Anti-immigrant politicians suffer from a chronic inability to understand that immigration reform must be truly comprehensive if it is to be effective. That is, all facets of the extremely complex U.S. immigration system must be fixed at the same time if the system as a whole is to function properly—everything from border enforcement to family reunification to visas for high-skilled and less-skilled workers to legal status for unauthorized immigrants already living in the United States. Yet politicians like Arizona Governor Jan Brewer continue to repeat the same meaningless mantra when it comes to a systemic overhaul of U.S. immigration laws and policies: “secure the border first.” Which, roughly translated, means “make the broken system work, and then we can fix it.”
Brewer provided a display of this anti-logic at the August 3 meeting of the National Governor’s Association in Milwaukee. In response to a recent assertion by the Obama Administration that the U.S.-Mexico border has never been more secure than it is right now, she told Politico that “it’s Jay Leno comedy every other week”—a mocking reference to President Obama’s scheduled August 6 appearance on The Tonight Show. Of course, Brewer is no stranger to comedy. On July 27, 2010, she made her fanciful and now-famous assertion that “law enforcement agencies have found bodies in the desert, either buried or just lying out there, that have been beheaded.”
More to the point, Brewer seems unable to grasp cause and effect when it comes to immigration reform and border security. She told Politico that “border security absolutely has to come first,” and asked rhetorically “how many times do people have to say, ‘secure our borders,’ and be rebuffed?” But what does that mean? For Brewer, it’s all just one big morass of lawlessness that must be swept away: “It’s the drug cartels that we live with,” she said, “the drop houses, the extortion, the sex-slavery industry, the gangs fighting one another.”
Missing from this laundry list of border problems is any understanding of how flaws in the legal immigration system produce the stream of unauthorized immigrants upon whom so many criminals prey. If the legal immigration system actually mirrored the changing demands of the U.S. labor market and didn’t impose unrealistic wait times on family reunification, the smugglers and extortionists and gangs wouldn’t have so many victims to exploit. “Securing the border” by trying to enforce laws which don’t work is a foolish undertaking that is destined to fail.
In addition, mobilizing border-enforcement personnel and technology to track down and apprehend gardeners and maids does nothing to enhance border security because gardeners and maids are not a threat. It would make far more sense to revamp the immigration system in such a way that job seekers from Mexico and Central America could come to the United States via legal channels, thereby allowing the Border Patrol and other federal law-enforcement agencies to tackle drug cartels, gangs, and other real threats to security.
What Brewer just doesn’t get is that immigration reform is inextricably linked to border security. You can’t have one without the other.
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