Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Borders

One issue which showed up from time to time in the Presidential Election just concluded, was the issue of Border Security. Clearly, said many, if we want to protect America, we must secure our borders. Both Bush and Kerry agreed to this idea, but each differed on the best path to such security, and neither candidate went into great detail about their plans to secure the borders. There are good reasons for this silence, actually, though it is time to consider the matter again, in Congress and in the Oval Office.

Border Security in the United States really comes down to four fronts:

[] Air and Sea Port Security
[] Alaska and Hawaii Territorial Security
[] The Canada-U.S. Border
[] The Mexico-U.S. Border

Air and Sea Port Security is not often discussed, much less comprehensively, and I have to admit, a full examination of this facet is beyond me here. Blogs work best with pithy issues and succinct discussions, so I am really only able to provide a sketchy overview, but that may still be useful. The simple fact is, throughout history people have been trying to keep out the unsavory types; locked doors are not indicative of paranoia, nor are metal detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs. John Kerry may have displayed the best example of functional stupidity on the security issue, by comparing the safety of Americans to checking each and every vessel passing through our ports. Rather like stopping every car in traffic, or inspecting every package in the mail; it simply is not feasible, and there are functional alternatives. In the case of nuclear materials, for example, Magnetic Anomaly Detectors can be used by aircraft to scan approaching vessels long before they reach U.S. territorial waters (Kerry suggested we stop ships at the ports themselves, never considering what would happen if a dirty bomb was detonated at the inspection point), which would pick up heavy metals in even minute quantities. Ultimately, though, we depend on the sorts of tools which have always worked in the past, and which we have always needed; common sense protections and good HUMINT. In short, President Bush has done what is reasonable, establishing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and beefing up border security’s budget and tools.

Alaska and Hawaii Territorial Security have not, to my knowledge, been discussed anywhere, and that is a bit alarming. While AK and HI are not geographically joined to the ‘contiguous 48’, they are very definitely U.S. states, and if you show up in, say, Honolulu or Anchorage and board a plane to, say, New York or Los Angeles, you won’t need passports or other proof of citizenship. Fortunately, the DHS and Customs have taken some steps to address that matter, which is why Al Qaeda has not tried to enter the U.S. via the Hula. It’s also why “Whiner John” Kerry couldn’t bring up the extra-continental states as a point in his campaigns.

The Canada-U.S. Border has actually been the historical weak spot for our territory. For all the talk about the Southern border, in World Wars 1 and 2, it was the Canadian border which saw the most enemy infiltrations, and during the Cold War the most Soviet traffic. Also, in the events following the 9/11 attacks, DHS and FBI agents found terrorist support groups in Northern locations near Dearborn Michigan and Seattle Washington, but none near the Rio Grande. The Bush Administration has been working to address this danger with the Martin Administration, but with only limited success. While cooperation between the FBI and the RCMP has been exemplary, deliberate interference and hostility from MP’s like Carolyn Parrish has endangered the security of both nations.

The Mexico-U.S. Border has received the most attention of all these factors, yet it is in many ways the least understood. A good example of that rests in the way President Bush has been heckled by both Left and Right for his plans regarding relations between Mexico and the United States. To understand the matter better, I would like to point out the objectives, some history, and a quick glance at likely consequences of different alternatives.

A lot of people, even on the Left, have made noise demanding that our borders be sealed. Sounds like a good idea, but how practical is that, really? As an example, remember the Iron Curtain, how the Soviet Union sealed its borders? I mean, if you want a textbook for how to use overwhelming military force to seal a border, you look at the USSR. Yet all those guns, soldiers, and missiles did not stop Matias Rust from flying right into Moscow and landing his rented Cessna right in Red Square in June of 1987, did they? I also recall an incident a few years back, where a Mexican shepherd in the Rio Grande Valley came across a National Guardsman on maneuvers. The young man foolishly aimed a rifle at the soldier, who fired in self-defense, killing the Mexican. The fact is, putting guns on a border will likely mean killing people, sometimes by accidents like that one. The fact is, migrants, smugglers, pirates and all sundry of people salesmen have been crossing borders throughout history; there just is no way to stop it from happening. The best answer then, is to control the flow as best you can, and that, to me, means addressing the causes of border crossings.

A lot of people also forget the history of migrant families. While most of us prefer the stability and relative prosperity of settling in one town and country, there are those whose lives have been in constant motion, for a variety of reasons. While many people have only recently been made aware of it, the fact is that migrant workers in the Southwest United States go back several generations. This complicates the issue, because the common stereotypes just don’t work. It doesn’t fit everyone by any means, but it’s obvious to me that any successful plan for controlling the Southern borders means addressing the million or so migrant workers who aren’t going to change their behavior just because someone makes a speech or wins an election. I’m sure that I don’t need to explain the potentially serious cultural and economic effects which would result from suddenly wrecking the system in place now.

People also forget the fact that there are real limits on what we can accomplish in the immediate future, and to understand that, you have to recall a bit of Mexican history. Before I go into that, take a look at the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Governor of California. Was he everything a rock-solid Conservative would like in a Governor? Of course not, but he was a distinct jump up from the previous fraud, Gray Davis, or the Democrats’ choice to replace him, Cruz Bustamante. You take what you can get, and that applies to the border issue, as well.

Most Americans forget that Mexico did not become an Independent nation with her own President until 1824. In fact, many Americans are unaware that Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana, a man known as the villain at the Alamo massacre, is revered in Mexican history as a great patriot, and was once Mexico’s President (1833, again in 1834-1835). The problem was, that Mexico lacked the unity of the American system, wherein a strong central government also embodied protection of individual rights, and a Federal government enjoyed the respect and cooperation from the states. Mexico had an army, but beyond that the government was often unable to enforce the laws enacted. Even today, there remain revolutionaries in the country, attempting to assassinate and overthrow the existing government (the Zapatistas, for instance).

But a great obstacle to true reform in Mexico was the monster known as PRI, the “Institutional Revolutionary Party” which came to power following the 1921 Revolution and came to control every major office in Mexican government. I could go on, but there has been a potential watershed event; the election of Vicente Fox. Fox is the first “opposition-party” candidate to be elected President of Mexico since 1910, and he represents an opportunity Bush knows very well. Fortunately, President Bush was Governor Bush of Texas at the time Fox was elected, so he knows better than most the conditions in Mexico, as well as the opportunity for growth in relations and opportunity on both sides of the border. Fox has had to overcome stubborn resistance from PRI holdouts (to say nothing of attempts on his life at least 3 times) to institute critical reforms in Mexican government. We are fortunate that Fox is also determined to root out narco-terrorists, who have established fortified complexes in a number of towns on Mexico’s north and south borders, and the FBI has assisted GAFE in ridding a number of regions of these threats to both the U.S. and Mexico. Fox and Bush have met numerous times, and the media has somehow failed to recognize that cooperation between the two leaders has been handled adroitly and quietly. Professionals often receive less credit than they deserve, and that is certainly the case here.

Now, as to the “guest worker” issue, some people would like to see an “iron fist” approach, but all that would do, really, is prevent people from cooperating with authorities. Let me elaborate on that.

There are, in basic, four classes of people who want to cross our border from Mexico:

[] People who want to come here for a better life
[] People who want to come here and sell their products, expanding their range of business (NAFTA)
[] People who want to smuggle things or people in, like drugs
[] People who want to come into the U.S. to commit violence

Think for a moment about those people. Do they all think alike, and would they all want the same things? Obviously not. More, it’s just reasonable to think that the first two groups are far more numerous than the other two, and are also the most likely to notice people in the last two groups. So, it would seem to me that the best course of action is to establish a situation, where the first two groups are encouraged, at least well enough that they would work to expose the last two groups.

I’m not saying that people who break the law to get into the USA should get rewarded for it, but I do think there is a problem, where a citizen who drives drunk may be treated more leniently than a man who comes into our country to try to help feed his family. And I know there’s a problem, when people who could be helping authorities catch the really bad guys, run at the sight of a badge, because they have no reason to expect any kind of break.

Is the “guest worker” concept the best solution? Maybe not, but think. We already know that passing laws to punish illegal aliens doesn’t really stop them from coming across; we just make life really hard on the ones we catch. We know that we need to catch terrorists and smugglers, and the people who know where to catch those guys are afraid of the INS and DHS.

If we put a bunch of soldiers and guns on the border, the terrorist will just look for an easier way (like planes from other countries, or that Canada border I talked about), we’ll spend a ton of money and sooner or later some people will get killed in an incident, and Vicente Fox will look to the Mexican voters like a man who can’t protect Mexicans. Yeah, the Democrats play up the story that Bush is a unilateralist, but in point of fact, Bush is thinking more about helping our allies than any Democrat I know.

No, there won’t be a wave of happy Mexicans rushing to work with the United States, but gradually there can be a foundation of trust. And frankly, something has got to be done about this problem, which respects not only our need for National Security, but a fair and effective resolution which improves conditions for the nation as a whole. It will help Mexico stabilize, which improves their chances for becoming a First-world nation, which is, all in all, the best and quickest way to stem the tide of illegal immigration. When a man can make a life for his family without crossing borders, then he won’t have that motive. And no, it’s not a handout, but simply recognizing that helping Mexico now in 2004 will pay our nation dividends in generations to come.

I am, of course, willing to consider alternate solutions. I just haven’t read or heard any. Whining by people unfamiliar with the issue doesn’t count. Carping by people trying to get in a cheap shot is even less acceptable.

2 comments:

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Anonymous said...

Grassfire.org is selling Secure our Borders car magnets! Go to
http://www.grassfire.org/
scroll down and look to your left!