(Posted by Evan Maxwell, guest blogger)
I just spent four days on the road, taking blue and black highways from northern Washington to central Arizona. I was without reliable Net connection much of that time so I was forced to rely on snatches of news on the car radio and local newspapers. My take regarding the issue of the moment, immigration is pretty clear: That war is over. If winning or losing involves controlling the flow of Mexicans and other Latino nationals across the border, the war was lost.
If, on the other hand, you look at this as something besides a war, and if you regard the movement of human beings across political lines in the sand as an old and natural process, the outcome is neither good nor bad, merely inevitable.
I say that with the full knowledge that I might seem to be biting the hand of our host here, the estimable Patterico, as well as others over here on the right side of the spectrum. I don’t dispute the need for social order, nor do I believe that lawlessness should be applauded. But I do write from more than 30 years of observing on and reporting events along the Border, that long line that stretches from Imperial Beach to Matamoros. A long time ago, I was designated the “immigration writer” for the Los Angeles Times. There is a story in that designation, one that I’ll save for later, but the Times gave me a chance to explore the issue of human movements across borders at great length. My conclusion?
We aren’t really dealing with “immigration.” Immigration is a governmental function, just as borders are a figment of governmental imagination. Immigration is a regulated process involving passports, ports of entry, visas and all manner of arcane bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo. What we are talking about in the present debate is a much more elemental and probably uncontrollable human process called “migration.”
Migration is the movement, almost always unregulated and probably unregulatable, of large numbers of humans from one region to another, usually from one failing or impoverished locale to a place that has more promise and more opportunity. The human impulse to improve one’s lot is, to my way of thinking, admirable. It involves ambition, perserverance, hope; in all, the willingness to take risks. I like those characteristics in human beings.
Migration does not usually involve the one emotional set most often described by the softer thinkers of our society: desperation. If I’ve seen one truth along the border it is this: migrants are not the poor, weak, incapable members of the sending society. The desperate ones never make it to the border. No, the migrants are forward-looking, able-bodied and energetic. (That, unfortunately, means there will be a significant number of risk-takers and criminals in the mix, but such diversity is inevitable.)
I know these views will cause dispute. Patterico, in particular, is in a position as a prosecutor to see the negative effects of migration. Criminals, exploiters, deadbeats, they all show up in the court process and their presence in the United States is costly. Social disorder is a natural result, I am tempted to say, of that unregulatable process called migration. But there are other, much more positive results of migration, both for the migrants and for the receiving countries, and as a personal matter, I am not convinced that nations can select the results it wishes to obtain from a massive social process like the one we see taking place every day across the borderlands.
And as for my starting point, that the struggle is already advanced beyond the point at which it can be pinched off, I would only offer my last four days of travel. In a number of towns in the intermountain west over the last few days, there have been massive if polite and perhaps even festive demonstrations by migrants and their allies. The most startling, from my point of view, was in Salem, OR on Sunday. In that quiet and restrained small city, ten thousand people turned out in the spring sunshine to make their presence felt. Now I know Salem is a state capital but after all, folks, it’s only the capital of Oregon, for goodness sakes. It isn’t Los Angeles or Dallas or NEW YORK CITY.
And in several other towns and cities along the way, on blue highways as well as black ones, the migrants made their presence known by the thousands. Reno is not a hot-bed of social unrest but there was a very sizeable and effective demonstration there. Las Vegas is a company town, where the power structure discourages spontaneity, but maids and bellmen and desk clerks and laborers all stood up for themselves. Migrants, particularly ones who exist outside the law, are usually loathe to assert themselves but all over the West and Southwest, they have suddenly become confident enough to stand up and assert their rights as human beings, if not as American citizens. As someone who is interested in the human as opposed to governmental aspects of population movement, I can’t help but be impressed.
“Immigration” is the name of the political and legal process much of the country is trying to control and regulate right now, and I agree that there needs to be a more regular and socially-acceptable process in place. The borders need to be less a free-for-all zone than they have become, although I personally doubt they will ever be orderly enough to please everyone. One of my earliest border mentors told me in 1973 that the United States did possess the wherewithal to prevent illegal immigration. “All we have to do is put Army and National Guard machinegun nests ever fifty yards from California to Texas,” he said. Then he added, “Of course, I wouldn’t like to be part of that and neither would most Americans.”
What I’m trying to say is this: Migration isn’t happening; it has already happened. And it will continue to happen in the future. As a country, we may do a better job of controlling it but we aren’t likely to reverse it. To believe otherwise is to harden attitudes on both sides of the question into ramparts from which advocates can throw stones or fire more dangerous weapons.
Waving Mexican flags in demonstrations on American soil is impolitic, but so is suggesting that “they” all go back where they came from.
(Posted without benefit of second thoughts by Evan Maxwell, guest blogger.)
ADDENDUM BY PATTERICO: I very much enjoyed this post. My hard drive crash, which extended the stay of the guest bloggers, is having at least one good side effect: thought-provoking posts such as this one. I’m glad I asked Evan to stay on, and I’m hoping that in the coming days he’ll tell us some of the stories he has hinted at in his posts.
While I don’t agree with all of what Evan says in this post, I agree with more than he probably realizes — including the assertions that we have lost any battle to seriously control the border, and that many illegal immigrants are in many ways admirable people who are only doing what I would probably do myself in their shoes.
I do think that we need to get serious about deporting the criminal element, which has led to a dispute between myself and L.A. Times columnist Michael Hiltzik. More on that here.