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Civil Rights and the American Border

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Image citation: The US passport by Jeremy Dorrough, licensed under Unsplash 

The American immigration system is far from easily navigable. Those who proudly declare that they are “all for immigration, as long as it is legal”, often are unfamiliar with how convoluted the immigration system is. A wall is a solution provided by some conservative pundits to a “border crisis”. The described “crisis” usually relates largely to how many immigrants remain at the border, or just over the border awaiting processing/approval. These immigrants in limbo are mostly those who are legally seeking immigration or acceptance as a refugee. They wait in border towns not because they are unwilling to follow legal steps, but because the legal steps are complex, lengthy, and unpredictable. These immigrants waiting are often placed in camps, where there are numerous accounts of human rights abuses. It is not only them who see rights violations due to America’s immigration system, but also citizens, particularly those residing within 100 miles of a US border. 

An important aspect of immigration is where immigrants come from and which circumstances have forced these people to travel to the United States. Refugees specifically take up a lot of space in the news. This is the case partly because refugees must cross the border while seeking asylum, leading to an influx of immigrants along the border. Many of these refugees exist because of world events which are at least not directly related to US policy (think Venezuelan or Ukrainian refugees). That said, the US certainly has created its fair share of refugees around the world. The utter destruction of Iraq and Afghanistan has displaced millions of people, many of which have relocated to the US. The people in these situations leave because they often face difficult or traumatic situations. When there is no strict rule or law in a country, there is often famine and/or insecurity, leading to a predictable exodus.           

Many who remain focused on illegal immigration do want to address perceived underlying issues. A comment expressing this mindset was even given by Republican candidate for president, Nikki Haley during a recent primary debate. The underlying reasons behind illegal immigration can fit largely into two categories. The first is based around the desire to enter the country. The United States is the most prosperous and stable country in the Americas, making it a desirable place for the less fortunate to escape their situations. The second reason is based around the procedures and requirements which are required for immigration. As stated previously, legal immigration is extremely difficult, expensive, time consuming, and unpredictable. These factors will naturally result in an increased number of people immigrating illegally. Additionally, the United States is very close to many countries in the Americas with less-than stable economies and governments. The mere proximity to these countries means that many will attempt to seek security and prosperity in America. 

The misconception that immigrants come to America solely for government benefits is easily debunked. To state it frankly, there are very few government benefits which are available to illegal immigrants. Economist Bryan Caplan has explained that an immigrant who takes more than they give to the US economy is only an exception, and not a rule. Most immigrants contribute to the economy and illegal immigrants have very little access to public assistance programs. Immigrants are even necessary for the current social security scheme to succeed in the long run, especially as Americans have decided to have  fewer children. Keeping these statistics and arguments in mind, America could benefit greatly from increased levels of immigration, with illegal immigration not playing much of an economic factor. Immigrants from more conservative countries than the US are less likely to import non-existent progressive policies from their home country. Especially from a social policy point of view, most immigrants lean conservative. 

It does not refute all arguments however, there are still those common arguments against immigrants from around the world which profuse that they may degrade the American system or support progressive politicians and their policies.The infamous 100-mile border zone in the US is an area where the fourth amendment does not have full recognition. There is no constitutional basis for this, as the fourth amendment does not list exclusions. Nevertheless, US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has essentially no limits on its ability to violate a person’s privacy in this border zone. Around 2/3rds of the American population live in this zone, and it engulfs nine entire states plus Washington DC.

Many conservatives in America are strictly against government overreach and abuses, pointing to early American attitudes towards freedom as inspiration. To go back in time, President Thomas Jefferson’s infamous Insurrection Act of 1807 was partly ineffective and suffered from wide-spread resistance in America. This act placed significant embargos on British trade and allowed the president to institute martial law. The fourth and first amendments were violated with this act, and it created the worst recession in America during the time. Predictably, Americans regularly ignored the ineffective and harmful act, as it went against their self-interest. This occurrence is mirrored by those who cross the US border illegally out of necessity. 

Presently, there are immigration detainment camps close to the American border. These camps are inevitable considering how contradictory and complicated the immigration laws are. What does not have to be inevitable is the level of inhumane treatment present in these camps. According to the Department of Homeland Security report in 2019, Customs and Border Patrol camps held between 4-5 times as many people as the facilities were made to hold. Many in the camps were wearing soiled clothes, were held for more than a month without a shower, and children were regularly separated from their parents for extended periods of time. This is more than an emotional plea though. The rights laid out in the Bill of Rights rest upon assumed inalienable rights and dignities bestowed by a creator. Thus, these rights are universal. 

Those who want to fix the border crisis should advocate for a clearer, streamlined immigration system. Streamlining the ability to enter the US legally would logically result in fewer people in filthy immigration camps, less human trafficking, fewer illegal crossings, and would even give drug cartels less power. More importantly, as immigrating becomes less dangerous and more common, human rights violations by ICE may become less frequent. Anyone who believes that the rights laid out in America’s founding documents are universal must surely view the situation at the US border as nothing less than a violation of inherent human dignity. 


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