Free and Worldly (The Baffler)
Closing All the Borders
I focus on the southern border because Canadians do not tend to emigrate in mass to the US, being rather disdainful of their loud and agitated American cousins. Canadians also guard their border rather competently. Moreover, the southern border is the access route for a potential hundreds of millions of destitute people from Latin America. It may be also that it’s becoming increasingly the entry point for many others from underdeveloped countries everywhere, including terrorists. That would be because the countries of Latin America do not guard their own borders rigorously, as a rule. Violent jihadists from Yemen can easily enter Mexico as tourists, for instance. (Maria Anastasia O’Grady reports in the Wall Street Journal of 4/26/21 that 20,000 “undocumented immigrants” entered Panama through its physically very rough southern border in 2020. She says the number appears to be increasing in 2021. She asserts also that these migrants largely originate from outside continental Latin America.)
Closing our southern border is not that difficult in principle. Former President Trump showed the way. A physical wall supplemented in places by sophisticated electronic devices (especially in remote areas where allowing wild life to circulate between the US and Mexico forbids a solid wall) would work fine. This can probably be done at a long term cost that compares favorably to the expenses occasioned right now, for example (April 2021) by the necessity to deal in a panic mode with large immigrant surges. What’s required is the political will to do so. It has been lacking for a long time in a large fraction of the US population or, at least, the Democratic Party thinks so.
If the political will to enforce the border were more widespread, we would find penalties against employers of illegal immigrants imposed more frequently and systematically than is the case now. The penalties applied to employers would also be high enough to be more frightening to them. We also indicate our lack of collective seriousness by keeping low the personal penalties imposed for illegal border crossing. It’s now a misdemeanor associated with a $50 to $250 fine. This is not much to people – even poor people – who pay thousands for help crossing the border.
There is a second border issue that almost never makes the news. It’s likely that as many immigrants, and as many illegal immigrants come by plane and even by ship as walk or drive across the southern border. Controlling these should not, in principle, be difficult either. It has long been the practice to hold carriers who bring travelers to the country responsible for their possessing a proper visa. Presumably, the practice has withstood legal challenges. It could be enlarged to make carrier responsible also for foreign visitors not overstaying their visas. There is no reason why the carriers could not be compensated for this service. Tax credits come to mind. It would be cheaper than any other, civil service-based, solution.
We now have a kind of system of randomly open borders. It’s probably possible to bring sufficient numbers of citizens and of their elected reps to agree that there is border and that it should normally stay closed through a Grand Bargain on immigration. First, the Republican Party should come forward finally to solve the problem of illegal residents brought to the US by their parents when they were children (the so-called “Dreamers”). This continuing issue is a blotch on American honor, to my mind.
The Republican Party could also offer to trade cooperation on the matter of closing the border against the acceptance of greatly increased numbers of refugees and asylees. (Those who want to be here and whom we don’t necessarily want.) The Republican Party has nowhere to go but up in this respect anyway. Those refugees admitted in 2019 and in 2020 were a ridiculously low number for a US population of about 320 million. There were a total of 76,00 refugees and asylees admitted in 2019; only 18,000 refugees were permitted in 2020; I have no information about the number of asylees in the same year. (The Biden administration announced in mid April 2021 that the cap on numbers of refugees would remain the same as in 2020. Then he seemed to walk the position back. As of this writing, we don’t know what his administration will do. Does it?) By way of comparison, Canada admitted 102,000 refuges in 2018. Its population is 37 million. Germany with a population four times smaller than ours took in 101,000 refugees in 2019. Tiny Switzerland admitted almost as many. These figures are for illustration only. One must keep in mind that refugee admissions numbers can vary greatly from year to year depending on geopolitical events.
In general, the recipe for success in controlling nation-states’ borders is straightforward: Keep the doors closed until there is a legal reason to open them. Be clear and thorough about what legal reasons are. Don’t confuse again pity and necessity. This formula does not solve the problem of walk-in refugees who avoid legal entry points. A wall largely supplemented by making all applications take place outside the country – with a few exceptions – would solve that problem. I deal with this issue [here] under: “A Different Way to Process Refugees:…”
The Nation-State and Borders
Nation-states have to possess immigration policies or they cease to exist. I mean any number of things by “cease to exist,” including falling apart organizationally and economically, to the point of being unable to provide a minimum degree of order, of predictability. (This last sentence might rub pure libertarians the wrong way. I am willing and eager to engage them on the topic of nation-states, societies, and social order.) This failure to function can be the result of an influx of large numbers of immigrants unable to provide for themselves, obviously. I am not suggesting that this is the only possible cause. It’s one cause and it’s staring us in the eyes as I write (April 2021, three and half months into the Biden presidency).
More prosaically, but also a little mysteriously, “cease to exist” may simply refers to the nation-state becoming something else, subjectively less desirable than what it was. The insulting word “nativism” does not do justice to the complex and subtle issues involved here.
Right now, for example, many French people believe that the large presence in their midst of un-assimilated Muslim immigrants endangers the fundamental building blocks of their society’s ethics and laws. These would include, for example, the separation of church and state (of religion and government) and the equality of men and women. Many French people who are not “white supremacists,” (or, more pertinently perhaps, not Christian supremacists) are calling for an end to all Muslim immigration. (Note that I have said nothing about whether I believe their fears are justified.)*
Guarded national borders have been the conventional way to protect the nation-state since the mid-19th century. They don’t have to be but other available methods are even less palatable to those who love freedom. If, for example, every resident of the US carried a personally identified GPS that it is illegal to turn off, it would be easy to monitor the totality of the population. Those moving about without an authorized GPS would stand out. Legal immigrants might be given a GPS with a different signal. Legal visitors who are not immigrants would get yet another with a signal set to come off on or just before their visa expiration. Illegal immigrants would carry no authorized GPS. This absence would designate them the attention of immigration authorities. (Of course, fake GPS would soon be for sale but they would be more difficult to create than are current SS card and other such paper or plastic documents.) And, thinking about it, a microchip painlessly implanted under each person’s skin might work even better! See what I mean about guarded borders not being so repugnant after all?
*The French left-wing media do not offer substantive arguments to calm the widespread alarm raised by the center, by the right, by many others. Instead, they try to make the alarmed feel guilty of “Islamophobia,” supposedly a close cousin of racism. This accusation quickly losses forces because many people realize that Islam is a set of beliefs and of values that Muslims are free to abandon, unlike race. At least, they may abandon it in the French legal context. (In several Muslim countries, such “apostasy” is theoretically punished by death.) By the way, a month before this writing, I talked on a Santa Cruz beach with a pleasant young French Muslim, a pure product of French public schools born in France. He told me calmly that he believed French law should forbid blasphemy.
With all the agitation and all the negative emotions, people with Muslim names appear well represented at all levels and in all sectors of French society. (Firm numbers are hard to come by because the French government does not allow its various branches to collect information on religious affiliation nor on ethnicity.) And, by the way, I just love what Arabic influence has done to French popular music and songs.
- The political economy of U.S. Territories and Indian Country (pdf) Rachel Wellhausen, PS: Political Science & Politics
- The U.S. Empire, the Surveillance State, and the Imperial Boomerang Connor Woodman, Verso
- Unpacking the Sino-American relationship Paul Poast, War on the Rocks
- Worlds without nation-states: Five scenarios for the long term (pdf) Andreas Wimmer, Nations and Nationalism
Yoram Hazony’s 2018 book praising the nation-state has garnered so much attention that I thought it wasn’t worth reading. Arnold Kling changed my mind. I’ve been reading through it, and I don’t think there’s much in the book that I can originally criticize.
The one thing I’ll say that others have not is that Hazony’s book is not the best defense of the status quo and the Westphalian state system out there. It’s certainly the most popular, but definitely not the best. The best defense of the status quo still goes to fellow Notewriter Edwin’s 2011 article in the Independent Review: “Hayekian Spontaneous Order and the International Balance of Power.”
Hazony’s book is a defense of Israel more than it is a defense of the abstract nation-state. Hazony’s best argument (“Israel”) has already been identified numerous times elsewhere. It goes like this: the Holocaust happened because the Jews in mid-20th century Europe had nowhere to go in a world defined by nationalism. Two competing arguments arose from this realization. The Israelis took one route (“nation-state”), and the Europeans took another (“confederation”). Many Jews believe that the Israelis are correct and the Europeans are wrong.
My logic follows from this fact as thus: the EU has plenty of problems but nothing on the scale of the Gaza Strip or the constant threat of annihilation by hostile neighbors (and rival nation-states).
The European Union and Israel are thus case studies for two different arguments, much like North and South Korea or East and West Germany. The EU has been bad, so bad in fact that the British have voted to leave, but not so bad that there has been any genocide or mass violence or, indeed, interstate wars within its jurisdiction. Israel has been good, so good in fact that it now has one of the highest standards of living in the world, but not so good that it avoided creating something as awful as the Gaza Strip or making enemies out of every single one of its neighbors.
To me this is a no-brainer. The Europeans were correct and the Israelis are wrong. To me, Israelis (Jewish and Arab) would be much better off living under the jurisdiction of the United States or even the European Union rather than Israel’s. They’d all be safer, too.