Democracy: where the possible becomes impossible by definition

I hate the immigration issue. I am sick to death of hearing about it, and I think a lot of people are. I hate it because it challenges my sense of libertarianism, and because it makes people emotional. And worst of all, it is incapable of solution.

To add insult to injury, what I hate the most is having to consider that my central argument may be wrong.

My central argument is that the country should simply regain control of its borders. (In lay terms, it's better to close the barn door than leave it open!) It seems painfully logical to me that if the problem is one of too many people having crossed the border illegally, that this should -- and must -- be stopped. People do not agree on either the principles or the details of such ideas as "guest worker" programs, or draconian crackdowns on employers or immigrants which would felonize tens of millions of people. But shutting off the flow by closing the border is the one very simple concept on which there is a huge national consensus. Without getting into what "should have" been done, shutting the border now is logical and the political consensus is there.

Add to logic and consensus common sense. It makes no sense at all to argue about what to do with 12 million people who are already here (and shrilly call for crackdowns on American economic freedom) when millions more are still crossing unimpeded.

While I hate having to admit I'm wrong as much as anyone, sometimes it helps to have someone point out the obvious, and the other night a friend simply told me that closing the border is physically impossible.


That's a tough word to overcome. No amount of common sense, logic, or consensus will work.

I can hope my friend is wrong, but now that I think it over, it occurs to me that there has not been one serious proposal to actually seal the border. Not even the draconian Sensenbrenner plan with its calls for beefed up enforcement does that.

Might it be that the leaders of this country know something that I don't?

In the context of terrorism, Tammy Bruce remarks on the irony of this grim but stubborn bit of conventional wisdom:

Here [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] uses the fact that President Bush and the administration and the US Border Patrol insist constantly that closing the border is impossible. Of course, this isn't true--the Minuetmen and women have done so with overwhelming success, but you see how this absurd domestic position is so easily used by a maniac to undermine our efforts against terrorism. And he's right, if we supposedly can't close our border, why should we expect him to be able to close his?
I'm inclined to think the answer is that "we" could -- if "we" wanted to.

Impossible has to be seen not in terms of physical impossibility (I think there is enough concrete, steel, and personnel in the U.S.), but political impossibility. In near unanimous agreement, politicians recite the "impossible" meme over and over again to the point where most people believe it.

The Economist argues that closing the border is impossible unless the illegal aliens are legalized:

The reformers' most important ally, though, is common sense. America has spent millions of dollars trying to tighten up its borders only to see the situation get worse. It now relies on illegal workers to pick its vegetables and build its buildings. Closing the border is impossible without some sort of legalisation for the millions in the country; mass deportation would do irreparable harm both to America's economy and to its traditions as an immigrant-friendly nation.
I disagree that closing the border is impossible without legalization of the 12 million. If the border is closed, the 12 million will still be here as they now are, and whatever existing relationships they have with various employers will not be changed. What to do about these 12 million, whether to launch a draconian crackdown on employers, whether to pursue a policy of benign neglect -- these are independent issues from closing the border.

I have one question, and one question only. I want to know whether closing the border is impossible. If it is, then I am wasting my time.

Perhaps we all are.

Chuck Baldwin at WorldNetDaily (link) argues that closing the border would be impossible without killing:

Closing the border is impossible unless you're willing to kill hundreds of Mexicans a day.
I'm not quite sure about the logic of that, as I don't think it is necessary to shoot border crossers.

Another bit of illogic from an anonymous commenter at TalkLeft:

"sealing" the border is impossible. the southwestern part of the u.s. was taken from mexico, california by terroristic means. what goes around comes around. you want to "seal" the border, the prepare yourself for berlin wall II. are you nuts?

stopping a tide of humanity acting largely out of noble motives is NOT a good bet for success. work on global capitalism, work on paying everyone everywhere a LIVING WAGE. we're talking about money, after all, a completely inanimate object which has NO intrinsic value. work on that, make a just world where profit and exploitation aren't seen as shrewd business practices.

That's the "Reconquista" argument, which is not only a fringe idea, but has nothing to do with whether shutting the border is physically possible.

Erecting a fence has been proposed, by a group called From a Fox News report:

"What are people from Yemen and Syria and Iran doing in Mexico trying to enter the U.S. illegally? This is an issue that requires a wall," said Colin Hanna of "We are absolutely not anti-Hispanic, we do not think the fence should be perceived as anti-Hispanic, or anti-Mexican, we are not anti-immigrant, we are pro-immigration, but we are pro- legal immigration."

Hanna's group hopes to persuade Congress to take on the $8 billion project but aside from the cost, Hispanic activists claim that good neighbors build bridges, not fences, and that a fence will stigmatize people fighting for their shot at the American dream.

"I think what we're doing is criminalizing work and criminalizing the need of families to be together," said Angela Sanbrano of the Central American Resource Center, an open-borders interest group.

Years ago, the idea of a great wall on the southern border would have been dead on arrival in Congress, but times have changed. Polls now show that more than 80 percent of Americans like the idea, and it has bipartisan support. One House bill has bipartisan support but is nowhere near ready for passage by the entire Congress.

If the 80 percent figure is correct, it certainly belies the idea that sealing the border is politically impossible.

But how possible is a fence?

Temple University law professor Jan C. Ting (assistant commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service from 1990 to 1993) opined in the Philadelphia Inquirer that fences work:

We know what works: a border fence. When illegals encounter an effective border fence, they are driven to unfenced sectors. Granted, sometimes this leads them into less hospitable territory, risking and sometimes losing their lives. The solution is to build a fence that can't be walked around, from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R., Calif.) has proposed such a fence.

Critics complain about the cost. But they ignore the costs of not building a fence, of having to hire ever more Border Patrol agents, deploy ever more technology, spend ever more on prosecution, incarceration, and medical care for illegal aliens, as well as public education for the children. As long as the border is open, the crisis will continue, and businesses that try to hire only legal workers will continue to be noncompetitive with those that hire illegals at lower wages. Four years after 9/11, it is ridiculous to worry about our subways and trains and ports and factories yet leave our borders wide open.

Regarding cost, argues it's the same as four B-2 bombers:
The cost of a modern border security fence is in line with its national security priority: roughly the cost of 4 B-2 bombers.

  • A 2,000 mile state-of-the-art border fence has been estimated to cost between four and eight billion dollars. That is roughly equivalent to four B-2 bombers or Virginia class submarines.
  • Such a fence could be designed with up to two hundred legal crossing points to accommodate commerce, tourism and legitimate commuting. Although expensive in terms of initial outlay, in the long term it is both less expensive and more effective than any other solution currently being proposed.
  • "Impossible" doesn't strike me as the right word.

    The word comes up a lot in any discussion about closing the border, but I think most of the people who use it don't mean it in the literal sense of physical impossibility. A lot of people use the word "impossible" to dismiss an argument they dislike. Or else they mean politically impossible.

    Can something which is:

    - physically possible; and

    - supported by 80% of the voters in a "democracy";

    really and truly be politically impossible?

    Democracy sure is complicated in a republic.

    (Yeah, I know we're living in a republic, but in theory it's supposed to be a democracy. The problem is, there's no such thing as a "democratic republic." Hey don't look at me! That's how politics works.)

    posted by Eric on 04.05.06 at 06:50 AM


    I just scanned your post, but it's obviously impossible to "seal" the border. It's also impossible to completely seal any building against drafts, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't caulk your windows. In this case, that would mean building walls in certain places and using drones, cameras, and sensors (that are operational) in other places.

    And, supporters of illegal immigration make the same BS argument as The Economist. If you just do border enforcement and do almost no workplace enforcement, you aren't really doing enforcement.

    Bush has not only thwarted attempts to increase border enforcement, he's also done very little workplace enforcement.

    So, when The Economist says that all our efforts at enforcement have failed, they're lying to you.

    TLB   ·  April 5, 2006 11:30 AM

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