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Prior to 1965, there were no limits on immigration from Western countries. There were plenty of quotas placed on other groups, primarily for racist reasons, but not for neighbors to the South or North. In 1965 that changed. The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act began the militarization of the Southern border. It provided amnesty for undocumented immigrants as it also beefed up border security and, theoretically at least, held employers accountable for hiring undocumented workers. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 further militarized the southern border, contributing to the “crisis” we have today.
I put the word “crisis” in quotes because it is entirely of our own making. It is an ideological crisis, one that refuses to acknowledge there are other ways of thinking about immigration and the Southern border. People on both the right and the left are stuck in a discourse they think is the immutable truth–we have to protect our borders. Protect the border from what, or from whom? The militarization of our Southern border as a result of the legislation acts of 1965, 1986, and 1996 has created this problem. It’s time to start asking questions about the assumptions most people take for granted. Why not just let them in?
Right now we treat terrorists, drug dealers, and general trouble makers the same way we treat people seeking asylum, employment, and a better life for their family: we criminalize them. Of course we shouldn’t let criminals come across the border, but is it so difficult to differentiate criminals from hard working people? President Trump doesn’t want to solve the immigration crisis–his campaign was and is based upon the rhetoric of building a wall. Democrats, it seems, aren’t interested in solving the crisis either. Many of them take for granted the belief that we can’t just let anyone (who’s not a criminal) come in to our country. Both republicans and democrats, for the most part, are caught in an endless argument based upon the assumption we must keep people from crossing the Southern border. What if we challenged that basic assumption?
Let Them In: The Case for Open Borders, by conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Riley, makes the case for letting more people cross the Southern border. He takes on the arguments against open borders, showing they don’t hold up. He writes this:
My primary goal in writing this book was to offer a rebuttal to some of the more common anti-immigrant arguments that I’ve come across while covering the issue as a Wall Street Journal editorialist. The received wisdom, courtesy of ratings-driven populists on talk radio and cable news outlets primarily, holds that immigrants cause more trouble than they’re worth. We’re constantly told that foreign-born workers are displacing native workers, that they’re crippling our welfare-state apparatus, that they’re criminally inclined, and that they aren’t assimilating. Yet time and again, my own reporting and research found these claims to be overblown when they weren’t counterfactual.
It’s time for a different approach to this issue. Let’s use our resources to build infrastructure that can accommodate more people crossing the Southern border. Let’s free up law enforcement to focus on stopping the bad people from coming into our country, not families seeking a better life. Let’s bring the employment of immigrants above board to improve working conditions and provide better pay. Let’s take this issue out of political campaigns and start working toward real solutions. It’s time to change the discourse.
(This essay was originally published at jasonlief.com)