3 Sep '16     home | more politics

The Border and Politics: a Brief Summary

President Reagan's amnesty in 1986 legalized almost 3 million illegal migrants. Incentives to migrate illegally into the United States remained, and the 3 million are said to have become 11 million – maybe more.

We have been told that in the last couple of years or so the flow of illegals into our country has diminished to a trickle, and we've been told that the net flow might be near zero as illegals have been returning south – which if true indicates a decline in incentive. But those leaving balancing those arriving does not itself suggest control of our southern border with Mexico.

And some of us would like something in place that guarantees that the net flow north will not increase again. According to Donald Trump, criminals and drugs are crossing into the United States. We need to have control of our border, he says, if we are to have a country. Criminals in this country illegally, he says, are today roaming our streets and are a danger to our citizens.

In his big immigration speech in Arizona on August 31, Trump proclaimed that a deportation task force will be hunting criminal aliens as soon as he takes office. The conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer asks, "Isn't that the enforcement priority of President Obama, heretofore excoriated as the ultimate immigration patsy? Other journalists have also pointed out that it is policy today, exercised energetically by our immigration and security services (including ICE), to expel criminals. But Trump complains that it is not being done fast enough. The impression is that Trump is tough and uncompromising regarding criminal aliens, that President Obama is too relaxed and that Hillary Clinton would be too soft.

The issue of criminality is separate from the issue of incentives, Trump speaks of aggressively appalling E-verify – a program that is supposed to prevent illegals from acquiring unauthorized employment. If illegals can't get such jobs and cannot support themselves, the theory goes, the incentive for crossing the border will be reduced. This, of course, applies only to those intent on doing honest labor.

Trump appeals to his followers by insisting that a wall will be built to prevent further illegal immigration. Krauthammer points out the efficacy of a good barrier:

The triple fence outside San Diego led to a 90 percent reduction in infiltration. Israel's border fence with the West Bank has produced a similar decline in terror attacks into Israel.

Others note that already border security is elaborate in its use of aerial and electronic surveillance, and the desert (according to Wikipedia) is killing "hundreds" of migrants every year. And today's New York Times describes the difficulty in detecting tunnels by the best equipment available. Some of us think that Trump's call for a Great Wall is a campaign ploy with little if any merit.

Posturing as the anti-establishment hero for the common people, Trump faces the question what to do about the supposedly 11 million who are illegal who are not criminals. Krauthammer writes:

In theory, [we] could do nothing. The problem ultimately solves itself as ... those who crossed the border originally are eventually replaced by [their US-born] children ...

The American public will accept today's illegal immigrants if it is convinced that this will be the last such cohort.

Trump, according to Krauthammer, has "retreated" from his call for mass deportations and has said, "we're not looking to hurt people." But he is also talking about sending the law-abiding illegal out of the country where they can apply and wait in line for legal re-entry behind others. This would involve mass deportation and splitting families.

Trump may ride on his ambiguity or he may clarify it and then maybe return to it. Who knows?

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