Illegal Immigration: Why Now?

Jon Henke has an interesting piece in TCS looking at the hoopla over security our border with Mexico under the theme “Why now?” That is, given that a massive influx of cheap labor crossing the Rio Grande is not exactly new, why the near-hysteria over the issue?

He notes that, while national security concerns seem to be the latest argument, they are not particularly persuasive:

As John Tierney writes in The New York Times, the “fixation on ‘securing the border’ is a political — and psychological — problem, not a rational response to a genuine national threat.” If it were genuinely a response to a national security threat, the focus would not be on the Mexican border.

In fact, there are far better routes than the Mexican border for terrorists to enter the US. The Canadian border — much safer than the brutal southern desert — has about one-tenth the security of the Mexican border, even though at least two al Qaeda terrorists (Mohammed Atta and Ahmed Ressam) have used it to enter the United States in preparation for actual attacks.

What’s more, as Peter Beinart pointed out in the Washington Post, there are “many more potential jihadists in Canada” — which has a comparatively larger Middle Eastern population than Mexico — and Canadian authorities “estimate that roughly 50 terrorist groups operate in the country.” In fact, we recently “dismantled a human-smuggling ring that was running illegal immigrants into the United States through Canada”, including, inter alia, dozens of people from Pakistan, where much of al Qaeda is currently thought to be operating.

Compared to this, an invasion of hordes of produce pickers seems rather inconsequential.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

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  5. SoloD says:

    I too have been wondering why now? The Tom Tancredo’s of the world have focused on this for a while, but a year ago it hardly seemed as though it was about to become the pressing national issue.

  6. Ahmmmm….neither Mohammed Atta nor Ahmed Ressam entered the US through Canada. And neither did any of the other hijackers. Thoroughly laid to rest in the 9/11 commission report and debunked by many, many others others.

    In fact, I believe Newt Gingrich even apologized to Canada after perpetuating the myth himself. He retracted his statement and apologized.

  7. Rumsfeld says border duty won’t detract from military…

    WASHINGTON — Sending National Guard troops to the Mexican border won’t affect the milita…

  8. Dave Schuler says:

    There are perfectly reasonable answers to the question. Jon provides some, for example, the “tipping point” explanation.

    Another reason is that the really massive immigration has taken place over the last 10 years. During a good bit of that time real median incomes were rising in this country for the first time in quite some time. People weren’t as nervous as they are now.

    I also wanted to mention that the undisputed fact that the 9/11 hijackers exploited legal means to enter the country and that a documented threat exists at our northern border (to date the only known actual Al Qaeda member to sneak into the country illegally came through Canada) it in no way means that there isn’t a security threat at our southern border, too. That’s been documented, too.

    It just means that we have to learn to walk and chew gum at the same time.

    Discussion of the relative priority of the various security issues facing us is reasonable. Claiming that, since there’s a substantial security problem stemming from people admitted legally, there’s no problem whatever at the border—not so much.

  9. lily says:

    I do think we can prioritize our concerns. Which border is easiest to cross? How would a biological or other kind of weapon most easily be smuggled in? I’m more worried about container ships than the border with Mexico. I mean just in practical terms the Mexican border is a grueling, phyically demanding slog, but the Canadian border is an easy car ride. Why carry stuff for miles across the desert when anyone could drive across from Canada with something nasty in the trunk?

    Of course my perspective is probably affected by the fact that I live right near an international port and I have crossed the border to Canada lots of times.

  10. legion says:

    Well, the obvious answer is that Bush’s plans for the GWOT have failed spectacularly in every way _except_ keeping another attack off US soil. Bin Laden is still at large, the Taliban and opium farmers are coming back into power in Afghanistan, Iraq looks worse every week, and even average TV viewers are starting to realize the gov’t’s sunshine reports about “turning a corner” is just the same crap every few months.

    Also, domestic efforts are tanking. People have been hearing for years that the economy is booming, but they’re starting to realize it’s never going to boom for them if they’re not making at least a quarter-mil a year. Healthcare is becoming more expansive for the increasing number of people who can’t even afford insurance. People still remember how badly the gov’t (federal, state, and local together) screwed up New Orleans, and see that there’s been absolutely _no_ effort to fix the problems in the system – just window dressing – and have no confidence they’ll see any help if something happens in their part of the country. And I’m not even going into gas prices…

    To top it off, the people are just sick of being lied to. Yeah, you can spin all you want about legal definitions, and parsing terms, and not being under oath, but the average American still sees it as being lied to.

    Neither this administration nor the GOP has any kind of realistic plan to do _anything_ except survive until the November elections and pray. Every single thing you will see come out of Congress until then is nothing more than distraction. Desparate, flop-sweating distraction.

  11. Bithead says:

    the question of ‘Why now.’…

    There’s two reasons, and possibly more…

    1: there’s a lot of pressure just now, internally to Mexico for the Reconquista… and the timing of that, it occurrs to me is remarkably close to Hugo Chávez attaining power in Venezuela, which would seem to be a rather nifty link to the number of western socialist groups falling down on the side of the Mexican immigrants as well. A quick look at the pictures of the protests… specifically the signs being carried by the protestors, supporting world socialism, I am suspicious that a goodly amount of all of this sudden interest, is the socialists all over the region pushing it.

    2: Groups looking for something/anything to use as a foothold in the next election against the Republicans. Note that in majority, these are far leftists as well and find themselves far more comfortable with the politics of Chavez than with the Republicans, or even centerists.

    You should pardon the pun, that seems to me to be a red flag big enough to attract anyone’s attention.

  12. legion says:

    I have a very hard time believing this whole ‘reconquesta’ load started anywhere other than the panic-stricken mind of the most racist branch of the far-right wing. Immigrants (legal and otherwise) may be coming _through_ Mexico, but they are _not_ all Mexicans, or even hispanics. A sizeable percentage are indians coming north from central and south america, where they’re just as poorly treated by the hispanic majorities as our own native population has been in times past.

    Groups looking for something/anything to use as a foothold in the next election against the Republicans.

    Wha? That doesn’t even make sense. Democrats haven’t been pushing this – Republicans have. The GOP is the side introducing bills to make border-hopping a felony and criminalizing any provision of public services, including emergency medical treatment. The GOP is chest-thumping its own bigotry to stir up its base; the Dems would _not_ have brought this into play otherwise, but the Repubs are making their feelings just too obvious.

  13. anjin-san says:

    Why now? Because Bush’s presidency is in meltdown. Instead of cleaning up the many disasters they have caused, they are looking for something, anything to shift the focus away from their own failures…

  14. Steve Verdon says:

    Gee…who put this question up first…right here at OTB. Oh yeah!

  15. Steve Verdon says:

    I have a very hard time believing this whole â??reconquestaâ?? load started anywhere other than the panic-stricken mind of the most racist branch of the far-right wing.

    According to David Niewert you’d be largely correct. That is Glenn Spencer.

  16. RA says:

    Give these invaders citizenship and they will vote 10-1 for Democrats who will raise everyones taxes to take care of their new wards. The economy will tank and unemployment will sky rocket. Then the Dems will make a permanent majority the wards of the state. These invaders were brought up as socialists. They will keep the Dems in office forever.

    America is being brought down from within.

  17. Well, the House bill from December certainly played a role in stoking the immigrants into protesting. I had never even heard of it until the protests began.

    I’m surprised that people are avoiding the obvious: when illegals protest on our own soil and make demands of the polity, it angers many Americans. If the outcome of this situation is bad, the illegals will have only themselves to blame.

  18. floyd says:

    legion; i see you can spell words like “racist” and “bigotry”, but you obviously can’t define them. [ or did you use spellcheck, you sly dog you]