Immigration, terrorism, walls, oh my! No one seems to want to talk frankly about these issues. They get tied up in politics, culture, and bias. If we listen though, there are some really good arguments to be had. Arguments that should inform policy but probably won’t. It’s not an either/or game. You can remain intellectually honest and be for a wall, for immigration reform, and not against immigrants. You can also be against a wall and not for terrorism. In this blog post I try to break down my thoughts on the subject.
Defense Against Terrorism
One of the few legitimate functions of government is defense. Defense and the gathering of resources are motivators for the creation of society. In order to defend something one has to know what to defend. That’s where borders come in. It’s the proverbial line drawn in the sand. If they cross – this line – then they are a threat. If we lived in a world where everyone shared the same values, then borders would not be needed. It’s okay to dream of a world where there are no borders. But this isn’t that world. We often decry that socialism is a fantasy. I’ve often said so is anarchy. These two, resting at opposite ends, require the same impossible changes in human nature to work. A borderless world requires that same fantasy. It’s really incredibly naive. “We’ll just open our borders and everything will be fine. People will just trade with each other and commerce will rule the world!” If we’re honest, that’s the vision of those who oppose borders. A fine vision. I won’t argue that if it could be pulled off, it would be fun. But, optimist though I am, even I’m not that unaware of human behavior. In some things we simply must be pragmatic. Thomas Paine said that government was at best a necessary evil. He was right, it is an evil. At even its most minute form it reduces absolute freedom. But, pragmatism forces us to recognize the “necessary” aspect of it all. We just don’t live in a world where no one cares what the capital of Israel is.
I don’t think that the people who say those who are in favor of immigration reform are anti-immigrant really mean it. I think they know that’s not true for most and just use that as a debate tactic. Life – isn’t – high school – debate! You win nothing by “scoring a point” because you made some attack you think is effective. The foundational principle of Club Platypus is in the image of the brandy and cigar. That which represents people sitting, relaxing, conversing, thinking, understanding, getting to know.
You can play “aha!” and “gotcha!” with people all day long. It might even make you feel pretty good about yourself. Still, you leave having taught nothing and convincing no one. If ideas are really important, you walk away the total loser. So let’s set aside any notions of being against immigrants when we talk about immigration reform.
A nation has certain resources and a certain culture. It can only accept the number of people that can be properly serviced by those resources and by that culture. American is quite the welfare state. Someone coming here stands to gain a lot of stuff and resources from tax payers. So it makes perfect sense to keep out as much as possible those people likely to take more from the system than they are going to put into it. If America had no welfare state then I would feel differently about this, but we do.
A culture forms over generations and generations. Newcomers were raised in a different culture. Their ways and our ways may not be compatible with each other. For example, many other countries, especially Latin American countries, have a different sense of time than Americans. Being “on time” means something different to them. Someone from Ecuador could show up 20 minutes after the set time for an appointment and still consider themselves on time. In America, that’s late. In America we generally show up a few minutes before an appointment to be sure we are present at the very moment it begins. New ways must be learned. And the prevailing culture also has much to learn form those coming in. It goes both ways and doesn’t happen overnight. It’s called assimilation. The way American has come up with to do this is rather brilliant. It’s a give and take. Tortillas are just as much a part of America as they are Mexico now. We found something and we accepted it and it became part of us.
Immigration reform is about allowing for assimilation and about making sure the people entering to stay are going to fit in. You do that with people all the time. You meet someone and you decide if they join your group of friends or not. You decide if they come into your home. You decide if you want to give them a free lunch or not. You decide. It shouldn’t be any different for a nation. A nation is composed of individuals. People. It’s not some entity all its own. It is us. We make this kinds of choices everyday. Let’s not pretend it’s somehow terrible to make them when it comes to border and immigrants.
I remember, way back in the day, when the border wall was about defense. It wasn’t about immigration. Then someone decided to make it about that. That was a political trick that worked so well that no one remembers why we first started talking about it all in the first place. Now we just talk about what horrible people we are for wanting to keep poor immigrants out and what racists we must all be because the people we want to keep out happen to have brown skin. On the other hand they will say walls don’t work. If they don’t work, then why are you so worried we’re keeping anyone out with one? It’s a logical inconsistency.
I’ve made it really clear I support a wall. I believe, and history clearly proves, that walls work. It took an act of God for Joshua to get into Jericho and a wall keeps my dog from getting out. We all know walls work and those who say they don’t aren’t making a very good argument. It’s like arguing that water isn’t wet.
I support the wall for two reasons. The first is the above mentioned defense. One of the legitimate functions of government is defense. The cost of the wall is scant in the grand scheme of the defense budget. It’s estimated to cost $67 billion to build. That number changes lower or higher depending on who is talking and whether or not the favor the wall but it’s roughly the cost of 2 aircraft carriers, or three submarines, or a nuclear partridge in a pear tree.
The second reason I support the wall is to stem the tide of illegal immigration. In that aspect the wall is about immigration, but not really in the way people are painting it to be. It’s a valve that we control. It’s not about saying people who are poor and have brown skin aren’t welcome because they are poor and have brown skin. It’s to say we have laws, we have borders, we deserve respect. A starving man may need food but he’s not showing you any respect when he breaks into your house and takes it rather than knocking on your door and asking for it. That shows respect. People who come across the border illegally do so for many valid reasons. Because we are a nation of laws, I don’t think it’s too much for them to ask. The mere existence of a wall doesn’t mean we can’t decide to let loads of people in but it does send a clear message that it’s up to us, not them.
Among the many wonderful people crossing into the United States illegally, and I can say they are wonderful because I’ve met them and known them, there are also those I’ve met that are not wonderful. There are those who should be kept out. It is dangerous and really a bit ludicrous not to acknowledge at least that much. Those who say all immigrants are bad, are stupid people, but so are those who say all immigrants are good. For me the wall is about being reasonable. We have doors on our homes and fences around our yards. We lock our car when we go into the mall. Don’t be a hypocrite and do these things but not think we should practice the same concept for our nation.
Within the borders of our country is the collective yard of all of America’s citizens. It’s not too much to ask that we be allowed to have a BBQ without the neighbors showing up uninvited. It’s not that we hate the neighbors, it’s just that we want to decide. I honestly don’t think that’s too much to ask.
Within all of what I’ve written above remains the ability of our nation to care for other humans. Nothing about defense, reform, or walls means we can’t open the gate and let them in. Don’t let people play high school debate with this and try to paint anyone in favor as racist or cruel. That’s a tactic and it is not rooted in truth.