Bayonets on the Border

Funny thing about the old Soviet Union, the military hordes at the border weren’t there to turn back people fighting to come in. There weren’t any such people; there were only people who wanted out. Thus, the presence of the troops, whose job was to keep the home folks bottled tighter than ketchup, unable to seek opportunities outside a land with none to offer. So in the 21st century, with Cuba. So with North Korea.

With President Bush beefing up "manpower and technology at the border" in pursuit of more effective immigration control, it helps, possibly, to think about the dynamics at work in what we understand as our immigration crisis. A whole lot of people want to come and live here. Don’t we sometimes wonder why, given that the why of a thing bears on what we can reasonably do in response.

The "why" is because of all the right things the United States of America is presently doing, and has been doing, and likely will keep on doing, for the well-being of its own people, notwithstanding distractions like the projected dispatch of 6,000 National Guardsmen on a mission of immigration control.

Immigration, we ought to remember, is the sincerest form of flattery. People see us, like what we’re doing and want to live and work here. We ought to remember that’s not bad. The guards on the border in Cuba and North Korea are reminders of the awfulness of the systems that make Cubans and North Koreans want to flee, according to the precedents observed at the Berlin Wall and elsewhere along the Iron Curtain.

None of which argues or cries aloud for the flattening of America’s borders to enable the inrush of all the world’s peoples. That way lies chaos and national destruction. But just a minute here. What kind of solution is Bayonets on the Border? If you remember why people are coming — for jobs and opportunity — you know it’s no kind of solution. The best way of changing these people’s minds is to make these United States thoroughly unattractive to people desirous of making a better life for themselves — a North American version, perhaps, of the old Soviet Union.

We need, for that, to start taking away basic freedoms, especially economic ones, such as the right to save and invest and make a profit. We need a judicial system rigged against the productive and imaginative. We need to nationalize basic industries and freeze wages and prices. We need to clamp down on capitalistic success, partly through confiscatory taxation. We need to stir up class warfare and jealousy of the affluent. We might be on the way already had we elected Howard Dean president two years ago.

Well, we didn’t. What, therefore, do we do instead? Not guard our 3000-mile national borders better, not to mention our interminable seacoasts, inasmuch as that couldn’t work. The porosity of national borders isn’t at all an argument against guarding them properly; it is a caution against relying too profoundly on enforcement as over against logic.

Logic points to the need — if bayonets and surveillance are inadequate to the task — for a guest worker program that tracks those who come here and regularizes their participation in the labor market. Toward this need the president nodded affirmatively Monday night.

To the extent we have a crisis now, it’s because Democratic subservience to the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations) obliged the termination 40 years ago of the program we then had and haven’t really replaced. The unions didn’t want the competition, so the bracero program had to go. And look at the wonderful consequences. Without a federal program to organize the supply of foreign workers, potential laborers took matters into their own hands. They up and came anyway. Nothing anybody does about immigration is going to satisfy all native-born or naturalized Americans. The range of wants and desires is too broad. Measured, nonetheless, alongside competing remedies (including Castro’s), military enforcement looks quite the weakest and least hopeful of the lot.

Americans used to understand these things better, back when they more relished robustly their reputation for pragmatism — for doing that which worked, as opposed to that which just sounded good. Bayonets on the Border, for instance.