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Migrants build nations, but borders define them
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Migrants build nations, but borders define them

One of the hot button topics this year is immigration. With the recent enactment of the Arizona immigration enforcement law, more formally the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act,” “hot” went to “blazing.”

Immigration has always been a sensitive topic for Jews. They are in the forefront of those who point out that the United States is a country of immigrants. Many Jewish groups have taken a stand against the Arizona law on this and other grounds.

While there are American Jews whose ancestors arrived here during colonial and Revolutionary War days, the majority of American Jews trace their lineage to the waves of European immigration from the 1880s to the 1920s.

The Immigration Act of 1924, and the associated National Origins Formula, for the first time established a quota on immigration. Most of our forbearers, including mine, entered the United States prior to 1924, i.e., they were legal immigrants. With some exceptions, up to that point, there were no illegal aliens, illegal immigrants, or, in current PC-speak, undocumented immigrants.

As has been often said, the immigration problem is not about legal immigrants, but illegal immigrants.

As a student of international law, I was taught that a country has three essential elements: 1) a government; 2) population; and, most importantly for this discussion, 3) defined borders.

Lack of defined borders can occur for a variety of reasons. For example, the borders may not be recognized by others, or the government does not properly defend the borders, allowing populations from other countries to come in and claim disputed territory.

While it is primarily the job of the federal government to defend the borders of the United States from incursion, what happens when the federal government does not do its job very well or at all?

Before the United States adopted the Constitution, individual states had the trappings of individual countries. In adopting the Constitution, the states ceded certain governmental powers to the new federal government, while retaining others. Thus, states like Arizona may have residual power, akin to self-help, to protect its international border if the federal government does little or nothing.

The magnitude of the enforcement problem is enormous. There have been complaints for decades about the understaffing of the U.S. border patrol. This gave rise to the Minuteman movement to place civilian observers on the borders where government patrols should have been.

Enforcement gets significantly harder once the border has been successfully crossed. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has only 6,000 agents to cover an area of over 3.5 million square miles. In comparison, New York City has 35,000 police to cover 469 square miles.

Mexico has a record of strictly controlling its southern border, and its number of deportations exceeds that of the United States. But Mexico considers its border with the United States to be an open one.

At a joint press conference with President Obama on May 19, Mexican President Calderon said, “In Mexico, we are and will continue being respectful of the internal policies of the United States and its legitimate right to establish in accordance to its Constitution whatever laws it approves. But we will retain our firm rejection to criminalize migration so that people that work and provide things to this nation will be treated as criminals.” To Calderon, illegal border crossings by Mexicans into the United States are merely “migration.” Meanwhile, undocumented Guatemalans cannot migrate into Mexico.

“Migration,” according to Merriam-Webster, involves both “in-migration” and “out-migration.” In both senses, it entails “a large-scale and continuing movement of population,” while out-migration also includes the intent to settle in another area.

Perhaps unknowingly, Calderon has defined the problem by describing it as migration. There is a large-scale, continuing movement of population from Mexico into the United States, with the intent to settle here.

Going back to the international law definition of a country, migration eclipses borders.

Calderon called for the United States and Mexico to work together: “We can do so if we create a safer border, a border that will unite us instead of dividing us, uniting our people.” A border that unites us? Borders, by definition, are meant to be boundaries, like a fence between neighbors.

Addressing a joint session of Congress, Calderon called the Arizona law “racial profiling.” In making his charge, he joins Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, who made similar charges.

The new Arizona law specifically states “a law enforcement official…may not consider race, color, or national origin in the enforcement of this section except to the extent permitted by the United States or Arizona Constitution.”

Is the solution to the illegal immigration problem, flagged by the Arizona law, to obliterate the borders of the United States and allow anyone who chooses to migrate to America at will? If not, someone has to enforce the law.

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