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Coming to grips with our broken borders
By Mike Harpold


June 24, 2006

Tom Proebsting's article, Crackdown on Illegal Immigrants, Sitnews, 6/22/06, underscores why it is so hard for Americans to come to grips with our broken borders. With 12 million illegal aliens living amidst our population of 300 million, chances are we all know one or two, and we like them.

One night thirty years ago over a few beers, a young Washington Post reporter (I was young then too) told me, "You guys are patsies. If it's four in the afternoon and I need a story to meet a six pm deadline, all I have to do is go into your office. There are fifty stories sitting right there in your hallways and any one of them would make my editors happy." He was referring to the Washington, D.C. field office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the horde of people who gathered, or were gathered there daily, awaiting deportation, seeking to stay in the U.S. a little longer, or trying to bring a relative to the U.S.

But my friend, Christopher Dickey, was a better journalist than that. One day he saw the word, Intipuca scribbled on the wall of a detention cell. Inquiring, he found that it was the name of a city in El Salvador, and that a major part of it's population was in Washington, D.C. working as bus boys, waiters and janitors. He convinced his editors to send him to Intipuca and found, though Washingtonians were unaware of it, Intipucans considered Washington, D.C. to be their sister city. What followed was a six part series describing the intertwining of the economies of both cities, how Intipucans found their way to the U.S., and the social effects of their absence from Intipuca. It was good journalism, illuminating for readers, at a time when there was far less awareness of the issue, the causes and consequences of illegal immigration. Chris continued to get recognition for his journalism throughout his career and today he is Mideast Bureau Chief for Newsweek magazine.

But not so with Mr. Proebsting, who even borrows for his human interest angle the story of a Mexican alien under deportation proceedings from the New York Times. Mr. Proebsting needs to look a lot deeper. No, you can't hate an illegal alien who often has come here enduring great hardship to secure a better way of life. But our natural sympathy for such a person should not shield us from our obligation to look closely at the problems caused by our open borders and our failure to enforce our immigration laws. Sustaining an orderly, humanitarian and useful flow of new immigrants into our country in the future is already at risk by our failure to do so.

It is the editorial page of the Times itself this week that highlights a second reason why an honest discussion about illegal immigration is so difficult. In an editorial covering five pages in the web version of the Times which has run all week, The Terrible, Horrible, Urgent National Disaster That Immigration Isn't, editorial board member Lawrence Downes sets out to deconstruct every argument made for securing our borders and labels those who raise them xenophobes. It is the playground equivalent of attempting to win an argument by calling your opponent names.

"Many of those who favor a get-tough approach to immigration do not like having their arguments mocked and their tolerance questioned." he writes. "They hate being dumped into the loony bin with Colonel Custer, the the Know-Nothings and the the Ku Klux Klan."

"That is understandable. But xenophobia is not restricted to a fringe element within the anti-immigration movement. Panicky arguments about the dangers of immigration have been made by supposedly responsible people - including members of the United States House and Senate, and state, county and local officials around the country."

I would be the first to concede that there are a lot of scary people crawling out of the woodwork and being heard on this issue. The press, including the New York Times, does no one a service by reporting their rants instead of focusing on the legitimate arguments for enforcing our borders and our laws advanced by responsible, insightful people and the sizable portion of our countrymen who are adversely affected by our failure to enforce immigration laws. Nor does it help when the foremost newspaper in the country seeks to end the argument by calling those who disagree with their editorial view xenophobes.

Mr. Downes views illegal immigration as an economic issue that it is good for the economy and therefore is not a problem and should be tolerated. I believe that those who proffer such arguments believe that through free trade we have transcended our nation status and exist as a free-floating, formless vapor, where people flow from one continent to another existing not in any society nor owing allegiance to any nation, but answering only to the economic needs of the world market. Under this scenario, and it pretty well describes the present reality, borders are an anachronism. To bring this back to Mr. Proebsting, the Beltway crowd already believe this, and that is why there is such a huge disconnect between Washington, D.C. and the rest of the country on this issue. People who work for a living aren't buying it.

The NY Times would have done better to devote its five pages to a summary of what's in the 796 pages of new law the Senate proposes to add to the Immigration and Nationality Act. The entire existing INA as printed by West and including editorial notes and references is only 479 pages. Or it could do some good investigative coverage of why our elected leaders have failed to enforce our laws and caused this mess in the first place. Maybe it could foster a real discussion about the downside of extending free trade policies to people's labor, not just the trade in goods. And it could start by according people who honestly argue that such policies are harmful some dignity.

Mike Harpold
Ketchikan, AK - USA

About: The author lives in Ketchikan and is retired after a 35 year career in the INS.

Related Viewpoint:

letter Crackdown on Illegal Immigrants By Tom Proebsting - Moberly, MO - USA



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