Picking through the anger and insults, the serious objections to my original analogy (that the U.S.-Mexico border represents an “institutional injustice” analogous to segregation in the pre-Civil Rights South) boil down to these:

1.) Current U.S. immigration policies allow for legal crossing. Why don’t Mexicans “do it the right way?”

2.) Mexican society is racist and unjust. Why don’t Mexican elites treat their own more justly?

3.) Mexican government is unjust and corrupt. Why don’t Mexicans work to “clean up their own house” instead of fleeing to the United States?

4.) There’s a moral difference between segregation based on race and segregation based on nationality.

5.) Terrorists are trying to do us harm. Why should we trust anyone trying to come across the border?

Objection number 1 doesn’t address the basic inequality of conditions that exist on either side of the line. Millions of Mexicans face the basic human decision of how best to feed themselves and their families. To pretend that we would do differently were we in their shoes displays ignorance of the basic conditions that most Mexican immigrants face.  

Objection number 2 has some merit. I lived on the border for four years (apart from my decades here in San Diego), have traveled extensively in Tijuana and Mexico and Central America and know how wide the gap is between elite and non-elite across Latin America. I also know that in Mexico this gap is color-specific and rooted in ethnic privilege and prejudice. Still, that others are mistreating someone does not excuse my mistreatment of them. History will not judge Mexican elites kindly, I’m sure, but I stand by my conviction that future generations will some day judge us to have grossly mistreated Mexican immigrants to the United States. Clearly we are not alone in this kind of mistreatment. All across the globe (take Africa, take the Middle East) you can find conflict and injustice born from the unfortunate predisposition of colonial powers to draw straight lines on maps.

Objection number 3 oversimplifies the challenges faced by poorer nations seeking to democratize. It also overlooks the immediate concerns of most Mexican citizens (see number 1 above), pretending that if they would just “hold their leaders accountable” they would somehow be able to instigate sudden and dramatic changes in Mexico. When you are trying to feed your family, the idea of “democratization” can sound mighty, mighty abstract.

Objection number 4 is the strongest. Maybe nationalism is a necessity — a “necessary evil,” if you will. (Of course this is what many, many whites in the Deep South argued about segregation.) Still, the architects of the Civil Rights movement had recourse to the U.S. Constitution and a tradition of equal-justice-under-the-law that served as the foundation of their movement. It’s not clear to me what would be the analogous court of appeal for the 210 million refugees and migrants worldwide. Perhaps someday the United Nations Declarations on Human Rights will have this kind of hold on the human imagination, but I fear that day is far off.

Objection number 5 is stupid or silly (or both!). If stopping terrorists were our genuine concern, we would immediately regularize the flow of economic migrants on which both the U.S. and Mexican economies depend and we would reallocate immigration and law enforcement efforts to airports, universities and Canadian ports-of-entry for the surveillance, detection and detention of suspected terrorists. Not that I’m advocating all of that, of course, but the idea that building more fences along the U.S.-Mexico border represents a rational allocation of resources in the face of terrorist threats against the United States is a very, very sorry joke.

That’s all folks. Be well …


p.s. I was well aware, D, that “JR‘s idea of training Mexican expatriots to violently overthrow Mexico, a la Bay of Pigs, was in jest!”

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