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Real Immigration Reform Means More Than Building Fences

While the House of Representatives refuses to consider immigration reform that would give opportunity to undocumented workers in the United States until we first make the US-Mexico border look like a high-tech version of the Berlin Wall, complete with drones and cyborg warriors, thousands of human beings are risking their lives and being exploited by human traffickers Maureen Meyer described the state of the US-Mexican border as well as anyone back in 2012:

Those most affected by the border’s transformation are the population that least fits the definition of a “threat” to be feared: the hundreds of thousands of migrants who continue to cross the border on a yearly basis. These individuals’ motivations may differ: a deported mother may be desperate to see her U.S.-born children or a young man may hope for a chance to reach the middle class. But it is certain that many will continue to make the treacherous journey. And they will do so despite the risks they face, even risks-being robbed, raped, maimed, or dying in a desert-that are more befitting of the 13th century than the 21st.

And it’s not preventing migration. It’s just increasing the desperation of those trying to get to the United States and giving politicians an excuse to build pork-barrel projects in their increasingly militarized districts. Despite fears to the contrary, giving migrants legal access to American labor markets would help American workers. Labor organizer Maria Durazoexplains the argument that might surprise American progressives:

“It’s bad for American workers for there to be 11 million-plus people out there working with no rights,” Durazo said.”[These immigrants] are subject to exploitation. They are subject, as a result of that, to accept lower
wages. They are subject to working in dangerous conditions. That is bad for those immigrant workers, and it is bad for American workers as a whole.”

The militarized border also encourages migrant workers, who would probably prefer to return to their home countries, to stay longer, as Professor Mark Williams notes in his 2012 book Understanding U.S.-Latin American Relations: Theory and History,

because of tighter border surveillance, those who managed to cross over were staying longer in the United States than before the new policies began, and more of them were choosing to resettle permanently, rather
than pass back and forth in time with shifts in the U.S. labor demand.

Migration patterns are far more logical than the nativists would have you believe. More workers came from Mexico and other Central American economies when their economies were weaker and ours was stronger; fewer come when the US economy can’t support the additional labor.

What about national security, you ask? The militarized border has done little more than waste resources. Rather than focusing our energy on the threats of transnational crime, human trafficking, and even terrorism, we’ve got tens of thousands of Border Patrol agents preventing people who will do important work and improve the American economy from getting into the country. Professor Kevin Johnson, in his 2009 book, Opening the Floodgates: Why America Needs to Rethink its Borders and Immigration

Terrorism, crime, and serious public-health risks are specific threats to the national security and public safety that the nation must consider. In the open-borders system proposed here,controls would be much narrower than the current restrictionist regime in place. As a moral matter, they should be based on individual
assessments, rather than on group judgments based on statistical probabilities.

It’s time for Congress to act. It’s time to move past nativist hysteria and time to reject yet another episode of the same shameful immigrant restrictions that have plagued American history. Does anyone look back on the Chinese Exclusion Act with pride today? Swell with pride at memories of the way the U.S. treated my ancestors from Ireland and Eastern Europe?

We not only have a moral obligation to prevent the exploitation and deaths of these migrants; we have a policy imperative to grow our economy and protect the United States from the threat of crime. The current policy on the borders has absolutely failed on all of these fronts.

As a final note, we should probably go farther than the current Senate bill proposes. In fact, Professor Johnson argues that the real answer is an open border:

Rather than focus on keeping people out of the country, the U.S. government should facilitate the entry of migrants, while at the same time striving to deny entry to true dangers to society. As the following chapters in this book demonstrate, open borders are better for the United States morally, economically, politically, and socially. They also are more humane to immigrants who for the most part want nothing more than access to the American Dream. Easy entry into the United States is more in keeping than the current restrictive admissions system with the nation’s devotion to the freedom, liberty, and equality endorsed in the U.S. Constitution.

It’s an interesting–and compelling argument.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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  • Excellent post. And a good argument for helping improve the economies in the Latin American nations from which the immigrants — many de facto economic refugees, in my opinion — hail.

  • I think it is time for a reposting of what it says on the Statue of Liberty. A lot of our families either saw it or snuck to this country themselves many generations ago. any Montanan’s whose family first immigrated here should know those words as well as their lineage:

    Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
    With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
    Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
    A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
    Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
    Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
    Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
    The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
    “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
    With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

    The New Colossus” is a sonnet by American poet Emma Lazarus

    Those that do not hear these words inscribed on their hearts, have forgotten what America is.

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