel rooms, pick melons, and clean cars. The current economics of those industries can not work if they have to pay their workers the minimum wage. Can. Not.

The agriculture and service industries in America need an exploitable class of workers.

Those are the jobs illegals come to America to get. Not your job, white guy. Truly terrible jobs that a civilized society would outlaw. Those are the jobs the scary brown people come here to steal.

And that’s why the border stays porous: Those industries need a steady stream of workers to replace the ones they wear out. And those industries make more than enough money to influence Congress.

So, you have a push of people escaping unbearable conditions and a pull of companies needing workers to exploit. and the stream of people across the border will continue as long as that is the case.

Building a Quixotic fence across a 1,993 mile border is a delusional fantasy, but if you’re serious about stopping the flow of illegal immigration, here are two things that would work:

  1. Nation building in Mexico and Latin America to make those countries not be unbearable shitholes. They don’t have to become utopias by any means, just not so horrible that risking your life is worth it to leave. This would cost way less than we already spent in Iraq and Afghanistan and would actually improve lives.

  2. Make it a felony to hire an illegal worker. This would dry up the job market for illegals very quickly, and without jobs the stream of people crossing the border would stop. Problem solved, right? Except it would mean putting wealthy white people in jail, so, good luck getting that passed.

Those are the two things fueling illegal immigration: “Life where I am sucks so bad I’m willing to die to get out of here” and “I need some people working for nothing that I can kick around”. Fix either one and the problem gets better; fix both and the problem disappears.

But for the Arizona primary voters it’s so much more satisfying to imagine an Alamo where they’re standing tall next to their mobility scooter, wrapped in the flag, pointing their AR-15s at the dusky crowd of snarling illegals, yelling, “Here’s my damn fence!”

The main thing the What part of illegal don’t you understand crowd willfully refuses to acknowledge is that these are human beings making a rational choice. (Yes, it turns out Mexicans are people.) They are mostly uneducated, but they are not idiots. These are people looking around and saying to themselves, “My situation is bad enough that making a journey that may well kill me and best case ends up in indentured servitude, looking over my shoulder for the cops every day of my life, is better than my current existence.”

Illegal immigrants aren’t mindless zombies. They are humans. And they are making the kind of horrible choice I sure hope my privileged white ass never has to make.

That’s why they are coming. Things are that bad where they are.

It’ll probably make the angry old white people even angrier to learn that illegal immigrants aren’t fueled by some idealized idea of America the beautiful. They are running from a fire, not running to a paradise. Not to put words in anybody’s mouth, of course, but when your house is on fire you don’t dream of a mansion—you just have to get out. And America is right there, a place where you’re not starving or having a smirking gang member tell you your daughter is going to be raped next.

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