Two earlier posts on this forum describe my family history as legal immigrants to, and subsequently as citizens of, the United States:
In summary, I am the great grandson and grandson of Italian immigrants. That is, like all U.S. citizens and legal residents, I am part of an immigrant nation. I become more sensitized to my ancestral immigration status at times like the present when our politicians and some media outlets bloviate against illegal immigrants.
A Breath of Fresh Air?
Mr. Donald Trump has generated a great deal of excitement, as well as apprehension, in his campaign for the Republican Party’s 2016 nomination for President of the United States (POTUS). I think people who dismiss his quest as quixotic or simply an attempt at his usual self-promotion make a great mistake: Mr. Trump appears, by words and deeds, entirely serious about securing the Republican POTUS nomination. I believe Mr. Trump has an excellent chance of success in his quest.
Clearly, Mr. Trump has tapped into a rich vein of discontent with what may be termed, “the Republican establishment” on several issues, especially immigration, international relations, and the outsized effect of lobbying and money on our political system. With respect to immigration, Mr. Trump and many of his adherents claim they support legal immigration; however, much of the rhetoric from this group, which claims members from both Republican and Democratic parties, appears to advocate drastic restrictions on all immigration.
The Fence. Mr. Trump advocates closing our approximately 2000-mile southern land border with Mexico in order to stop, or at least to drastically curtail, illegal immigration and illicit drug smuggling. Components of this project include a massive increase in the number of border patrol agents, sending our armed forces and military equipment to the border, and building a high fence all along the border. Mr. Trump’s contention that he can convince, or force, Mexico to construct and pay for this fence seems to be highly irrational; however, he considers himself an excellent and forcible negotiator. I suspect Mr. Trump has greatly underestimated legitimate Mexican pride.
As a purely technical issue, much of our southern land border could be fenced off, keeping in mind the difficulties due to the terrain in some areas, the property rights of U.S. citizens along the border, and access of livestock to the Rio Grande River through gateways in the fence. Determined individuals could try to climb over a single fence with sufficiently high ladders, a circumstance that would require constant supervision of the barrier. Construction of two high fences, spaced several yards apart on our side of the border with landmines planted between the fences, might dramatically reduce the flow of illegal immigrants and illicit drugs, if we want to indulge in such a tactic in face of tremendous adverse publicity and moral outrage.
Mr. Trump and others support sending additional border agents, U.S. armed forces personnel, and surveillance equipment to supplement the blocking action of the proposed fence. A simple “back of the envelope” calculation reveals the logistical nightmare of such an approach:
A mile contains 1760 linear yards. If we could construct a fence along the entire border, we’re talking about 3,520,000 linear yards of fencing. I recall reading somewhere that one suitably equipped soldier with boots on the ground can control 10 square yards of territory. That is, we would need to send at least 352,000 soldiers and border patrol agents to surveil the fence and apprehend any illegals who manage to cross the border. I haven’t included the large number of backup individuals needed to keep this force at the border. Also, for simplification, I did not include a large additional force that would be needed to rotate soldiers and agents away from the fence into rest areas. No one can rationally expect these individuals to remain at the fence(s) 24/7/356.
I suppose proponents of fencing off the border might maintain that application of our formidable technology (e.g., radar, listening devices, drones, combat air patrols) in concert with rapid reaction forces could reduce the number of persons needed to effectively close the border. Perhaps so, but the problem becomes even more complex when we consider how adept some Mexicans have shown themselves to be at constructing tunnels under the border. Furthermore, what does Mr. Trump propose to do to stem the flow of illegals via roads, railways, and oceans?
Closing the border, therefore, is not a simple and cheap proposition, despite the bombastic fervor of Mr. Trump, Senator Ted Cruz and others. We need to think carefully about our objectives and the details involved before we dedicate more financial and personnel resources to this course of action. I don’t object to massively reducing the flow of illegal immigrants and illicit drugs across our southern border; however, I haven’t heard a rational, cost-effective plan to do so.
Deportation. Presumably reliable estimates suggest 11 to 12 million illegal immigrants reside in the U.S. Mr. Trump is on record advocating deportation of all these illegal immigrants, and their children born here, i.e., U.S. citizens under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. He says he will not split families apart because legal and illegal residents will be deported together. Once all these persons have been deported, he will set up a process whereby the “good ones” can return.
I am puzzled: How does Mr. Trump propose to separate the good from the bad deportees? How exactly does Mr. Trump intend logistically to manage this deportation? Will he invoke images of jackbooted, Jew-hunting Nazi storm troopers and Gestapo agents going house-to-house throughout the US demanding, “Show us your papers?” To where and how does he propose to carry out this massive deportation? Does he think countries of origin will agree to take in the people he deports?
Let’s delve deeper into this deportation fantasy. In his most recent Washington Post column, Dr. Charles Krauthammera rational conservative commentatorwrote that the conservative American Action Forum estimates that the mass deportation Mr. Trump proposes would take about 20 years to accomplish and cost approximately $500 billion. The idea boggles my mind, but I know many of Mr. Trump’s supporters are willing to go down this path, once again engaging in sound bites without thinking through the logistics or the underlying (ir)rationale, much less the morally obscene nature of the proposal.
There is a much simpler way to handle the problem of the millions of illegal residents residing in the U.S: Admit upfront that these individuals broke our laws, and also that the task of deporting them cannot be accomplished without the expenditure of inordinate amounts of resources along with a willingness to act in an inhumane manner in the full glare of worldwide publicity. Next, pass legislation through Congress and the President that grants these illegal residents the right to remain here while paying taxes and meeting all other obligations of citizenship but, importantly, that these individuals never can be full-fledged citizens with the right to vote in our elections. I know such a proposal raises the specter of amnesty, but I am talking about a conditional amnesty. I think we can logically apply one exception to this conditional amnesty: An honorable discharge after four years of service in our armed forces could be a sufficient rationale for citizenship for those who serve but not for their illegal immigrant families.
If we can collect the applicable taxes, I’m willing for these individuals with conditional amnesty to have access to Social Security benefits, etc. This approach combined with rational mechanisms (1) to dramatically decrease illegal immigration across our borders, (2) to implement an effective means for legal immigration, and (3) to apply a reasonable guest worker programseasonal (e.g., farm workers) and semi-permanent (e.g., individuals with needed high tech and entrepreneurial skills)could go a long way toward rebalancing our broken immigration system.
The 14th Amendment. The first section of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution states: All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Mr. Trump, Sen. Cruz, and several other politicians and commentators believe this amendment does not apply to U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants. The crux of their argument resides on the meaning of subject to the jurisdiction thereof. That is, illegal immigrant parents presumptively owe allegiance to a sovereign authority other than the U.S. government; therefore, their U.S.-born children are not entitled to citizenship. The standard legal definition of jurisdiction, however, defines the territory where, and to whom, the force of law appliesregardless of home country and circumstances of birth. The U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed this interpretation of jurisdiction with respect to the 14th Amendment. U.S.-born children of foreign diplomats are not included under the 14th Amendment precisely because their parents enjoy full diplomatic immunity under the jurisdiction of foreign governments, a well-established feature of international law.
Persons who believe in an alternative interpretation of jurisdiction should immediately put forth a U.S. Constitutional amendment on birthright citizenship. I’m beyond dubious that such an amendment will garner a two-thirds majority vote in both houses of Congress and ratification in 38 states, requirements for amending the U.S. Constitution. I’m also skeptical that the U.S. Supreme Court will reverse its longstanding precedent on interpretation of the 14th Amendment. We should also note that the 14th Amendments stipulates that no person (i.e., citizen, illegal immigrant) can be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process and, as well, cannot be denied equal protection of our laws.
Let’s be realistic from another perspective: How many illegal immigrants and how many wealthy foreigners come to the U.S. for the purpose of birthing anchor babies in order to secure U.S. citizenship for the newborns and ultimately for the parents? Are these numbers worth the trouble and expense of trying to amend the U.S. Constitution with respect to the 14th Amendment? I suspect not, and that we’re simply looking at bloviation.
Whose Primary Fault?
I well remember, from my high school freshman English class, the following lines from Shakespeare’s play, “Julius Caesar,” in which Cassius speaks to Brutus: The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves… This quote applies to the strum und drang (storm and stress) we presently face in the political arena as we attempt to repair our broken immigration system. I intend to address this idea in my next blog post.