The real criminals
Letter to the Editor | Wednesday, February 21, 2018
In the past few decades, our country has faced the revival of a social phenomenon with Draconian precedence: nativism. President Donald Trump and his $ 70 billion wall and “Muslim ban” are only symptoms of a disease that has plagued America for centuries. From the Know-Nothing Party in 1855 to the Tea Party offshoot of the Republican National Convention, our country has witnessed this threat of xenophobia time and again. Today, however, it is more common to see these nativist sentiments in disguised mantras toward, specifically, “illegal immigrants.” One of the mantras more commonly articulated is that these undocumented immigrants “broke the law” by coming to the United States. In all technicality, immigrants that arrive and remain in the United States outside of official immigration avenues are, by definition, law breakers. Although, I must say, entering the United States illegally in fact prompts a civil trial (i.e. the government doesn’t have to pay for a public defender.) So, yes, it is illegal. No, by definition, “illegal immigration” is not criminal.
The statement, as true as it is, shows a distorted set of priorities in the minds of prescribers to the policies of border crackdown.
Before diving too far into this idea, it is important to identify the history behind the term “illegal immigration.” Truthfully, “illegal immigration” was never even identified until the late 19th century. It is generally true that for something to be illegal there has to be a law prohibiting it. There were no laws limiting immigration in the United States until the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. At that point, the US government deemed that “it shall not be lawful for any Chinese laborer to come [to the United States].” This act was passed in response to the propagation of white identity backlash politics.
This unprecedented illegality of immigration drastically expanded under the 1924 Immigration Act which established immigration quotas (almost entirely excluding African and South American nations while simultaneously favoring Europeans). This act was also passed in response to the propagation of white identity backlash politics.
Until 1882, all immigration to the United States was legal. Until 1924, all immigration to the United States (excepting for Asian emigrants) was legal.
As American citizens, we accept that many of our laws are created to prohibit immorality and foster a desirable society. There is nothing inherently immoral about immigration. This is made obvious by the fact that immigration law didn’t even exist for the first century of our country’s history. Immigration only gains an immoral connotation when it is defined as illegal. And, as the history of our country suggests, immigration is only defined as illegal when policy makers are politically motivated to do so (always in response to white backlash).
Now that the blemished history of the American “illegal immigration” situation has been made clear, we can focus on the issue at hand: American immigration policy and its subsequent institutionalization of criminality.
The early 2000s saw a spike in unauthorized migration from the U.S.-Mexico border. Apprehensions along the border, according to Pew Research, made their way up to close to 1.7 million in 2000. In reaction to the influx of migrants coming through the Southern border, funding toward border security increased under both Bush and Obama’s administrations.
These measures under Obama and Bush did, in fact, stem the flow of “illegal immigration.” Apprehensions began to drastically drop at the US-Mexico border. 2015 saw 188,000 apprehensions on the border — a nearly 90% decrease since 2000. So, what’s the issue? It seems that the crackdown at the border has done its job. It seems that we’ve managed to stem the flow of migration and could eventually prevent it altogether.
That impression is false.
“Illegal immigration” is here to stay. People are still and will continue attempting to cross the border through nontraditional methods. This often means migrants are forced to trek across hellish deserts with very little food and water. These policies at the border have forced migrants to take dangerous routes and the numbers show the implications of such danger. The death rate for unauthorized immigrants through the southern border (raw deaths compared to apprehensions) has skyrocketed since 2000.
This is directly related to the increase in border security. The correlation shows that increasing funding and resources to Customs and Border Protection with the intent to restrict unauthorized migration causes an influx of migrant death. Because of this, the United States is complicit in murder and, at the very least, negligent manslaughter.
It is clear that the United States has prioritized the enforcement of its arbitrarily fabricated immigration laws over the enforcement of universally accepted standards of conduct (i.e. the international prohibition of knowingly causing death of other human beings).
This prioritization of nativism over human dignity is even manifested in further illegal networks of income that accompany more secretive border immigration. These migrants generally can’t just walk across the border. They rely on smuggling organizations composed of both American and Mexican citizens to successfully get across the border. These smuggling networks further institutionalize extortion, blackmail, rape, sex trafficking and other forms of forced labor (slavery). The fate of these immigrants is in the hands of “coyotes” (border smugglers). Countless tragic stories outline what happens when these coyotes run into clientele shortage and subsequently income shortage: they extort, they hold people hostage, they rape, they prostitute immigrants, they act as pimps. These are the crimes that come with increased security at the southern border. This is the cost of stemming the flow of “illegal immigration.”
If proponents of an “America First,” closed border policy truly believe in the rule of law, then they must be able to defend the prioritization of arbitrary immigration law over laws maintaining basic human dignity.
From where I stand, these “America First” supporters are not advocates for the rule of law but rather advocates for nativist sentiment. From where I stand, these conservatives are complicit in and actively advocating for murder, extortion, blackmail, rape, sex trafficking and slavery. From where I stand, these closed border advocates are some of the worst offenders of human rights violations.
From where I stand, these conservatives are the real criminals.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.