While there are many gaping holes in our immigration system, none gets as much attention as our southern border with Mexico. It is no wonder that the current crop of presidential candidates focus so much of their time on the topic.
In my first essay, I made the bold statement: “Mexico isn’t going to pay for the wall, and we’re not going to deport millions of people and break up families. If you think either one is a good idea, you’re not smart and probably not a person I want to hang out with.”
The vast majority of readers who commented agreed with that sentiment. Not surprisingly, a significant number of people told me in a variety of colorful ways that we will indeed build a wall, Mexico will pay for it, and we will round up and deport every illegal immigrant (including their unwanted anchor babies) and send them back from whence they came. (These are the folks that I won’t be inviting over for a cookout anytime soon.) But let’s be clear about both of these notions—the wall and mass deportation. Even if we built a big, strong, beautiful wall from San Diego to Boca Chica, thousands upon thousands of illegal immigrants would still find their way into the United States. They will dig under, climb over, and drive through this fantastical wall (packaged in myriad creative ways). We would also see images of dead men, women, and children crammed into trucks, boats, and suffocated in collapsed tunnels paraded across our screens and newspapers (or maybe not). The death toll will be staggering and will be yet another stain on our national conscience.
It’s curious to me that none of the politicians who spit buckets of venom on this topic ever ask the one simple question that might point us to a humane and cost-effective solution. They never ask, why do so many people risk their lives to cross our southern border?
Even a cursory glance at the news coming out of Mexico reveals the glaringly obvious reason—Mexico is a horrifically dangerous place. Mexico is in the midst of what amounts to a civil war. Only it’s not a war between two opposing political factions, but instead it’s a war waged by drug cartels against the legitimate Mexican state and federal governments. The situation is made worse by the fact that Mexico is still undergoing a slow recovery from the Global Recession of 2009, has one of the highest poverty rates in the Western Hemisphere, and has a significant portion of its labor force working in the black market. The drug-related violence is so bad that it has actually resulted in a drop in the average life expectancy of the Mexican male population.
“Today’s overly restrictive legal limits on green cards mean that virtually all undocumented immigrants have no avenues for legal entry to the United States.”
While the government grapples with a bruised and battered economy, they are also struggling to maintain law and order in virtually every state in the country. Horrific murders, kidnappings, rape, torture, and assassinations of police, judges, and politicians is at an all-time high. Some communities are literally under the administrative control of drug cartels, the citizens either forced into service for or living in fear of the drug dealers. This is the reality for millions of people who just want to raise their children in peace.
The world is currently watching millions of Syrians flee the violence in their homeland, seeking refuge in any country that will take them. Why should we be surprised that our neighbors to the south should want to flee violence and oppression on a similar scale in Mexico? Isn’t it reasonable that they would want to come to the United States to escape the violence and economic turmoil of their homeland?
Before we get too far into this topic, let’s agree on something: the United States has a problem with illegal immigration. Here are five quick facts from the Pew Research Center that anyone should be able to stipulate to when discussing the topic of illegal immigration:
- There were 11.3 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. in 2014.
- Mexicans make up about half of all unauthorized immigrants (49%), though their numbers have been declining in recent years.
- Six states alone account for 60% of unauthorized immigrants—California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey and Illinois.
- Unauthorized immigrants make up 5.1% of the U.S. labor force.
- About 7% of K-12 students had at least one unauthorized immigrant parent in 2012.
Some people will argue that anyone wanting to flee Mexico should simply come to the US via one of the established and legal immigration pathways. That sounds great on paper but the reality of legally immigrating to the United States is difficult for everyone and impossible for many. The American Immigration Council states, “Today’s overly restrictive legal limits on green cards mean that virtually all undocumented immigrants have no avenues for legal entry to the United States.”
When you consider the violence, the devastating poverty, and the failure of our immigration policy, can we really blame them for coming by any means they can?
Before you answer that question, be sure to examine your role in illegal immigration. “What role could I possibly play in illegal immigration,” you ask yourself. I hope you’re sitting down, because this might get a little uncomfortable.
Do you enjoy sleeping on clean sheets when you stay in a hotel? How about those clean toilets and showers…you like those? I bet you expect to have clean plates and silverware when you dine at a restaurant. How about all that gloriously fresh and tasty fruit that you drop into your NutriBullet every morning? I bet you like being able to afford that! And let’s not forget all of our golf courses, resorts, and parks with manicured lawns and lush landscaping. We simply couldn’t live with out that.
If you enjoy any of that then you are huge fan of illegal immigration. And you support it with your dollars every time you go out to dinner, stay in a hotel, or enjoy a round of golf. Now those of you who are already angrily typing a response to tell me how awful and racist the previous paragraph was, please take a deep breath and back away from the keyboard. Could it be considered promoting a stereotype? Sure. But take a look around. The jobs I described are jobs that are disproportionately filled by Latino immigrants. I don’t know why, but it is what it is.
Like it or not, the harsh reality is that our economy requires a continuous source of cheap, unskilled labor. Entire sectors of our economy depend on it.
So if we need these laborers but we seemingly have no political will to implement a more modern, rational, and fair immigration policy, what then? Frankly, I have no idea. I do believe that anyone who entered the United States illegally should face some kind of penalty. Many ideas have been suggested but I support those that include some combination of fine and payment of back taxes, but that ensures a path to citizenship—even one that is considerably longer than if they had entered the country legally. I feel strongly that anyone who comes to the US, works hard, and pays their taxes, should have the ability to live the full American experience with all the attendant rights and privileges. But this all seems a long way off.
Until ‘we the people’ make immigration reform a priority and force our elected officials to do something about it, I suspect we will continue to argue incessantly and watch the situation get progressively worse.
Here is what I do know. Regardless of who wins the next presidential election, the United States is not going to round up and deport 11.3 million undocumented workers. Such a plan is not only utterly impossible to implement from a logistical and financial standpoint, it is immoral and would permanently damage the standing of the United States in the eyes of our allies, and confirm the propaganda spread by our enemies.
Can you imagine the images of parents being forcibly removed from their homes while their children (many of whom are legitimate American citizens by right of birth) stand screaming and clawing at ICE agents as their mothers and fathers are dragged away in handcuffs? What would such a program do to the psyche of our nation? What kind of society would such a crass and inhumane policy birth?
No, we won’t deport 11.3 million people. So let’s stop saying that we should and that we will. Such statements are effectively lies and do nothing to advance the cause of solving our genuine immigration problems. And it diminishes us as a people.
We also are not going to build a wall from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. While it may be technically possible, it would be a complete and utter waste of valuable resources. It would fracture the longstanding partnership with Mexico, damage our relations with Canada, and diminish our standing as the moral, cultural, and economic leader of this hemisphere. And frankly, it would do very little if anything to stem the flow of illegal immigrants across our southern border. As with so many utterances of the political class, this too is just hand-waving and theater intended to distract us from the simple fact that our elected officials have failed to act on meaningful immigration reform for more than thirty years.
As a Christian, I am appalled at the lack of compassion and concern shown by my countrymen and my brethren in the faith for the plight of the Mexican people (and many others). If the church can turn a blind eye to such outlandish and immoral policy suggestions—or in many cases support them—then we have surely lost our soul as a nation.
In the end, all I can do is carefully examine my attitudes and respond accordingly. The Bible I read tells me to love my neighbor as myself. Where I live, my neighbors are people from all over the world. I don’t know their immigration status nor do I care. My only responsibility is to love them, live in peace with them, and serve them in whatever way I can. That’s what Christ taught and it is the only response that has eternal consequences.
It is my sincere hope that we can change the way we think about the millions of hard-working undocumented immigrants, many of whom do the jobs that no one wants. Let us see in them an echo of our own ancestors who came to America for a variety of reasons, but all in the hopes that they could live peacefully and prosperously in this great nation.
March 7, 2016 at 6:45 pm
Bravo! Your essay is exactly what my husband and I talk about when we discuss the plight of many of the illegal immigrants. How can a Christian nation be so heartless when it comes to this subject. Other countries may rightly call us “ugly Americans” when they see presidential candidates spout the hateful and impossible actions they would do if elected.
March 7, 2016 at 6:45 pm
Thanks so much. Please share!
March 9, 2016 at 6:11 pm
Re: “How can a Christian nation be so heartless…” This nation was not created as a Christian nation. That idea is conservative Christian propaganda. But don’t just take my word for it. Read about the founding of this country. Read the Bill of Rights. The very first line of the First Amendment is “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…” The crucial part? “…an establishment of religion…”
As a nation, this country does not act the least like a Christian nation. Look at the percentage of our population that is in prison. Look at the percentage of this nation that favors torture. Look how hard the Republican party worked to kill the ACA; and they never had a replacement plan. They simply wanted to deny people medical insurance. Is that the Christian way? Look at what the Republican candidates claim to want. Nothing Christian in any of their positions.
What has this nation done at the federal level that could give anyone the idea that this is a Christian nation? This is a nation that is run by greed to insure the betterment only of those that actually own it.
March 7, 2016 at 7:02 pm
With what I have seen happen to families, I would never urge any undocumented immigrants to even apply for a VISA. Until immigration reform happens with a path to citizenship, they are better off staying under the radar.
March 7, 2016 at 9:47 pm
Thank you LaMonte, for saying so eloquently what I have said and feel in my heart and soul. California and Texas both belonged to and were a part of Mexico. Mexicans were here first. As a native San Franciscan and Californian I was taught this in elementary school in the 1950s. The USA was instrumental in the politics of demolishing the Berlin Wall, which started coming down in 1990. Here we (US Politicians and citizens) are, 26 years later, talking/considering building a Wall instead of addressing the real issue, Immigration Reform.
March 8, 2016 at 5:39 am
That is a point I have forgotten about, that Texas and California WERE part of Mexico.. What I do remember is watching a PBS documentary back in the late 90s called The West, I believe. I was horrified by the means that we took control of the West. If someone Spanish stood in our way, ranchers, farmers or any landowners, they were bribed or killed and the white man took over. We all know what they did to the Indians, and that in itself is horrifying.
March 8, 2016 at 5:43 am
Thank you again for a great article. Sometimes I wonder how much damage is going to occur worldwide because of our insane Presidential candidates this year. Mainly one, but the others are scary, too. It’s refreshing to find a place online to connect with like minds.. Thank you again Mr. Fowler..
March 8, 2016 at 8:59 am
All of my Grandparents and some of my Aunts and Uncles, were born in Europe. They were born in the “Pale of Settlement”, which was an area where Jews were forced to live in Ghetto’s, subject to harsh, restrictive laws due to their religion. Frequently, they were killed, beaten and raped as their Christian neighbors decided it was time for sport. They came to America at the end of the 19th Century, in the teeming holds of ships and with mostly the clothing on their backs. They came for the promise of a life where they could be free to practice their religion without harassment. This entry was severely restricted in 1923, when laws were past trying to limit immigration to people of less “undesirable” backgrounds. Because of those laws most of my fellow Jews, unable to emigrate, died in the concentration/death camps of the Germans.
All of the anti-immigration, Republican candidates, have immigration in their own background. Two of them, are first generation immigrants, three of whose parents were born in Cuba. Yet these men, children of immigrants, want to close off our borders to others of Latino heritage. They are emblematic of the attitudes of their Party, which are attitudes catering to bigoted hatred, while professing a phony Christian piety.and celebrating greed.
Jesus formulated the “Golden Rule”, which his contemporary Rabbi Hillel the Elder also formulated saying it was the entire basis of the Torah. They both came late to the game, since 500 and 600 years prior the same formulation was made by Confucius and The Buddha. That formulation is the basis for all real philosophy and lays out a groundwork for how humans can live with each other in harmony. I fear that human harmony is not a high priority on the lists of those professing hatred of the “Other” and running for the office of President.
March 8, 2016 at 9:52 am
Let me begin by saying I am totally in agreement with your conclusion that the United States has to face the immigration question and solve it. There are a couple of things I would like to comment on.
I lived in Mexico for almost 20 years and travelled all over the country. I visited both large cities and walked through many a cornfield. The situation in Mexico itself is very complicated. There is a strong middle class and lower middle class that reaches down from the large cities to even municipal (county level) cities. These are not the people who generally want to come to the US. The people who do come are predominantly from the extreme rural areas where earning $300 a year in cash is often times considered wealthy. They are subsistence farmers and very small ranchers who, looking at the opportunity to gain in a month what they would gain in year, risk everything.
The war of the cartels had not reached the heights of 2010-2014 when I lived there. Yes, I would not drive from TX to Central Mexico today. The drug cartels do control vast areas. This war between themselves and the Mexican government has precipitated the large number of violent deaths. However, I feel the Mexican government had no choice but to escalate the war. Yes people are escaping violence, but the economic motivation is much stronger.
The people you speak about picking our vegetables, washing our dishes and cooking in many restaurants are the ones who come. They find the cash wealth they can gain and send back to their families is worth the risk. They are working for us. I firmly believe that certain sectors of the economy including agriculture would almost collapse without this labor. Even if some argue they are taking jobs, in reality they are doing the jobs that others would not do. The hard fact is that even though these wages are often below minimum wage, they are doing what many in the US will no longer do. Frankly Mexico counts the amount sent back to the country in remesas a large percentage of their gross national income. Again, gaining more in one month in cash than they would probably see in a year is an incredible motivator.
The answer I feel is very complex, one that involves our drug policies, face it US citizens are the major consumers of the drugs smuggled over the border, our immigration policies and of course how Mexico deals with the rural poor. We are the ones who make it lucrative for people to get involved in smuggling and who make money that most doctors or educators in Mexico. Our policies have to recognize the workers who are here, their children born here and the fact our economy depends on them in vital sectors. Mexico has to deal with its rural poor in ways that are meaningful. Something that is often given lip service but not real answers.
You are right, we will not build a wall or deport millions. The very thought of either is repugnant to me. We can however have a dialogue about how we get from the point we are now, to the point where we need to be: a country that recognizes and celebrates our acceptance of “the least of these” who matter the most.
March 8, 2016 at 12:41 pm
March 8, 2016 at 2:49 pm
We need more people to think and act like you.
Truly then we will have the greatest country.
March 28, 2016 at 7:01 am
I’m not %100 on what I’m about to say but I’m preeetty sure I’m right. I believe there is an employment law on the books that allows for any job, that based on seasonal need, is considered temporary, can be filled by immigrants. Jobs like, hotel cleaner, cooks, farming…etc fall under such classification.
This isn’t attached to an opinion because that’s just one facet of a very complex issue, but our government passed that law.
Love your writing by the way.
August 26, 2020 at 3:58 pm
Dear Mr Fowler, please remind me of an agreement that you can use my photograph “Photographer Raechel Running in the border town Aqua Prieta, Mexico.” © Stefan Falke
or did you purchase it from my agency ?
Best, Stefan Falke (stefanfalke.com)
August 26, 2020 at 4:09 pm
Mr. Falke…since it was used in the context of a non-commercial critical essay, I applied the Fair Use standard to your image, as I do with most of the images I use. I am happy to remove it from the essay if you prefer. No infringement of your copyright was intended, as demonstrated by the citation and link to your website in the caption under the photo. Please accept my sincere apology.
August 26, 2020 at 4:15 pm
Me Fowler, I appreciate your quick answer and the use of my name and link but I’d still like you to remove my image.
Thank you, Stefan Falke
August 26, 2020 at 4:21 pm
The image has been removed. Thanks for reaching out.
August 26, 2020 at 4:22 pm
Thank you! All the best, Stefan