The President came to El Paso last week. He promised a wall and repeated his lies about the dangers that immigrants pose. With El Paso as the backdrop, he claimed that this city of immigrants was dangerous before a border fence was built here in 2008.
Beyond refuting his comments about border communities like ours (El Paso was one of the safest communities in the United States before the fence was built here), about walls saving lives (in fact, walls push desperate families to cross in ever more hostile terrain, ensuring greater suffering and death), and about immigrants (who commit crimes at a lower rate than those Americans born here), it’s worth thinking about how we got to this place. How it came to be that 11 million undocumented immigrants call America home, how we came to militarize our border, how we arrived at such a disconnect between our ideals, our values, the reality of our lives — and the policies and political rhetoric that govern immigration and border security.
El Paso Times, 2003
I’ve come to the conclusion that the challenges we face are largely of our own design — a function of the unintended consequences of immigration policy and the rhetoric we’ve used to describe immigrants and the border. At almost every step of modern immigration policy and immigration politics, we have exacerbated underlying problems and made things worse. Sometimes with the best of intentions, sometimes with the most cynical exploitation of nativism and fear. Much of the history of immigration policy (and the source for the graphs that I’m using) is powerfully summarized in a report entitled “Unintended Consequences of U.S. Immigration Policy: Explaining the Post-1965 Surge from Latin America” by Douglas S Massey and Karen A. Pren.