Here’s the next installment of my series on immigration reform. Please remember that this is a broad review of some of my thinking right now, not a dissertation.
Undocumented immigration has been a problem since World War II when the bracero program started bringing guest workers from Mexico into the U.S. Ironically, legal immigration, which provided for standard labor benefits, made production costs too high for American businesses, so illegal immigration made good business sense. Whenever there are labor supply gaps because of geography, low wages or climate, migratory labor is the most pragmatic solution, and illegal migration the most lucrative. For some.
Much of migration theory revolves around the “push-pull” concept, where hardship in one place “pushes” people into the migration stream, while better conditions elsewhere “pull” those migrants toward them. This is the source of almost all legal and illegal migration to the States. No matter where you are on the political spectrum here, you have to agree that the U.S. has a lot more to offer (and is reputed to offer even more) than the homeland of most immigrants. In many cases, the disparity between us and them creates a combination of the forces of push and pull that becomes an irresistible storm surge crashing against an eroding and irreparable sea wall.
I grant that large, unmanageable populations of newcomers present security problems, especially in a hostile environment of marginalization and the failure of many migrants to realize the exaggerated expectations they had before arrival. However, traditional push-pull migration is not where we have the real security problem. The perpetrators of 9/11 did not come to America for better jobs and a better future for their children.
It is grossly ironic that, in the name of national security, we have spent undisclosed billions of dollars on an unpopular, factually unfounded war in Iraq, when that same money could have fixed the immigration security problem several times over. That money would have been spent more effectively on better vigilance of persons and goods at our borders and other points of entry, more coordinated and creative information management, and better recruiting and training of the professionals who have to rely too much on subjective profiling and the humiliating treatment of “suspects.”
When we passengers have to spend hours in multiple security lines, we all tend to look a little scary, and inspectors tend to get a lot more crabby. I wonder if the number of persons of interest correlates in any way with the length of passenger waits or with the number of hours an inspector has spent on her feet. We need an approach that researches and integrates safe, efficient, and humane surveillance of all who cross our borders.
After years of traveling between Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and the US, I have seen plenty first hand, and have heard reports from honorable Middle Eastern and Latin friends, indicating that too often our unevenly applied security measures are spent looking for terrorist profiles in the wrong faces and in the wrong places. These measures alienate our nation’s friends and only feed our xenophobia, just the destabilizing effects that terrorists desire.
We are experts at protecting ourselves from the past threats, but this only challenges our enemies to develop more creative and diabolical tactics, forcing us to play catch up. Now that we all take off our shoes at airports, do we really expect another shoe bomber? Besides, which profile will protect us from another Timothy McVeigh?