The Obama administration said this week it plans to send 1,200 troops to the border, and to ask for $500 million for law enforcement efforts, all aimed at clamping down on the flow of illegal immigrants from Mexico. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., whose home state of Arizona has famously taken the immigration issue into its own hands, quickly upped the ante and asked the president to send 6,000 Guardsmen instead. Will the show of force reduce illegal immigration? Is it a long-term solution to the problems afflicting border-states? Or is it a dog-and-pony show? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.
Summer is arriving, and we all know what that means: Hollywood is about to start filling movie screens with expensive sequels to flicks that weren’t very good the first time around. President Obama must be taking his cues from the entertainment industry — because we’ve seen this story before.
The last time the immigration debate flared up in a midterm election year — in 2006 — President George W. Bush deployed 6,000 National Guard troops to gain “full control of the border.” There were reports the flow of illegal immigrants slowed some, but the effort quietly ended in July 2008. President Obama’s plans don’t look much different.
Why the replay? Because Obama, like Bush before him, can’t convince Congress to adopt a sane immigration policy, one that expands guest worker visas to the many foreigners who want to find jobs here. Such a policy would also create a path to citizenship for many of the workers who already live in the United States illegally, letting them pay fines and back taxes in exchange for the right to stay. But immigration hardliners call the plan “amnesty” and have repeatedly knocked back all such efforts.
We’re at an impasse, and it’s silly. The United States won’t — can’t — round up the millions of illegal immigrants who are already here. Militarizing the Mexican border might be good politics, but immigration will persist as long as there are workers on one side of the border and jobs on the other. Crafting our immigration policy to reflect that reality might calm a contentious issue and reduce the expense of National Guard deployments.
Until that happens, though, the immigration debate is destined to be the “Police Academy” film franchise of U.S. politics: One sequel after another, each a little more depressing than the last.
A sane border policy would erect high and solid walls to deter those who would cross illegally, while establishing simple and clear rules for people to enter legally and work temporarily. Instead, politicians from either side of the border posture, and Americans have no sovereignty, security or satisfaction.
Rest assured, deploying National Guard troops along the southern U.S. border has nothing whatsoever to do with illegal immigration. “It’s not about immigration,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters the other day. So what is it about? “(It’s) fully consistent with our efforts to do our part to stem, you know, violence, to interdict the flow of dangerous people and dangerous goods — drugs, guns, people.”
Oh, all right, then! So the Guard will be stopping drug-runners and human traffickers? Well, not exactly. The Obama administration won’t say what the rules of engagement will be, and some media reports suggest the Guard will only be there to provide vague “logistical support” for law enforcement personnel already on hand. They’ll be clerks, in other words.
Couldn’t the National Guard be used to help build 600 miles or so of the high-tech border fence the federal government pledged to have completed years ago? Although that would be an excellent use of time and money, the answer is no.
Congress hasn’t appropriated the funds to complete the fence, and large stretches of land apparently remain off-limits due to environmental and eminent domain disputes.
So it’s a show, not unlike when President Bush ordered the Guard into U.S. airports in the months after 9/11. There they stood, in full-combat fatigues, helmets and M-16 rifles... with empty magazines. In this case, it may be worse. When Bush sent the Guard to the border the last time, they weren’t allowed to carry weapons at all. As symbols go, the unarmed guard couldn’t be more fitting.