Skip to content

Deconstructing the Border

February 26, 2011

This is my attempt to explain some of the more basic concepts within the subject of the US/Mexico border and immigration issues. I’ve brewed up two fresh cups of coffee, so here we go!

First: a word on terminology. The 14th Amendment declares the innate humanity of people within the United States, from which one can infer that only actions are illegal, not people. Therefore, the term “undocumented” is more accurate as a means of reference to those people who are in the country without being recognized by the US legal system. The term “Illegal” serves to dehumanize people who, even though they are within the country without the approval of the US, are guaranteed human rights by the 14th Amendment: “…nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”

They’re in America, they should speak American.

There is no official language in the United States. Demanding that people speak an unofficially designated language is just insensitive, especially when Spanish is just as legitimate as English in the southwest.

Spanish predates English in Arizona by 300 years

So the legitimacy of English as the language immigrants should be speaking is debatable. Turns out the first europeans to see the American Southwest were Marcos De Niza and Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, a couple of adventurers and Spanish conquistadors looking for the mythical cities of Cíbola. They arrived around 1530, and partied with the Pimas and the Hopis. (by party I mean got shot at by natives).

A couple hundred years later, the area that is now Texas seceded from Mexico, and the United States attempted to annex it. Mexico protested, and the United States wound up invading Mexico and as a military force occupied Mexico City and forced Mexico to give up Arizona and pay reparations.

So in continuing with this question of cultural legitimacy, it would appear as though both Spanish, and many Spanish-speaking people pre-date English-speaking “American” culture in Arizona.

They don’t pay taxes.

Well, that’s not actually true. Of course, there’s sales’ tax, which applies to everyone who buys things. With a ‘borrowed’ social security card, they pay into social security without ever being able to collect on it, so that’s free money that goes to the people of the US. In fact, the Social Security Administration estimated that 76% of undocumented immigrants pay into Social Security–a total of about 6-7 BILLION dollars. Another significant point of contention are their use of public education facilities. The theory is that taxes fund education, and because they’re off the grid, they don’t pay taxes. Actually, public education’s primary source of funding comes from property taxes, which is paid by people who own property. You don’t have to be a citizen in order to both own and pay property taxes, and even if you don’t own, your landlord does, and also pays property taxes. So actually, undocumented immigrants are paying for their children’s education. Also, the percentage of elementary-school children who are undocumented nation-wide is 1.5% The number of children who’s parents are undocumented is like 4 or 5%

Undocumented Immigrants are associated with increased crime rates

Nope. Turns out there’s no direct link from large immigrant communities to increased crime rate, although 75% of americans think that it is. A study produced by the American Immigration Law Foundation showed that between 1994 and 2005, violent crime in the US fell 35%, while the undocumented immigrant population literally doubled. The study also found that american-born adults are five times more likely to be in prison than foreign-born men. This statistic gets broken down as such:

There are 45.2 million men aged 18-39 years in the US

3% of them are in prison, if we assumed that all things were even, if we broke down those 45.2 million men into the demographics of native vs foreign-born, 3% of each would be in jail. Of course, things aren’t even, but not in the way that three-fourths of people expect:

3.5% of native-born men in the US are in federal or state prison, beating the spread by .5%

.7% of foreign-born men in the US are in federal or state prison, which puts them under the average by 2.3%

Thus we see that percentage-wise, native-born men represent nearly two-and-a-half times the prison-percentage as foreign-born men.

Also, that it’s a myth that undocumented immigration increases crime.

They done took ahr jobs!

(sorry for succumbing to language ideologies)

This train of thought has a couple problems:

1) The reason they would “take our jobs” is because American companies can exploit the fact that undocumented workers might be deported at any time. With the threat of being found out, workers will agree to being employed for less money. As a result, they are a more desirable commodity than American workers, who companies are forced to pay at least minimum wage.

2) The solutions proposed typically involve more border security, or other forms of government intervention such as crackdowns on businesses that employ undocumented workers. Even though hypocrisy doesn’t negate an argument, it adds a layer of intrigue. In this case, those who typically argue that these workers are stealing their jobs also support less government interference in the economy, but in this case they want government to interfere with capitalistic use of cheap labor. It seems if you support “free trade”  you’d also support free-market exchange of labor.

3) Why do Americans deserve those jobs more anyway?

It’s a moot point anyway, because it doesn’t apply to reality. Because of the social dynamics of the countries these undocumented workers are coming from, the job markets of immigrants and US-born workers don’t overlap. According to the Migration Policy Institute, the workers coming to America create the jobs they work in.

And that is the point that the United Farm Workers’ Take Our Jobs campaign attempts to make. Amusingly plugged by the Colbert Report, the organization invites unemployed Americans to join the workers in the crop fields to take their jobs back. If you want to see it, check it out here:

Immigrants crossing the border hurts the environment

This is an interesting claim, in that I hadn’t heard it used in defense of increased border security until last year. There are a number of wildlife refuges along the US/Mexico border that appear to be damaged by the garbage left by people crossing.

here’s a picture:

People don’t think about this:

It’s apparent that people are looking for something to complain about. According to a Rasmussen poll, 68% of Americans are in favor of a border wall. Of course, what they don’t realize is that 60-75% of protected lands and refuges in the Rio Grande valley of Texas would be affected by a border wall. This is easily extrapolated out along the entire stretch, including the area through the Buenos Aires area of Arizona.

In addition, various environmental groups have found that the border wall will significantly affect river access, which in turn limits vital native vegetation and bird life. Butterfly and local wildcat species would be negatively effected. The construction of the wall in various parts required the US government to waive more than 30 environmental and cultural laws so as to expedite the process.

So if you want to protect the environment, stop the construction of the fence.


Should immigrants learn our language? Doesn’t matter because there isn’t an official language of the US. But Spanish served as the established language for 300 years or so before English.

What kind of taxes do immigrants pay? Most of the important ones, including property taxes, which pay for their kids to go to school. And lets not forget the 6 billion dollars they never collect on from Social Security.

Stealing our social services! Undocumented children make up 1.5% of the kids being not-left-behind.

Crime rates? Not so much. If we were afraid of criminals, we would avoid Scottsdale like the plague…(there’s some irony in there)

And they don’t take our jobs, so get off the sofa already!

Now that we’ve disproven the most common myths on the subject…

let’s do some comparison.

Factoring for deaths on both the Mexico and the US side, we find that in the last ten years the death toll has been something like


That’s over 300 deaths per year. We know that it was over a thousand a couple years, more recently. What other events compare in terms of loss-of-life?

Pearl Harbor: 2,350

September 11th Attacks: 2,990

American Casualties in D-Day: 2,500

Titanic: 1,500

Wow. So more people have died in the last ten years from exposure in the US/Mexico border than in the Twin-Tower attacks, as well as the freaking Titanic. So as crazy as that sounds, what other events in US history approach that yearly figure of around 300?


Mount St. Helens: 57

Mount Pinatubo: 800


Loma Prieta: 63

Northridge Earthquake: 33

I could go on, but you get the point.

Of course, these are events that happen in a matter of moments or days, not on the scale of one year through 10 or 15. However, it is possible to trace the source of these deaths to one specific day, one specific policy, and two people. On October 1, 1994Attorney General Janet Reno and Commissioner Meissner decided that Operation Gatekeeper would go into effect.

Like all laws and government policies, it doesn’t merely stand alone. It was founded upon precedent provided by Operation Hold The Line, as implemented in El Paso, Texas. The idea was a “deterrence-oriented deployment” of resources, both man-power and technology.

These new policies, and others like them hoped to deter undocumented immigrants from crossing the border by what is termed “prevention through deterrence”. In the subsequent years of Clinton’s administration, funding for border security (which equates to militarization) increased 35%, most of which was deployed around the historic points of crossing into the US. This created what is called the funnel effect, which forces border-crossers into the most inhospitable regions of the southwest.

The stated goal was for the deaths in the desert to serve as a warning for those who might come later.

And, of course, it didn’t work. At all.

As I mentioned earlier, the undocumented immigrant population has doubled since Operation Gatekeeper was put into effect. Consider that all the bodies found in Pima County are taken to the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office (PCMEO). Before Gatekeeper was instituted, an average of 14 bodies were found per year. After, the average has increased to 160 per year.

Despite the 6-9 billion dollars spent to float the failing program in the last six years, the program has not done anything to stem the tide of migrants coming across the border. This is simply because it fails to address the problems causing the immigration. Undocumented immigration is caused, in part, by perception of the US economy in relation to migrant’s home countries. As a result the number of undocumented workers coming across fluctuates with the market.

All the increased militarization has done successfully is to force migrants to hire coyotes, or human smugglers, and attempt to navigate through more deadly terrain. The result: in the bad economy there are fewer undocumented workers, but the death toll continues to increase.

So we see that the people who implemented Operation Gatekeeper are responsible for over 3,000 deaths…

I support and occasionally volunteer with the group No More Deaths (No Más Muertes), which is a non-political humanitarian aid organization. A common phrase used to describe their activities is “humanitarian aid is never a crime”. As it is, NMD is not an end in-and-of itself. By all accounts, if comprehensive border reform were allowed to happen, the organization would no longer be necessary.

I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine who insisted that the problem with border security was a lack of compromise between the government and the “other”–essentially organizations like NMD. I’m not sure what this concept of “bridging the gap” means, because I’m not sure what compromise is possible. This isn’t because neither side is willing to work together, but because it’s like apples and oranges. NMD stated goal is a response, and completely opposite to the stated goal of Border Patrol. Before Operation Gatekeeper, there was no official policy or procedure for Border Patrol, so their current model is the most direct system expressed.

So what compromise is there between these groups? Should No More Deaths change their name to A Few More Deaths? Or should a governmental organization that repeatedly and completely against the evidence claims that it’s successful, change its stance, and go back on 17 years of dogma?

Put that way, it would appear that the main barrier to “compromise” is the fact that the US government’s policy is to kill people with the funnel effect while being in denial about its efficacy, or lack their of as the case may be. Hopefully this long-winded article has dispelled some myths about undocumented immigration. It’s impossible for one single post to have completely comprehensive analysis of such a complicated problem, but if you have any questions, feel free to ask!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Cities of the Mind permalink
    February 26, 2011 2:19 pm

    I think the answer is to get these people registered and paying all taxes right away, give ID cards, provisional rights to be here, and then just blacklist them if they commit crimes.

    When you look at Jaurez, which is damned near anarchy, right across the Rio from El Paso, one of the safest cities in the US, it’s hard to blame people for crossing…wouldn’t you?

  2. Stephanie permalink
    March 17, 2011 11:11 am

    haven’t seen you in a month dude.. where are you?

  3. December 3, 2013 10:01 pm

    Good report and analogies. Just happened to see it. @Peta_de_Aztlan
    12/2/2013 Aztlan-Network-News Blog ~via @Peta_de_Aztlan

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: