Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Erickson Report, Page 4: Following Up: US borders have never been "secure"

Following Up: US borders have never been "secure"

Finally for today, we’re Following Up on something.

Last time in taking a longer look at immigration, I said I intended to expand on two points: one, that our borders have always been porous; two, that there is a case to be made for open borders.

As it turns out, I don't have enough time for both, so I'm going to have to put the second point off until our next show. But I will get to it because even while I am not at all convinced that open borders are workable, it is an interesting and definitely arguable notion that deserves to be part of the debate.

Okay. I want to note at the top that in discussing how we have never had "secure control" of our borders, I am relying heavily on some work done by Peter Andreas, a professor of political science at Brown University, who says "The unauthorized movement of people is an American tradition."

In fact, it started even before there was a US: In 1763, King George III prohibited colonists from moving west of the Appalachian Mountains to settle. The colonists simply ignored him.

In the 1780s, Congress passed ordinances with the idea of raising revenue, deterring squatters, and promoting orderly westward migration. But a flood of unlawful settlers undermined the plans to the point where in 1807 Congress passed The Intrusion Act, which criminalized illegal settlement and authorized fines and imprisonment. It didn't work. It didn't work so much what became Vermont and Maine were born of squatters.

That pattern repeated itself for decades: illegal settlement, intense (and sometimes violent) resistance to government authority, and finally official resignation to the facts on the ground. For example, the westward migration included European immigrants who entered the country legally but then settled illegally. Unable to deter or remove those settlers, Congress passed “preemption” acts in 1830 and 1841. These were essentially pardons for illegal settlement, providing legitimate land deeds at discounted prices.

I had previously mentioned the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which barred the entry into the US of Chinese laborers. Turned away at ports of entry, Chinese immigrants simply went to Canada and came in through our northern border.

After the US successfully pressured Canada to deny entry to Chinese, the people-smuggling business moved south - to Mexico. The US-Mexico border already had a history as a route for smuggling goods in both directions; now, it became a gateway for smuggling people as well.

Significantly, Chinese immigrants were not the only “undesirables” coming in through Mexico. By the last decades of the 19th century, Lebanese, Greeks, Italians, Slavs, and Jews, all turned away at official ports of entry, slipped  in from Mexican. Worries over these immigrants was so acute that when the US Border Patrol was created in 1924, its main target was Europeans.

So now we have the descendants of those "undesirables" being, in Andreas' phrase, "unremarkably American" while the Mexicans and Central Americans who were once encouraged as a source of cheap labor have become the undesirables du jour.

US borders today are more heavily policed, closely monitored, and difficult to cross than ever. And officials continue to dream of "secure borders" that never existed even as they are occasionally forced to face reality, as they did most recently in 1986 with, as I mentioned last time, a measure that enabled 2.6 million undocumented immigrants to obtain legal status.

Expecting people to stop coming is insane.

Expecting them to stop finding ways to get in is insane.

Expecting those already here to leave is insane.

Any sane immigration policy must start from those three undeniable facts.

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