What If A Law Can't Be Enforced?

The discussions here about Arizona’s new attempt at enforcing immigration law have set me thinking about a more general question: What should we do as a body politic in a situation in which a law we have passed seems impossible to enforce?

In a sense, no law is enforced perfectly. Cannibalism is against the law, yet it does still, on rare occasions, happen that someone kills and eats someone else. We don’t generally describe this as the laws against cannibalism “not being enforced”. Rather we describe it as someone breaking the law.

When we talk about a law not being enforced, we generally mean that a lot of people are breaking it, and yet few of them seem to be suffering the consequences. Thus, although murders take place on a daily basis in our country, we generally do not hear complaints that no one is enforcing the laws against murder, since we at least see the police and prosecutors going through the process of trying to arrest and prosecute people for those crimes.

According to the criteria I’ve listed above, two obvious candidates for laws “not being enforced” would be our laws against narcotics and our immigration laws.

While staggering amounts of resources are devoted to enforcing both of these, most of us have known people who use drugs at least occasionally and seem to face no legal repercussions, and most of us have met a fair number of illegal immigrants who, by their presence, clearly have not been deported. When we turn to the news or to studies, we find our impressions supported with data showing that vast numbers of people use drugs and large numbers of illegal immigrants are in the country. This causes many people to conclude that these laws are not being enforced, or at least not enforced sufficiently.

But there are other laws which are flaunted at least as often (and have a far smaller percentage of infractions punished) than these laws which do not cause us similar levels of concern. For instance, speeding laws are routinely broken. Police often won’t even pull someone over unless he is going 5-10 mph over the limit, even though technically any speed in excess of the limit is an infraction of the law. And numerous speeders are never seen by a policeman. Another example is the drinking age. Sure, plenty of people are punished for violating the drinking age, but the number of times someone under 21 drinks beer or wine is vastly more. And frankly, most people really couldn’t care less if somewhere a 19-year-old is quietly having a single beer in the confines of his home or dorm room. In cases like the speed limit and the drinking age, people clearly aren’t concerned if many infractions go unpunished so long as the general norms they seek to enforce seem to be basically in place. (With the drinking age, it’s hard to see how even that is the case, but for whatever reason, it’s not considered a national emergency.)

I would argue that immigration and the drug laws actually have something in common with the drinking age and the speed limit in that truly enforcing these laws to the extent that 90%+ of infractions were punished would require such incredible excesses of an intrusive police state that we would consider the side effects worse than the cure.

Now, I’ll start with the less controversial examples: While I could support lowering the drinking age a few years, or raising the highway speed limits a little, I have no problem with those laws existing despite the fact they cannot be wholly enforced. Even with insufficient and at times inconsistent enforcement of these laws, there do serve a social function and value. Thus, in their regard, I think it’s okay to have laws which it is impossible to fully enforce.

But what of drug laws and immigration laws — laws which arguably deal with issues which can have graver impacts to society and to individuals?

While I understand the argument that the “war on drugs” has caused far more suffering than either legalization or lax enforcement would (since it creates a niche in which the drug cartels thrive) I must admit that I am also hesitant about the idea of legalizing drugs. Yet it’s hard to see how “we should fight harder” is the answer here. While I don’t feel bad about killing or jailing members of the drug cartels, our fighting them seems to enable them more than defeat them (perhaps because defeating one group just helps one of their competitors.)

With immigration, given that we have a 2000 mile land border with Mexico, plus access to both coasts by sea, it’s hard to see how any amount of resources spent on enforcement could truly stop illegal immigration from Mexico. The US is simply too attractive, and too many American employers are happy to not ask questions when it comes to hiring cheap labor. I’m sure that we could have better enforcement than at present, but there really is a limit to how good it could ever be. And yet, even as an advocate of far looser immigration restrictions, it’s hard to say, “We’ll institute better laws, but we’ll never be able to enforce them anyway.” Though even imperfectly enforced immigration laws surely have some utility. While imperfect enforcement benefits law breakers while disadvantaging those who follow the law, no immigration laws at all could clearly result in a much greater influx than we currently see.

44 Responses to What If A Law Can't Be Enforced?

  • Art Deco says:

    While staggering amounts of resources are devoted to enforcing both of these

    For the record, the sum of appropriations for Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement is under $20 bn, or 0.12% of domestic product. I read an interview with a lapsed INS agent some years ago wherein he stated that (ca. 1990), that agency had all of seven (7) agents in the five boroughs of New York tracking down those who had overstayed their visas. Can we please build that cement wall on the southern border?

  • Mike Petrik says:

    To answer the primary question, whether the enactment of a law is prudent turns on a number of factors, but one important one is enforceablilty. If a law is generally ignored because it is impractical to punish violators, then it is probably an imprudent law.

    As a related matter, however, it is important to have a proper understanding of enforcement. In general, enforcement efforts are focused on apprehending violators, not preventing crime. In this sense I think it is very mistaken to suggest that our narcotics laws are not enforced. We may have widespread violations, but we have widespread enforcement as well — just look at our justice and prison systems. If we chose not to enforce these laws, the use of narcotics would be far more widespread — see Holland.

    This is equally true of cannibalism. I’m unaware of any widespread problem, but if instances surface so will criminal prosecutions.

    Illegal immigration is a bit different. Most people agree that it is not impractical to police our borders. Most other first world nations do it without much difficulty. The fact that our government chooses not to is scandalous. Apprehending illegals who are already here is far tougher, however, and general success would require prodigious resources and aggressive tactics that many Americans would find discomforting. Plainly, other options must be explored. But simply accepting widespread flouting of the law with no meaningful enforcement is unhealthy for a society. It breeds disrespect for the rule of law, and the respect for the rule of law is a cornerstone of a prosperous and free society.

  • Most people agree that it is not impractical to police our borders. Most other first world nations do it without much difficulty. The fact that our government chooses not to is scandalous.

    Well, we do have 20,000 border patrol agents — that’s not so much choosing not to as trying and failing. I’m sure that we could put more resources into border enforcement, and I’m sure we could use the ones we have more efficiently, but at the same time, it strikes me as unlikely that we can have such an incredibly large border with Mexico, with so much legal travel and trade going on, and not have a fair amount of illegal immigration if we insist on having a fairly low immigration quota.

    I may be missing something, but I can’t think of any other first world nations which share such a long border with a country so much relatively poorer than they are. So it doesn’t seem surprising to me that we’d have a lot more trouble enforcing immigration laws than other countries.

  • Drug laws can be enforced very efficiently and many countries do. Just execute all offenders. We can do the same for illegal immigrants. But most of us don’t care to deport our pool cleaners.

    Recreation drug use, underage drinking, speeding, and overstaying your visa are all, more or less, victimless crimes. The vast majority of offenders don’t cause any trouble. Libertarians wouldn’t punish any of them. At the very least the punishment should be minimal. Besides, illegal immigration is a result of restrictive legal immigration policy. It’s akin to Prohibition.

  • Patrick says:

    I do see some distinction between enforcement of immigration laws and drinking and speeding laws. The latter is a transient condition and the former is not. (I believe it was Churchill who told a woman “You’re ugly.” She replied, with disgust, “You’re drunk.” To which Churchill replied, “You are correct, madam, but in the morning I’ll be sober and you’ll still be ugly.” But I digress.)

    The focus of virtually all commentary on this subject is on people crossing the southern border of the United States. Some attribute this to racism. There may be some people so motivated, but I don’t think that playing the race card really adds anything to the discussion, one way or the other.

    Clearly, to better enforce the law in this geographic area, would require a lot more personnel, many more patrols, etc., probably barbed wire, mines and machine gun towers. Neither party has been willing to establish that budgetary priority. That leads me to suggest that, in the real world of politics, it isn’t going to happen.

    Further, it is my understanding that an estimated 40% of the people here illegally came here legally, perhaps to visit relatives, attend school or just came as “tourists.” They just never left when their visa expired. Not surprisingly, we don’t attach tracking collars to people who come to visit. So how do we “secure our borders” against that?

    The experience with the southern border and the over staying their welcome people suggests to me that “securing our borders” is an illusion, along the lines of “energy independence,” sloganeering about something that can not happen, as an alternative to a serious policy discussion. I don’t think that most Americans are really prepared to do the things that would be necessary to actually do in order to prevent further illegal immigration. We’re talking large numbers of armed enforcement officers, road blocks, “Are you papers in order?” etc.

    Further, even if we could identify, with zero errors, who is here illegally and who is not, and I don’t think that is really feasible, what could we do with them? I have heard estimates ranging from 8 million to 16 million who are here illegally. Are we prepared to forcibly deport 8 million people, breaking up families in some cases? Never mind the economic effect on the communities who employ many of these people. Never mind the mind boggling logistics of moving that many people to “some other” country. I don’t think this is a morally or even politically realistic alternative.

    So where does that leave us?

  • WJ says:

    I think, actually, that it’s far easier to make a case for the decriminalization of drugs than it is to make a case for the decriminalization of illegal immigration. If the empirical results of Portugal’s experiment in this arena are any sign, the social ills related to decriminalization are far less than those tied to the status quo: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=portugal-drug-decriminalization

    Also, I think that the decriminalization of drugs would actually *help* the country do something meaningful about immigration, as it would do a lot to lessen the stranglehold over northern Mexico currently enjoyed by the cartels and would subsequently lessen the crime in Arizona, California, and Texas associate with those cartels.

  • jh says:

    Darwin quit talking commomn sense/ I can make the same point on DWI laws. We know they are being enforced. BUT OH GOODENSS THERE ARE DRUNK Drivers on the road!! So they must not be being enforced

    I really encourage people who say the Federal Govt is trying to do nothing to get on twitter. A few weeks ago everyone was aghast on the left that Obama was deporting people left and right.

    Again this is a lot more complicated than people on either side will realize

  • Art Deco says:

    This is not that difficult.

    The border with Mexico is a shade under 2,000 miles long. Build a cement wall, decorate it with razor wire, add observation towers, and hire ~15,000 guards working in shifts and equipped with firearms and optical equipment to police it. That will force turnstile jumpers to make use of one of the several score lawful crossing points, where the 20,000 agents made reference to above can apprehend them (and small roving ambulence squads can pick up and minister to any who get shot from the observation towers).

    Once you have apprehended them, take them in front of a justice of the peace and thence off to a forty day stint in solitary confinement in a federal jail dedicated to these purposes. During that stay, you can collect identifying information from your subject and put it in a databank. At the end of his forty days in the cooler, deport him. If he returns, its sixty days in jail.

    You hire 15,000 border guards, a few thousand court functionaries, and some thousands more prison staff and make the associated capital investments and you have resolved that component of the problem of illegal immigration. If it be worth it to you.

  • jh says:

    “and small roving ambulence squads can pick up and minister to any who get shot from the observation towers). ”

    I know you are being sarcastic but sdaly too many would be fine with this

  • You hire 15,000 border guards, a few thousand court functionaries, and some thousands more prison staff and make the associated capital investments and you have resolved that component of the problem of illegal immigration. If it be worth it to you.

    An even simpler approach would have no additional costs at all: We could declare the entire country to be a prison and announce that we have now imprisoned all illegal immigrants.

  • Donald R. McClarey says:

    Making it a felony for a person to knowingly hire an illegal alien would go a long way to deterring illegal immigration. An illegal who is deported will often try again to come across the border. He or she has nothing to lose. Drying up the sources of work however would make the US a much less tempting place to live. A few high level prosections of a few corporate CEOs and some Hollywood stars would go a long way to getting the message across that the US, this time, is serious about stopping illegal immigration. Just the threat of such prosecution would eliminate most of the jobs that illegal aliens are currently hired to do. No jobs, no illegal aliens.

  • jh says:

    “Making it a felony for a person to knowingly hire an illegal alien would go a long way to deterring illegal immigration. An illegal who is deported will often try again to come across the border. He or she has nothing to lose. Drying up the sources of work however would make the US a much less tempting place to live. A few high level prosections of a few corporate CEOs and some Hollywood stars would go a long way to getting the message across that the US, this time, is serious about stopping illegal immigration. Just the threat of such prosecution would eliminate most of the jobs that illegal aliens are currently hired to do. No jobs, no illegal aliens.”

    Why does everyome think this is all HIGH priced CEOS and big companies. After Katrina there were a lot of ordianry people that got their home repairs and in fact Parishes Levees reparied because of illegals. They were the only work force

    In case people have not noticed we have a huge Crisis on the Coast and from whqat I hearing we having problems filling jobs that are paying around 15 dollars a hour. Guess what illegals will fill it and no one complain since out lievehood is at stake. Should people with oyster leases get felonies because they got to get people to stop the oil from coming in

  • Blackadder says:

    As Milton Friedman once noted, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Every dollar spent on immigration enforcement is one dollar less to be spent on ordinary law enforcement, healthcare, education, etc. The question ought to be not whether the law should be enforced or not (since as Darwin notes enforcement is not a binary question) but at what point spending more on border security costs more than it is worth. Given that even conservative estimates are that immigration is a net benefit to the U.S. economy (of approx. $20 billion a year), I would suggest that we are already spending too much.

  • Donald R. McClarey says:

    “After Katrina there were a lot of ordianry people that got their home repairs and in fact Parishes Levees reparied because of illegals. They were the only work force”

    I rather doubt that jh. I suspect they were the cheapest work force. Gaining control of our borders I put at a far higher priority than people having access to a relatively cheap source of labor.

  • Art Deco says:

    An even simpler approach would have no additional costs at all: We could declare the entire country to be a prison and announce that we have now imprisoned all illegal immigrants.

    I do not understand this response. I believe their are 3.3 million persons on the federal payroll. A 1% increase in that number might just secure the southern border. If it is not worth it to you, it is not worth it to you. It is, however, feasible.

    I know you are being sarcastic

    I was not. Cops are armed. Firearms are not ornaments.

  • Art Deco says:

    Given that even conservative estimates are that immigration is a net benefit to the U.S. economy

    Largely reaped by immigrant populations themselves and sensitive to public benefit regimes.

    Pareto optimality is not the only issue here.

  • jh says:

    “I rather doubt that jh. I suspect they were the cheapest work force. Gaining control of our borders I put at a far higher priority than people having access to a relatively cheap source of labor.”

    You may doubt it all you want but I know from everyone talking about it it was the only workable compentence work force people could find. Unless you wanted to wait for year with a hole in your roof.

    Just saying the soultion is comprehensive. No doubt now with out crisis on the gulf wioth the oil spill illegals will be play a crucial part in saving our coast because well too many peopl find working for 15 buckes a hour too low!! The roundups will not hasppen and we shall all tuen a blind eye. Untill they are no longer needed and become “criminals” again/ That is the reality

  • Art Deco says:

    If I were to charge a state police roadblock, I think I would do so expecting that by luck or finesse, said trooper would miss when he shot at me or my vehicle. Someone making use of whatever technology is available to scale a cement wall being monitored by armed guards should do so understanding that he is risking a dose of lead, most particularly if he is told to halt. It is police work and deadly force is part of their tool kit.

  • Donald R. McClarey says:

    “because well too many peopl find working for 15 buckes a hour too low!!”

    Once again jh it sounds to me as if you are talking about a cheap labor force rather than the only labor force available. I might add that here in Central Illinois plenty of people are working for far less than $15.00 per hour.

  • Art,

    I’m not clear what point you’re trying to make here. Yes, clearly if we wanted to implement full Berlin Wall type measures across a two thousand mile border (I assume we would also have “kill foreigners before they clear the surf” rules along the coastline like Shogunate Japan?) we could, as some financially achievable cost “secure our border”. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s “possible” to enforce the law, though.

    After all, it would be feasible in a financial and practical sense to mandate the installation of a “black box” in every car which would read a regional transponder that broadcast the local speed limit and if you exceeded the limit by so much as one 1mph, cut the engine and radio for the highway patrol to come and cuff you. It would be feasible to install microchips in the neck of every child which would detect any trace of blood alcohol injected before 21 and immediately radio for police to come pick the under age drinker up. Both would be almost as feasible as building a 2000 mile long wall with machine gun nests every couple hundred yards, but that doesn’t mean that they’re “possible” means of achieving full enforcement of the relevant laws.

    Which was my point.

    I mean seriously, you’d not actually advocating that we shoot people trying to sneak across the border, are you? We don’t allow cops to shoot someone who isn’t obviously an immediate physical threat to someone. Cops aren’t allowed to just gun down people who don’t listen to their verbal command to halt.

  • Making it a felony for a person to knowingly hire an illegal alien would go a long way to deterring illegal immigration. An illegal who is deported will often try again to come across the border. He or she has nothing to lose. Drying up the sources of work however would make the US a much less tempting place to live. A few high level prosections of a few corporate CEOs and some Hollywood stars would go a long way to getting the message across that the US, this time, is serious about stopping illegal immigration.

    Overall, I would definitely approve more of penalizing employers. However, I would imagine that if you weren’t prosecuting someone unsympathetic and famous, it would be moderately hard to make it stick. Picture:

    “Did you know this guy was an illegal immigrant?”
    “Absolutely not. I asked him for documentation when I hired him and he showed me papers that looked genuine.”

    Given the prevalence of face documentation, if you nail people regardless of whether they “knew” their employee was illegal, then a lot of employers will decide not to hire anyone who speaks Spanish just to be on the safe side. If you only prosecute people who “knew”, then somehow no one will have known.

    Personally, I would have no problem with a secure national ID card to deal with that problem, and I think it would probably help a lot, but somehow most conservatives happen to also hate the idea of a national ID card.

  • Donald R. McClarey says:

    “Personally, I would have no problem with a secure national ID card to deal with that problem, and I think it would probably help a lot, but somehow most conservatives happen to also hate the idea of a national ID card.”

    I would have no problem with a National ID Card, especially since our social security numbers have been de facto serving that purpose since the New Deal.

    “Absolutely not. I asked him for documentation when I hired him and he showed me papers that looked genuine.”

    That is when you play the video of him boasting to friends or stock holders that he has lowered the costs of the business\corporation by hiring illegals. Disgruntled employees, vengeful ex-spouses, etc all make excellent witnesses in this type of prosecution. Tax fraud prosecutions would be an excellent model for how these type of cases could be won. Oh, and then there are the illegal aliens themselves who might be willing to aid in the prosecution if given the proper incentives, including a monetary reward for informing on their boss which should be a part of any legislation. If government wants to crack down on the employers it wouldn’t be that difficult or that expensive.

  • I would have no problem with a National ID Card, especially since our social security numbers have been de facto serving that purpose since the New Deal.

    Yeah, I’ve never understood the hysteria about the idea. Especially given how pathetically easy it is to counterfeit social security cards.

    Oh, and then there are the illegal aliens themselves who might be willing to aid in the prosecution if given the proper incentives, including a monetary reward for informing on their boss which should be a part of any legislation. If government wants to crack down on the employers it wouldn’t be that difficult or that expensive.

    How about the ultimate Machiavellian twist: Green cards for illegals who successfully inform on their bosses who hired them illegally!

  • M.Z. says:

    There are foreign policy implications in militarizing a border. While there are plenty of illegal immigrants created by illegally crossing the border, more typical is the illegal immigrant that crossed the border legally. As for making the hiring of an illegal immigrant a felony, good luck with that. The federal prison population is 211,455 this week. The number of illegal immigrants is estimated at over 10,000,000. Needless to say, a doubling of the prison population would easily be possible, if not an increase of an order of magnitude were serious enforcement were attempted.

  • Donald R. McClarey says:

    I’d have no objection to such a reward Darwin!

    MZ, you don’t need to prosecute them all. A few high profile ones and people will decide it isn’t worth the risk to save a few bucks on having the lawn mowed, on the live-in Nanny, or mega-Corp hiring illegal aliens to gain a few points on the bottom line. Additionally to the felony hit, a fine of $50,000 per illegal alien hired could be tacked on. Otherwise solid citizens who are hiring illegals purely because they work cheap would quickly realize it wouldn’t be worth the substantial headache if they were caught.

  • Art Deco says:

    I guess I am uncertain as to why you would regard a fortification which demarcates a national boundary frequently violated as something analogous to to putting a person’s motor vehicle engine or liquor cabinet under state control. People tend to resist encroachments on their domestic sphere. The Mexican border is not running through your pantry. (And I would not concede that the microchip idea is technically feasible).

    My example of hypothetical dealings with New York State troopers holds here. It is not difficult to avoid being shot by cops. Do not hire heavy equipment to charge border fortifications and stop your vehicle when they tell you.

    I assume coppers in Corpus Christi will take people who wash ashore into custody and kill them only in self-defense.

    Some people refuse to submit to the authority of the police and some portion of these put life an property in danger in the process. I think the municipal police in New York City shoot about two dozen people a year, on average. Would you prefer they were unarmed?

    Conceivably you could have cost estimates of such a construction project which might cause me to reconsider. There’s an awful lot of concrete in the Interstate Highways, though. The one nearest me runs from Boston to Seattle, I think.

  • M.Z. says:

    MZ, you don’t need to prosecute them all. A few high profile ones and people will decide it isn’t worth the risk

    This has been the path to some of the more egregious abuses of discretion in prosecuting our drug laws. I’m wary of creating a penalty for deterrence effects. 1) Our best evidence suggests severity isn’t a deterrence. 2) I think gross penalties tend to encourage corruption, the current state of plea bargaining being a prime example.

  • Donald R. McClarey says:

    Most laws work purely on deterrence. Traffic laws and tax laws are prime examples. As to plea baragaining, whenever you have criminal statutes you are going to have plea bargaining. Without it, the legal system would come grinding to a halt within a month.

  • R.C. says:

    1. Make employers of illegals likely to be caught;
    2. Make the fines and prison time for employers of illegals significant;
    3. Make the fines and prison time for financial services organizations doing business with illegals significant;
    4. Enlist all public services delivery organs (excluding emergency medical) in detecting those here illegally, and make them ineligible for those services (again, excluding emergency medical);
    5. Make it easy for employers, financial services firms, and public service delivery organs to determine who is here illegally and who isn’t;
    6. Ensure that those detected, are repatriated, or at least terrifically inconvenienced.
    7. Double or treble the legal immigration opportunities, with anyone apprehended here illegally made ineligible even to visit as a tourist for ten years after their conviction, and put them at the “end of the line” thereafter. (I.e., reward those who go the legal route.)
    8. End birthright citizenship for children whose parents are not both citizens.

    This is the kind of thing a civilized society is morally obligated to do, and it is tender-hearted without failing to be tough-minded. The tough-minded part is the most important, of course, because it makes the tender-hearted part possible. But those who pursue only tender-hearted policies, without the prerequisite tough-mindedness, get neither.

    Anyhow, do all that, and you needn’t militarize the border, except as sufficient to capture, and when needed, destroy, drug runners. (I hear that Predators with Hellfire missiles do an admirable job at the latter, when there aren’t crowds of migrant laborers obfuscating the target.)

  • I guess I am uncertain as to why you would regard a fortification which demarcates a national boundary frequently violated as something analogous to to putting a person’s motor vehicle engine or liquor cabinet under state control. People tend to resist encroachments on their domestic sphere. The Mexican border is not running through your pantry.

    My point was more that having our southern border marked by a large cement wall topped with razor wire with machine gun emplacements every few hundred yard where border guards are under orders to shoot anyone who approaches the wall is something most people would consider to be authoritarian and un-American. I mean, we’re not talking about a country we’re at war with, we’re talking about peaceful trading partner that we have 250 million legal border crossings a year with. Seriously? You think the American people want people getting machine-gunned on a daily basis for approaching a wall? I keep hoping I’m playing the stupid straight man to a brilliant flight of sarcasm here.

    And even imagining this wall. (A little rough math suggests you’d need 8,800 machine gun emplacements if you put them every 400 yards, which with three shifts and two men per emplacement means you’d need about 53,000 guards.) What are you going to do about the thousands of people who could simply approach a legal border crossing point during daylight and respond to, “What is your business in the US,” with, “Para visitar a mi hermano.”

    Some people refuse to submit to the authority of the police and some portion of these put life an property in danger in the process. I think the municipal police in New York City shoot about two dozen people a year, on average. Would you prefer they were unarmed?

    No, I don’t think police should be unarmed, but surely you realize that police have very specific rules of engagement concerning when they can use their guns? They’re allowed to shoot when they think that someone is an immediate physical threat to the officer or to a bystander, not just because someone isn’t listening to order to stop. This is why there’s such a big stink and an officer accidentally shoots an unarmed minority guy.

    Shooting someone simply for putting a ladder against a wall and trying to climb over would be a massive departure from the way the US behaves anywhere other than a war zone.

    Seriously, you know this, don’t you? You’re normally one of the most widely informed commenters we have around here.

  • Art Deco says:

    It did occur to me that police have specific rules of engagement, but thanks for the lesson.

    I am not responsible, Darwin, for where your imagination leads you. I did say that sentinels at the border should be armed and that encounters between law enforcement and its objects lead to lethal violence on occasion. It should not surprise you if this occurs at the Mexican border. The initial subject of these discussions concerned the activities of organized crime, whose members are not adverse to the use of lethal force and do attempt to cross the border on occasion. The business about machine guns and quotidienne killings is in your head. Nothing to do with anything I ever alluded to.

    The purpose of fortifying the border is to channel the traffic to the legally-designated crossings where persons, vehicles, and merchandise can be subject to proper inspection. Your reference to the number of legal crossings is puzzling; fortifying the border does not in and of itself limit the number of legal-crossings, though it may exacerbate queuing problems. I am sorry the aesthetics of a concrete wall offends you. I do not care for the look of strip malls. I suppose the ugliness of them is not so ‘un-American’, however.

    Look, we are either serious about this or we are not. If immigration law is to serve public policy, immigration law has to be enforced. If it is not, circumstance, or someone other than you and your legislators, are establishing the pathways and destination meant to be set by immigration law. Enforcement means capital investment and manpower to see to it that people crossing the border have their paperwork in order. Enforcement means uniformed armed men telling you to do what you might prefer not to. There are occasions in this world when that turns ugly. And there is nothing terribly shocking about that.

    We are not at war with Mexico. That does not mean Mexican citizens should be permitted to settle in this country without a proper visa. If you are not willing to fortify and defend the border, that is your preferred policy by default. If the Mexican government fancies it is a casus belli that their citizens are compelled to follow the regulations which apply to everyone else, tough.

  • Art Deco says:

    What are you going to do about the thousands of people who could simply approach a legal border crossing point during daylight and respond to, “What is your business in the US,” with, “Para visitar a mi hermano.”

    If their paperwork is in order, wave them through. If it is not, hand them the proper forms and tell them to return with their paperwork in order.

  • The business about machine guns and quotidienne killings is in your head. Nothing to do with anything I ever alluded to.

    You’re right, it was another commenter who specifically mentioned “machine guns”, though that doesn’t strike me as a reach from what you said here:

    The border with Mexico is a shade under 2,000 miles long. Build a cement wall, decorate it with razor wire, add observation towers, and hire ~15,000 guards working in shifts and equipped with firearms and optical equipment to police it. … (and small roving ambulence squads can pick up and minister to any who get shot from the observation towers).

    The purpose of fortifying the border is to channel the traffic to the legally-designated crossings where persons, vehicles, and merchandise can be subject to proper inspection. Your reference to the number of legal crossings is puzzling; fortifying the border does not in and of itself limit the number of legal-crossings, though it may exacerbate queuing problems. I am sorry the aesthetics of a concrete wall offends you.

    Perhaps you know of something of which I’m unaware, but the only countries I know of which have fortified borders are those which are officially at war (ex: North and South Korea) and borders between authoritarian regimes and free countries (built by the rulers of the former to keep their citizens in.) Somehow all other civilized nations do have immigrations laws yet don’t have fortifications.

    Though to be fair — the US/Mexico border is the economically starkest in the world that I’m aware of, so I suppose one could argue this is from lack of need.

    If their paperwork is in order, wave them through. If it is not, hand them the proper forms and tell them to return with their paperwork in order.

    There is not a visa required to make a day trip to the US from Mexico. You just show ID and walk right through.

  • c matt says:

    I just don’t get it. I have lived in Texas since 1974 and illegal immigration has been around the entire time, if not from time immemorial. Why is it suddenly now such a huge deal? What has so significantly changed? Is it 9/11? If that’s the excuse, then the Canadian border (which is much larger) is an even bigger threat b/c of their much larger Muslim population and more hospitable crossing opportunities (ie, no desert). But no one seems to worry about that for some reason.

  • Art Deco says:

    There are other political frontiers which are also stark economic frontiers (Israel v. any of its neighbors, Saudi Arabia v. Yemen, Albania v. Greece). What is more atypical is the presence of extant social networks in which Mexican migrants can insert themselves and that the United States has a loose associative understanding of nationhood that is more friendly to migrants. Immigration is more a sociological phenomenon than an economic one.

    As for your last point – inneresting. Makes one wonder what is the value-added of surreptitious border crossings and coyotes.

  • c matt says:

    The day thing, if I understand correctly, applies to border towns. At least that is how it is for Texas points I have encountered. So, for example, you can just waltz across back and forth in Brownsville, but when you try to get further in (closer to Corpus Christi) there are check points that require additional documentation. Thus, the coyotes are for getting you further in, I imagine.

  • Art Deco says:

    then the Canadian border (which is much larger) is an even bigger threat b/c of their much larger Muslim population and more hospitable crossing opportunities (ie, no desert). But no one seems to worry about that for some reason.

    I am not sure I would characterize the crossing opportunities presented by the Rocky Mountains and the St. Lawrence Seaway as all that hospitable.

    That aside, if the population of Mexico and Central America were about a quarter what it is today, were the per capita income therein about 3x what it is today, were three quarters of the population therein conversant in English, and were the homicide rate a third what it is in the U.S., people might be less anxious about cross border traffic.

  • Patrick says:

    This discussion has gotten silly. I did laugh about declaring the whole country a prison, so we can say that we’ve apprehended all the illegals. What’s next? Pouring boiling oil on those who try to use a ladder to cross the fortified border?

    “A secure national ID card.” Ain’t no such thing. If you can make an ID card, so can I. All it takes is money to buy or make the equipment. There was an article in the Wall Street Journal last week about counterfeiting. It seems that the North Koreans make $100 bills that look as good as what we can print.

    None of the discussion about a fortified southern or northern border addresses the question of how to deal with people who are here illegally who came here legally in the first place, with a visa and a “welcome to the United States” from immigration.

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