A Border Patrol Agent detains 12 Mexican nationals apprehended near Sells, Arizona. Smuggled into the U.S. by a Coyote, the Mexicans shared a single canteen.
"Wherever there's a prohibition, there's a bootlegger" -- James Burnham, "Burnham's Laws," No. 5.
Indifferent to borders, the invaders swarmed over a rich and cherished land. Many of them were hungry and desperate, and the lure of economic opportunity was irresistible. Others were comfortable, and driven by vulgar greed. But every one of them crossed the border in defiance of laws and solemn agreements. From the perspective of those whose land they now occupied, each of them became a criminal the moment his foot touched their soil.
Because the invaders were covertly supported by their government -- including supposedly rogue elements of the military -- the first tentative trickle of illegal immigrants quickly grew into a deluge.
Protests over the invasion were met with solemn and dishonest assurances that the border would be enforced. But the government issuing those assurances was playing for time, waiting for the invaders to establish a foothold. It had gone so far as to create a highway -- the "Robber's Road" -- to facilitate the invasion. Elements of the government likewise secretly provided the squatters with food, water, and other necessities.
Some of the land's long-time residents, convinced that their nation was being quietly dispossessed, protested to their government. When that proved unavailing, they began to harass the illegal immigrants directly, sometimes to the point of bloodshed.
Once the squatters had firmly established themselves, all pretense was dispelled. A summit meeting was held; territorial demands were made to, and rejected by, the nation whose territory was under assault. Failing to secure the territory after which it lusted on terms it considered appropriate, the aggressor government prepared for war. And once "this machinery of government began moving, it became an inexorable force, mindless and uncontrollable," wrote Dee Brown in his classic study of the dispossession of the Plains Indians.
The Familiar Ritual of Dispossession: William T. Sherman presides over the signing of the Ft. Laramie Treaty.
The history of Washington's war on the Indians is a narrative of cupidity and corruption, aggression and avarice, deceit and dishonor. In examining the case of Washington's seizure of the Black Hills, however, I am struck by the cynical use of illegal immigration as an instrument of territorial conquest.
General George Armstrong Custer, who has a prominent place on my list of people I would kill if they weren't already dead,* was sort of a Coyote-in-Chief for the white settlers who flowed into the Black Hills. Despite the 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaty that solemnly promised the lands to the Sioux in perpetuity, Custer led what Evan S. Connell called "a creaking, jingling, clanking train of canvas-topped wagons and malodorous cavalrymen" into Sioux territory in search of gold.
Well-known as a mass murderer, he was also one of history's most consequential advocates of illegal immigration.
Of the Black Hills, the Laramie Treaty specified that "no persons except those designated herein ... shall ever be permitted to pass over, settle upon, or reside in the territory...." Ah, contended advocates of white settlement, that was before our gold was discovered on their lands, and this changes everything. Decrying the treaty as an "abominable compact," the Yankton (South Dakota) Press and Dakotanian complained: "What shall be done with these Indian dogs in our manger? They will not dig gold or let others do it."
In such frustrating circumstances, if you're the government, or interests wedded to it, the answer is obvious: You steal the land.
It was Custer who established the "Robber's Road." It was Custer who was ultimately tasked by the execrable Philip Sheridan to carry out "total war" against the Sioux when they refused to ratify the results of white illegal immigration by repudiating their rights under the Laramie Treaty in exchange for a mere fraction of what the land was worth.
Reading some contemporaneous newspaper editorials unearthed by Connell, I'm struck by how they resemble some of the themes embraced by the Mexican "reconquista" movement. Take, for example, this specimen from the Bismarck Tribune, which was published as Custer "reconnoitered" the Black Hills:
"This is God's country. He peopled it with red men, and planted it with wild grasses, and permitted the white man to gain a foothold; and as the wild grasses disappear when the white clover gains a footing, so the Indian disappears before the advances of the white man. Humanitarians may weep [for the Indian], and tell the wrongs he has suffered, but he is passing away. Their prayers, their entreaties, can not change the law of nature; can not arrest the causes which are carrying them on to their ultimate destiny -- extinction. The American people need the country the Indians now occupy; many of our people are out of employment; the masses need some new excitement. The war is over, and the era of railroad building has been brought to a termination ... and depression prevails on every hand. An Indian war would do no harm, for it must come, sooner or later...."
Isn't this more or less the same game being played by the Mexican government -- using illegal immigration as an economic "safety valve" by exporting surplus workers? The chief difference here, and it's not one that reflects well on the US Government of the time, is that the 19th century version of demographic warfare was actually intended to cultivate bloodshed.
When the Sioux tried to "crack down" on illegal immigrants, its actions were portrayed in the press as a terrorist campaign. As Connell writes, it had been widely anticipated that the "stampede of whites through Dakota Territory would bring war," and as the editorial quoted above indicates, most Yankees thought this would be a good thing. And obviously, the U.S. Government was capable of doing far deadlier damage to the Plains Indians than anything the Mexican Government could do to us. Yes, the Feds lost at the Little Bighorn, but this proved to be merely a setback on the road to Wounded Knee.
Amid the apocalyptic rhetoric generated by the immigration "crisis" (I write as someone who has made his own contribution), I find myself musing that perhaps the only people in this country who really have standing to complain about the problem are descendants of the Plains Indians.
This doesn't mean I think our nation should dissolve itself as an act of penance for the sins of our forebears. But I do believe we could profit from re-examining some of the premises and assumptions behind the immigration issue, the first being that Americans living today are uniquely besieged innocents facing an unprecedented invasion.
There are Americans living along the border whose lands and homes are under siege from Coyotes and drug smugglers. The question I pose is: Should we perceive such crimes as the unique product of illegal immigration, or as an illustration of the universal truth of Burnham's Fifth Law (see above)?
The logic of Burnham's observation is that wherever prohibitionist policies are enforced, criminal behavior -- including occasional violence to persons and property -- will result. If this is true of immigration from Mexico, then the way to reduce the violence would be to end the relevant prohibition. One way to end the siege of ranch properties along the southern border would be to announce that we would accept all of the immigrants Mexico is willing to send our way. This would put the Coyotes out of business immediately.
Would this be a good idea? I don't know, but it might not be any worse than what we're doing right now, which creates a thriving immigration black market while doing little to prevent illegal immigration. In this respect the prohibition on non-government-sanctioned immigration from Mexico makes exactly as much sense as prohibitionist policies toward alcohol, narcotics, and opioids. Which is to say, none at all.
As in so much else, the key to solving the immigration problem is to define the problem correctly, while bearing in mind another of Burnham's Laws: Where there is no solution, there is no problem.
Among the problems commonly attributed to illegal immigration are the dilution of our public culture through multilingualism, the expansion of the prison population, and the huge costs of welfare subsidies for illegal immigrants.
The question of a common language may be the easiest to deal with: There is no reason why governments cannot be compelled to conduct official business in English, and every reason to insist that they should. Government has no business dictating the language in which we conduct our private affairs. Most immigrants, absent government intervention to prevent assimilation, will learn English out of social and economic necessity.
A "Reconquista" Protest: Radicalized Mexican activists are theatrical, obnoxious, and sometimes violent -- but are they typical?
Recent studies of incarceration rates for immigrants and native Americans demonstrate that immigrants are not the source of a significant spike in crime; in fact, the findings suggest that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than are native-born citizens. Granted, there are plenty of criminal syndicates -- some of them shockingly violent -- that draw from the immigrant population. The question, once again, is if enhancing the current prohibitionist approach is the most intelligent way of dealing with the specific problem of crimes committed by immigrants. And, once again, given the existing track record, I'm inclined to think it's about time to try something else, such as focusing law enforcement efforts solely and exclusively on prosecuting those who commit crimes against persons and property.
Where welfare subsidies for illegal immigrants are concerned, I earnestly believe that the focus is excessively narrow and entirely misdirected: Why make the immigrants the issue, as opposed to the welfare programs themselves? As Sheldon Richman points out, one would expect conservatives to cite immigrant welfare services in order "to convince the American people to dump the welfare state [by showing them] it is financially unsustainable." Rather than doing so, most conservatives profess anguished outrage that outsiders are an impermissible burden on our system of institutionalized plunder.
What is even worse, and more perplexing, than this unwonted conservative desire to preserve the sanctity of the welfare state is the way that many of them want to expand the role of the State in what remains of the private economy in the name of immigration control.
Consider the "No Gravy Train For Illegals" model legislation being promoted by some organizations as a way to address the "crisis." The proposal is built around two sets of recommendations, the first dealing with the public sector, the other with the private economy. Under the model, each state, county, and municipality would be urged "to pass a law that makes it illegal to provide anything whatsoever to an illegal alien":
From the government sector:
- It shall be illegal, by STATE LAW, to provide anything at all to illegal aliens including, but not limited to: welfare, food stamps, Medicaid, driver's license, business license, government housing, tax supported education, or any other assistance.
- There will be no state tax deductions for payments to illegal aliens.
- All government transactions will be done in English only (i.e. voter registration, employment applications, permits, etc).
From the private sector:
- It shall be illegal, by STATE LAW, to do anything at all for an illegal alien including, but not limited to: rent housing, sell real estate, sell vehicles or mobile homes, make loans, sell insurance, provide employment, provide indigent care, cash checks, enroll students, or provide transportation other than back to their country of origin.
The recommendations concerning government policy are sound. The ones dealing with the private sector are abhorrent -- and, frankly, totalitarian: They would effectively deputize every merchant and businessman as an informant and enforcer, or turn him into a criminal for providing a legal product or service to a customer of whom the government disapproves. It would be the duty of the businessman (or health care professional) to demand identity papers.
Laws of this kind have been passed in Oklahoma and Georgia, and are being considered elsewhere. An individual I respect who works as a spokesman for the organization that once employed me writes that "prosecuting either the American citizen or the illegal alien [under such a law] would deter the transaction, but prosecuting both the American citizen and the illegal alien would be best. Illegal aliens would find that they have nothing that they could do here: except to go home and get back in line with those seeking to legally immigrate."
Two problems with that assessment leap immediately to mind. The first of which is that my friend is assuming that quasi-totalitarian laws of this sort would eventually be enacted nation-wide; otherwise immigrants would simply migrate to states where such laws don't exist. The other problem is that this approach would actually expand the size and expense of the welfare state, since it would leave the existing structure intact while using access to it as an incentive for additional legal immigration.
By following this approach, we would end up with a larger, more expensive, and dramatically more intrusive version of the corrupt Leviathan State that presently rules us. Perhaps the government would succeed in keeping at least some brown-skinned, Spanish-speaking people out of the country, and for some people that seems to be a suitable trade-off.
In the current issue of The American Spectator, Tom Bethell -- a naturalized U.S. citizen and an authentic conservative -- suggests a radically different approach to immigration.
"Let those who want to work come," writes Bethell. "Pay them their wages, give them raises where necessary. Let them send money back home to Mexico, El Salvador, and the rest. But let's also discourage [better yet, abolish outright -- W.N.G.] government handouts, and keep them out of the embrace of union organizers. Let's also make sure that they don't vote."
The last recommendation is critical: The franchise is a red-letter distinction between citizen and non-citizen. And voting in a republic is a defensive exercise intended to keep the state at bay, rather than the ritual of participatory plunder it has become under our regime.
The desire to cultivate new client-constituencies is one reason both branches of the Establishment Party favor a larger immigrant population. It is also the reason why nothing will be done to limit immigration as long as we live under the current political system -- an authoritarian corporatist state supported by a degenerate mass democracy.
There is another possible outcome, however, one that is becoming increasingly likely. Should America finish its descent into an undisguised garrison state -- a process that is aided considerably by the immigration restriction movement -- our problems with both immigration and emigration will evaporate. All of us will live in a vast gulag as blighted as any Indian reservation -- which is where Washington deposited the Indians while it re-settled their lands with illegal immigrants.
A quick note --
As the title of this essay indicates, my opinions about immigration is in flux, and the foregoing represents an honest effort to think through the issue and some of its permutations. While I'm always interested to hear other points of view, in this instance I'm particularly eager to read what you think.
*I'm only kidding, sort of.
Be sure to visit The Right Source and the Liberty Minute archive.