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Wednesday, May 11, 2005
The Immigration Debate Continues
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 9:59 am

John Hay of Pros and Cons responses to my essay on immigration. Here’s his post (no permalinks) and my response:

Dr. Taylor put up a very nice, detailed essay on why he thinks the Minutemen are vigilantes. He also goes into reasons why illegal immigration cannot be stopped. Now, I greatly enjoy Poliblogger and will try my best to respond politely even though I have a bad tendency to write a little too…ahem…”directly”.

Not to fret, I’m a big boy and all that. At any rate, I enjoy vigorous debate. (Hopefully I shan’t overly annoy a regular reader…).

A few summary points:

  • I find the upset over my labeling of the Minutemen as “vigilantes�? (and not just by John) to be a tad amusing. More electrons have been spilled over that part of the issue than over the issue of actual border security.

  • I approach this issue, as I do most, from a cost/benefit view—while I may want a 100% secure border, assuming such is even possible, I am not willing to pay what it would take to get it.
  • Along the same lines: conservatives who rightly scold liberals for pretending like the federal government has an endless supply of cash have to realistic about resources when it comes to their pet policies.
  • I find many arguments about the border to be annoying, because they are simplistic and idealistic and often fail t0 take into account the scope of the problem, nor the amount of money and manpower it would take to achieve the level of security that many seem to think can be achieved.
  • Indeed, along the same lines, I find that often the response to the border problem is visceral, rather than logical: there is a general reaction to the idea of illegality, especially on the part of foreigners, rather than a measured assessment of what can and cannot be done.

Anyway, here we go:

One aspect of Polibloggers’ response was that support of the Minutemen is simplistic. I agree, because it IS simple - they showed up and immigration along their stretch came to a virtual standstill. Do some basic math, multitply it out, and the immigration problem become greatly reduced. But then, the definition of vigilante on Poliblog is pretty simplistic also.

I never claimed that the definition was especially complex. Set aside the usage of the word “vigilante�?—I really don’t care what they are called. Call them “neighborhood watch�? if you prefer, or “patriots�? or “Fred�?—it doesn’t make their actions any less a stunt nor does it make their actions the model that many think that they are.

My point remains the same: to stop the illegal flow in a very small space is relatively easy—to stop it along the vast border with Mexico is simply impossible (aside from massive expenditures). Yes, John and the pro-Minutemen caucus are correct: if we lined the border with border patrol, we could substantially curtail illegal immigration. However, I have little patience for arguments that aren’t grounded in reality. Where are we going to get the money and personnel the patrol the borders to that degree?

For that matter, there is an overall facile assumption being made by those who argue that we “just need more people�? and that is that clearly, as the Border Patrol adapts, so too will the immigrants. We are talking about people who have dug tunnels under the border, who have been willing to be hidden in cramp, dark, hot places in trucks (often resulting in death) and so forth. To assume that there would be no adaptation is foolish.

Indeed, the “success�? of the Minutemen is overblown given that what did the immigrants do in response to the Minutemen’s location? They simply either went another direction, or waited until the MM left. That really doesn’t demonstrate a monstrous success.

The argument continues, and is overly focused on the fact that I call the MM “vigilantes�?:

To quote, “First off: the Minutemen. I still think that in the general sense the term “vigilante�? well applies. Are they, or are they not, engaging in activity that is normally the purview of a law enforcement entity? No, they are not directly dispensing justice, which seems to be the lynchpin of the “they aren’t vigilantes�? argument, but they have inserted themselves, uninvited, into the law enforcement process. A such, I find that the term is applicable. I am not a big fan of amateurs getting involved in law enforcement. And no, I really don’t find the “neighborhood watch�? analogy to work.”

Well heck, I guess if someone breaks into your house you better run, because confronting criminals is “law enforcement work”. If you’re a kid and you see someone break a rule at school, don’t say anything to them, that’s “principal’s work”. Don’t fight fires or rescue people, either, that’s Firemens work. And to really stretch things, if we were invaded (pretend all the immigrants are armed members of the Mexican army) and our armed forces were beaten somehow, I guess the rest of us would all just have to give in ourselves. No guerrilla war here, no siree, don’t want to be called names like “vigilante” (it does have a negative connotation these days).

These are all false analogies and do not address the substance of my argument, which is linked to the insertion of these people into a policy process uninvited. Now, if it makes everyone happy, I’ll stop calling the nice MM that ugly name. Still, helping my neighbor out, or protecting my own home is far different than deciding that the cops aren’t doing their job in Los Angeles and hopping a plane to go patrol the street because I think I have a better way to do it that do the cops (or hanging out in your yard to jump on a fire because I think your BBQ techniques are faulty).

Hay continues:

Poliblogger says the Minutemen are really a distraction from the underlying issues driving immigration. I agree in some respects. However, he contends that these issues are so strong it is hopeless; why even try? Well, that overarching philosophy could be applied to any negative human behavior that never becomes extinguished. Think drugs, or prostitution. Heck, think of the terrorists. There will always be some of them somewhere. Do you just give up because there will never be “total” victory? I think not. As for the specific points, let’s take them one by one, with his point first and my response.

Well, in fact, I think that our drug policy is an utter failure and that we are wasting billions and billions of dollars annually to no avail as judged by our own policy standards, i.e., actual supply of drugs and the street price—despite the billions we spend, we have had precious little effect on either (to the point of getting depressing-and another debtate). And I have done the research: we are failing mightily at that war.

Rationality seems to dictate that if one spends large sums of money to achieve a particular goal, yet that goal is not reached, then a sincere re-assessment of that policy ought to be undertaken. And the argument that we simply need to spend more money is often not the right answer. Yes, sometimes more money is the answer to a particualr problem, but the time does come where one has to question whether the marginal utility of each additional dollar is worth the expenditure.

I have mixed views on prostitution (I have substantial libertarian leanings), for while I am opposed to it on moral grounds, I wonder as to the degree to which it is the realm of the state to prevent this particular activity (again, another debate).

More from Hay:

1. The border is too big. Well, it is big, but is it TOO big? How would we know, we’ve never really tried to police it? Will some illegals get through no matter what we do? Sure, but why not try? I don’t want perfection, just some progress. I’d even let up on immigration if it weren’t for motor voter and vote fraud.

It is too big to effectively control sans a remarkable about of expenditure. And why not try? Because the marginal utility of the dollars spent would not be worth the results of the policy.

Here’s a real world way to ask this question: how high are we willing to raise taxes to achieve this goal? How many troops/personnel from other security-related activities are willing to take funds from/redeploy to achieve this goal?


2. Markets rule, so the immigrants are meeting a need or demand. I like markets, but they are not perfect; this world is not perfect - markets are just the best of a host of imperfect alternatives. (I’m a conservative, not a libertarian). Anyway, there are always markets. There’s also a market for drugs, prostitutes, pornography, even hitmen. It doesn’t make it right nor does it mean society can’t fight it. Additionally, part of the demand is the wretchedness of Mexico right now, which is due to their government. Being their escape valve is not a long-term solution. Pressuring the Mexican government is.

My point about markets is that they are incredibly powerful and not easily tamed, as I think that they are one of the main ways to see aggregated human behavior and goals. If there are powerful supply/demand forces at work, then you are talking about millions and millions of individual wills at play (in this case on both sides of the border). To thwart such is extremely difficult—perhaps not impossible, but very, very hard to do. Again, to me it is a cost/benefit question: how much do you have to spend to achieve the goal in question?


The corrollary made is that the political will is not there. Well, maybe among the elites its not, but the voters very much favor immigration control. They favor it so strongly even Hillary Clinton is making “get tough” noises. As for our leaders, Dr. Frist is showing himself to be even more inept than Lott, and that’s saying something.

Clearly, the political will isn’t there—and it isn’t just about Frist (indeed, he is a marginal actor in this issue). It is easy to say that one’s own views are the “real�? ones and that the “elites�? are blocking the will of the people, but clearly the situation is far more complex than that.

Hay continued

3. Global economics creates a huge flow of goods and containers across our borders. So? (I admit I don’t really get this one other than its another argument that the job will be really hard) We haven’t always had such a huge immigration problem; what’s changed? For one, immigration laws were rewritten by Ted Kennedy and friend and the will of one of our major parties (maybe both) to control our borders died as multiculturalism grew.

Not be overly stark, but this is a non-response. To ignore the stats that I cited, and to ignore the economic forces at work is the rhetorical version of putting one’s hands over one’s ears and singing loudly “I can’t hear you.�? To pretend like the sheer amount of legal traffic across our borders on a daily basis isn’t a substantial barrier to “control�? of the borders is to ignore reality.

To quote my original post:

“US Customs officials must clear one container every 20 seconds in southern California, and one truck every 12 seconds in Detroit�? ( Flynn 2000:59).

Even if we put up a forcefield from Brownsville to San Diego, is the contention here that it is possible to find all the illegals smuggled in vehicles? Even if we double the number of agents and increase the inspection time to 40 seconds, will the expenditure results in a substantial decrease in illegal immigration?

And what has changed?!? (pardon my incredulity). Well, the entire structure of the global economy has been hanging substantially over the past two decades, not to mention NAFTA and a host of other issues that cannot be so easily dismissed. If one wishes to pretend like this hasn’t happened, one is welcome to do so, but one will not come to cogent conclusions as to what policy prescription will fix the problems at hand.

Also: I am no fan of Ted Kennedy and would love to point out whatever failings he has produced, but this situation has little to do with Teddy.

(and, in fact, we have always had a substantial illegal immigration problem—this isn’t a new issue by any means)

More from Hay:

4. Integration. There is no reason Latin America immigrants can’t assimilate like previous waves of immigrants did. True, but there are differences between the present and the past. One, the current wave of immigration dwarfs previous periods. Two, there was an immigration “time-out” to absorb immigration waves previously in our history. Three, in the past there was not a huge liberal contingent loathing their own country, and opposed to all assimilation attempts. Four, in the past speaking English was expected. Fifth, the Irish shared much of the same European culture as the Scots and English, Latin Americans do not. I’ll admit the Italians had greater differences, but see the above points. Sixth, previous immigrants did not setup militant groups backed by their previous countries of residence (who had given them dual citizenship contrary to our Constitution) that explicitly stated they were going to “take back” parts of the United States.

In terms relative to the overall population, I am not certain that the assertion that this wave “dwarfs previous periods�? is accurate. I am not sure about the “time-out�? or what the exact relevance of such a tie period would have, and while I am oft annoyed by many on the liberal side of the spectrum, I honestly don’t seem them “loathing�? our country and find such rhetoric to be unhelpful.

I agree, btw, that English should be more expected, and oppose bilingual education in schools—however, I will note that if one wants to succeed, one does have to speak English and the data show that the children of immigrants do learn English.

But according to Richard Alba and Victor Nee’s Remaking the American Mainstream, 60 percent of third-generation Mexican-American children speak only English at home. A 1990 Census study showed that only 5 percent of first-generation Mexican immigrants spoke English at home; another study showed that 30 percent of second-generation Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles spoke English at home. (Source: Drezner)

At the time, I assure you, the view in the US was that those from prior waves were not of the same culture as the US and were considered a threat in exactly the same way many see Latins. For example:

Benjamin Franklin complained during the colonial era that Germans immigrating to Philadelphia “are generally the most stupid of their nation. … Few of their children know English.” In 1921, Arthur M. Schlesinger wrote, “The new immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe, with its lower standard of living and characteristic racial differences has intensified many existing social problems and created a number of new ones.” (Source: Drezner)

Latin Americans are predominately Catholic and have a values base that is Western in nature. I have lived in Texas where there is substantial, seamless integration of Latins and Anglos. It is not just possible; it is a fact of life in the southwestern United States.

The number of militants who are actually interested in “taking back�? previous holdings is radically small. There are also some in the South who think that the CSA should rise again an a handful of kooks in Texas who want to revive the Republic. The presence of loons should not indict an entire population.

Hays continues:

5. Security/Terrorism arguments made about the Mexican border are a red herring. Not so. Visit Michelle Malkin or find some homeland security briefs. It is quite amazing and alarming the number of incidents our homeland security department heads off on a regular basis. Terrorists and suspected terrorist ARE using the Mexican border.

It isn’t that I think that this issue is unimportant, I just think that many who are actually concerned about point #4 above argue point #5 more vociferously than is warranted and/or there is more fear of the southern border vis-à-vis terrorism than is warranted. Smart terrorists have more than the Mexican border to utilize if they want to attack the US. So while I want to capture any terrorist entering the US, the fact of the matter is that many people overly simplify the argument by focusing on the Mexican border.


Last point, the whole Statue of Liberty/Beacon of Democracy thing just doesn’t do it for me. We are a sovereign nation, we can control our borders. We even have armed forces to prevent invasion, don’t we? And why do we really defend ourselves and pay for the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines? To prevent occupation by a foregin power, right? Why? To oppose the change in culture, rights, and government, etc. that would go along with it, pretty much. If spend that money and blood to fight a violent invasion, why can’t we spend less money and less blood to fight a nonviolent invasion? (Although, with Latin American gangs like MS13 taking over the nonviolent part may not be accurate)

I just don’t see this debate in these terms. Indeed, I find the language of invasion to be hyperbole.

And the last paragraph:

There is no reason we have to allow foreigners to set our rules for us. (This could probably be a segue to rant about the Supreme Court using foreign law, but I’ll stop here.) Americans don’t have to explain themselves to our elites or fight false accusations of racism, they can vote however they darn well please. RANT OFF.

I don’t see how my argument is predicated on allowing “foreigners to set our rules for us�?—except for the fact that this issue is one of international dimensions.

Not to take the evocation of “rant�? too seriously here, I would state that, in fact, much of the problem when it comes to this issue is that people like to rant about it, rather than face the cold realities of the situation. I still see the argument being made to be on that is based in an idealistic view of the solution and an overly dire assessment of the problem.

Work Cited

Drezner, Daniel W. 2004. Hash of Civilizations. The New Republic Online.

Update: I incorrectly had John’s last name listed as “Hays” when it is, in fact, “Hay.”

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