One of the more interesting aspects of the current debate regarding illegal immigration is the way in which language is transformed through misuse--both deliberate and accidental--by those for whom the framing of the issue is the first priority.
I have spoken before about how this issue is conceptualized in the media. For most Americans--especially those whose lives are not directly touched by the influx of Central and South American illegal immigrants--who get their opinions directly from the media, how they think about it will be largely determined by how the debate is framed.
Proponents of lax enforcement, for instance, have attempted to portray all immigration enforcement as a form of racism. Mexicans are "racially" different, so any attempt to curtail illegal Mexican immigration constitutes a racist motivated policy. Yet most Americans don't regard Mexicans as racially separate. But racism as a defining characteristic of "anti-immigration" policy is a red herring. The need to control immigration is built into our laws; we have official immigration policy, comprised of regulations, procedures, and enforcements. Our laws, for instance, stipulate national quotas, among other things. These regulations are not racially based.
Lately, however, there's been a new trend in the public discussion about immigration in the media. Leading up to the Federal judge's ruling regarding Arizona's new immigration law, we've begun to hear, with some regularity, the use of the phrase "broken immigration system."
Just what does "broken immigration system" mean? Was it previously unbroken? And, if so, how did it get "broken"? What broke it? And, assuming it is broken, what might its compromised condition tell us about a possible remedy?
First of all, there is a general consensus among Americans that our immigration policy needs to be based on pragmatic necessities. Unless, for instance, we chose to have "open borders" without any regard for who might pass into our country, and under any conditions--a situation which no sensible person, it's safe to say, would be likely to advocate, especially in our so-called "post-9/11" world. In other words, we need an official immigration policy, administered for the good of America, and Americans. It should take into account international law and practice regarding the integrity of foreign nationals, and it should allow us to enforce that policy, without hindrance from other nations or interests.
What people mean when they use the term "broken immigration system" is that our immigration system can no longer cope with the problems confronting it. That is not to say that our immigration policies and practices are wrong in the first place, or that any failure to enforce them is evidence that they were wrongly conceived. A failure to enforce a law, does not prove that the law itself is wrong. It may only need to be more carefully, or more diligently, enforced.
Historically, what has occurred, is that the pressure of illegal immigration has dramatically increased, while our immigration laws--and the instruments of their enforcement--have not been sufficiently expanded, to address this increase. As our efforts to meet this growing problem have become more bold, and direct, critics of increased enforcement have begun to refer to the crisis as evidence that the system of regulation (and enforcement) itself has become "broken."
What these critics mean, of course, is that the laws themselves, as well as their enforcement, are "broken." In principle, supporters of illegal immigration (and lax enforcement) want our immigration laws (and the systems of enforcement) brought down.
What these critics mean by "fixing" our immigration policy, is a general amnesty for all those living illegally in America, an exponential increase in our national quotas from Central and South America, and a general slackening of all immigration controls.
In fact, our immigration system isn't "broken"--it wasn't broken in the first place. You could say that the vast numbers of illegals have "broken" it, overwhelmed our efforts to control it, but that's like saying the criminals are winning.
Imagine a situation in which the local police departments were controlled by the criminals, in which justice was compromised in favor of the priorities of organized crime. Well, in Mexico, this is just what they have.
Mexico is an outlaw nation, sliding, inexorably, further into chaos. Who would want to live there? Who, indeed? Mexico is a classic third world nation, corrupt, poverty-stricken, riddled with crime and bribery and black market commerce. Is it any wonder that its people want out, will do anything to escape from it?
If anything is "broken" it is the government and social fabric of Mexico. Our immigration system, designed to control and administer our immigration policy, is just fine, thank you very much. It doesn't need fixing. What it needs is the will to enforce it.
As I see it, we have two choices: We can capitulate to those who wish to tear down the barriers to unfettered refugee migration northwards, or we can draw a line in the sand, and stop talking about racism and "broken systems" and "unworkable policies." We can enforce our laws.
If the Federal Government refuses to keep illegals out, and to round them up and deport them, as it is required to do, the problem falls to the lesser jurisdictions.
Those who want to seize the opportunity afforded by Arizona's attempt to put its own house in order, to broker a "fix" of our "broken immigration system" at the national level, are attempting to frame the debate as a structural crisis. But the problem was never structural.
Unlike the argument about the legalization of drugs, "legalization" of illegal immigration won't remove the motivation to break our laws.
The next time you hear someone refer to our "broken immigration system" ask yourself what this is a code-phrase for. Most likely, they're concealing an agenda to dismantle our immigration policy. They're advocating on behalf of the welfare of another nation, another national constituency. They're not on your side.