by Ryan McMaken by Ryan McMaken
In several past columns [1, 2, 3,], I have examined a variety of ways that the anti-immigration lobby has called on the government to monitor and regulate American citizens in the name of keeping out non-citizens. Everything from national ID cards to government surveillance of entrepreneurs have been pet causes of the anti-immigration forces, but one of the increasingly popular tactics within the lobby in recent years has been to speak of the immigration problem in military terms, that is, as an "invasion" and as causing a "state of emergency."
Those who fail to oppose immigration with sufficient vigor are spoken of as "the treason lobby" and anti-immigration advocates speak in favor of military action against Mexico if the Mexican government is improperly worshipful of American edicts. Mexico is spoken of as a grave threat, that it is plotting to annex the American Southwest, and that the immigrant invasion is comparable to the barbarian invasions of Rome. In short, it is a national emergency requiring a massive empowerment of the government to monitor, imprison, and regulate millions of American citizens — not just the illegals — in order to avoid the coming apocalypse.
At this point, I must make the obligatory disclosure that I am not in favor of mass immigration into the United States. In many ways, mass immigration does indeed add to the power of government by increasing the size of the welfare state. The fact that illegal immigrants are entitled by law to free emergency room treatment and public schooling, among other things, is a public policy disaster on a massive scale, and only invites more immigrants who plan to avail themselves of such amenities at taxpayer expense. Responses to this problem such as Proposition 187 in California and Proposition 200 in Arizona have both been excellent plans.
At the same time, politicians use immigrants in a variety of political ploys and make use of absurdly easy access to voting privileges for new immigrants in order to forward their own agendas.
This is facilitated by the problem of birthright citizenship (just one of the many disasters resulting form the Fourteenth Amendment) and its guarantees of access to public goods. The final clause of the Amendment — the part giving Congress the power to do pretty much whatever it wants whenever it wants — is undoubtedly the worst, but Section One’s guarantee of all legal rights of citizenship to anyone "born or naturalized in the United States" clearly needs to be eliminated with the greatest speed possible.
But none of this justifies the declarations of war against Mexico and other histrionics exhibited by some in the anti-immigration lobby who would have us believe that no amount of government intervention is too much as long as it gets those immigrant savages out of the country post-haste.
Consider the recent poll posted on Pat Buchanan’s web site asking readers "Which of the following pose the greatest threat to the American people?" Voters could chose from among France, Israel, China, Iran, and several other allegedly grave threats to "the American people." The winner of this poll was Mexico, (with 41%, barely beating Israel’s 40%) indicating that many of Buchanan’s readers have concluded that immigration from Mexico is the greatest danger to national security of our age.
The responses of course prove nothing at all about Buchanan’s position on the matter, but his recent writings from a column promoting his latest book, State of Emergency, provide some alarming insights into Buchanan’s view of Mexico:
A president like Teddy Roosevelt would have led the Army to the border years ago. And if [Mexican President Vicente] Fox did not cooperate, T.R. would have gone on to Mexico City. Nor would Ike, who deported all illegal aliens in 1953, have stood still for this being done to the country he had defended in war,
That fact that Buchanan refers lovingly to "Teddy" Roosevelt (a demagogue of untrammeled arrogance and an enemy of liberty according to Buchanan’s own magazine) is alarming enough, but the fact that he seems here to be advocating the invasion of Mexico City if the Mexican government doesn’t agree with his policy preferences is curious for one who claims to support a restrained foreign policy.
Buchanan’s militarism on the subject is not unique. There are those who refer to pro-immigrant groups as the "Treason Lobby." By this definition, Thomas Jefferson and all his followers ever since the days of the anti-federalists have been guilty of treason, but that clearly doesn’t bother people who throw around terms like “traitor” as regular people use “Republican” or “Democrat.”
As one would expect from those who employ such militaristic rhetoric, the suggested solutions naturally tend toward granting the government vast power to rid the country of immigrants by any means necessary. Invading Mexico City is apparently on the table, as are regulations, fines, and imprisonment and other punishments for American citizens who dare engage in peaceful activities with non-government-approved (illegal) aliens.
This is of course, the identical attitude behind the War on Drugs, and what Ted Galen Carpenter calls the "Bad Neighbor Policy." Just as the anti-immigration lobby supports hefty punishments for Americans who chose to purchase illegal (non-government-approved) labor, The Drug War enthusiasts have long supported dire punishments for Americans who chose to purchase non-government-approved (illegal) drugs.
Add to this plenty of meddling in Latin America by the American military care of the American taxpayer, and one is looking at a virtual replay of drug policy in Latin America, except this time, the unachievable goal is stopping the flow of immigrants instead of stopping the flow of drugs. The result will be lots of new powers for the government, but American liberty will be the primary victim.
But then, liberty is obviously not a primary consideration for the anti-immigration militants. Consider Juan Mann, one of the more prodigious users of the phrase "treason lobby." When the REAL ID plan was being passed into law, Mann’s problem with it was not that it created a massive new federal bureaucracy designed to store and track the personal information of all American citizens. No, Mann’s problem was that the REAL ID law wasn’t strong enough, and that it let too many immigrants off the hook.
The fact that the anti-immigration militants throw around phrases like "state of emergency" and "invasion" illustrates that this is just the latest "crisis" in American political affairs, much like the drug "crisis" of the 1980s or the demon rum "crisis" of the 1920’s calling for powerful and sustained government intervention.
It is especially disturbing when such militant rhetoric is trotted out, for new attacks on liberty are sure to follow. It is all the more dishonorable that Mexico is now being held up as a villain state ripe for additional international pressure and even invasion because its government doesn’t care to take orders from Washington as so many think it should.
Mexico, of course, has endured numerous actual military invasions from the United States, and has been the recipient of almost constant military and political meddling since Independence. To insinuate now that Mexico is America’s most powerful antagonist risks unintentional comedy. Yet, the right to dictate Mexican law is so assumed by American politicians that, when Mexico recently considered legalizing possession of small amounts of drugs for Mexicans, “[Mayor Jerry] Sanders, a former San Diego Police chief, called the law ‘appallingly stupid, reckless and incredibly dangerous,’ and added ‘I view this as a hostile action by a longtime ally of the U.S.'”
Note that Sanders uses the language of war. Legalizing a peaceful activity for Mexicans is now “a hostile action” against the United States. The law never passed since the State Department was frantically turning the screws on the Mexican president, but the reality of Mexico’s assumed subservience was well illustrated.
The assertion that war needs to be declared on Mexico and the immigrants is characteristic of the anti-immigration movement’s efforts to convince itself and defenders of liberty that the ends justify the means. They will claim that the changes in law suggested above are just not likely to happen, and thus, militaristic, big-government solutions are the only answer. They will tell us that the Fourteenth Amendment cannot be changed, and that the present welfare system cannot be undone, and that voting rights for immigrants cannot be restricted for a variety of political and legal reasons. Indeed, they don’t even want to bother trying.
Even if their predictions of failure were incontestably true, which they most certainly are not, it would still not justify, either legally or morally, a new war on the American citizenry and on American liberties in the name of saving us all from immigrants. And it certainly doesn’t justify a declaration of war, rhetorical or otherwise, against Mexico or anyone else.
Ryan McMaken [send him mail] teaches political science in Colorado.