Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Border enforcement-only policy has failed; time to try something else

Placing the U.S. military on the Mexican border is a knee-jerk reaction to a horrible tragedy. It didn’t work in 2008 and it won’t work now.

Despite the simplistic rhetoric and jingoism paralyzing American border policy, the problem of illegal immigration can’t be solved with walls, fences and soldiers.

The Chinese tried building a 2000-mile wall to keep out the Huns. It didn’t work. The Romans tried building a 120-mile wall across England to keep out the Celts. It didn’t work. The Soviets tried building a wall and fence around East Germany, complete with barbed wire, mine fields and machine guns to keep East Germans in East Germany. It didn’t work.

We have built 700 miles of walls and fences, deployed more than 8,000 Border Patrol agents, deployed hundreds of U.S. Army National Guard soldiers, built checkpoints on our highways, installed infared cameras, radar, ground sensors and used dogs and helicopters to stop the rush of illegal immigrants into this country.

We’ve done our best to turn our borderlands into something any North Korean or former Soviet Union citizen would recognize. But it hasn’t worked.

Doing more of what has already failed is a fool’s mission.

We must try something else.

The vehement and virulent attacks by a few angry people on American politicians who suggest any solution other than the militarization of the border and the expulsion of those already here illegally has stopped any rational discussion of other solutions.

They have demonized comprehensive immigration reform as “amnesty,” mischaracterizing it as a reward for an illegal act. That simple rhetorical flourish has galvanized public opinion against any solution that might allow those already here to stay, guest worker programs that would allow those who want to come here to work and then go home and other reasonable reforms.

But illegal immigration is a complex problem that requires multiple solutions.

The crux of the problem is that the American economy needs cheap labor and unemployment in Mexico is high and living conditions for the poor can be brutal.

We can’t keep jobs and the jobless apart. Despite spending billions of dollars on border enforcement and the worst American economy in 70 years, 500,000 illegal immigrants were caught by the Border Patrol in 2009, half of them in Arizona.

It’s hard to say how many weren’t caught but even the Border Patrol estimates that at least one gets through for every one caught.

We need a way for American businesses that need labor to hire people to do the work. And if no American wants the job, they should be able to look elsewhere and easily hire someone from another country without relying on an underground smuggling system and stolen or forged worker documents.

We need a way for those already living here as subcitizens to be able to come out from hiding and offered a chance to prove they’ve earned the right to stay without the fear of being placed on a bus and dropped off across the border in a country that has become alien to them.

If that’s amnesty, then it’s amnesty.

What we’re doing isn’t working and is expensive. It’s time to try something else.

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