The proposed 700-mile wall along the U.S.-Mexican border seems to offend the delicate sensibilities of Jordan Trevino, if his editorial, “Wall would entrench prejudice” (1/19), is any indication. Apparently, reinforcing the already-clear demarcation between sovereign nations is tantamount to horribly, unjustly oppressing “a class of people, perhaps 10 million Mexicans and Latin Americans branded illegal aliens, [who] walk the streets with their eyes nailed to the pavement.” It is indeed a tragedy that criminals who flout American rule of law and enjoy the hard-earned liberty of its people should feel sad inside when they’re walking free on the streets.
Unfortunately for Trevino and the postmodern fantasyland he espouses wherein the human race has transcended things like “borders” that it is “illegal to cross,” in the real world, we still have countries. This one is called America. Americans do indeed “insist that America is not only theirs, but no one else’s,” but to somehow infer that all brown people who speak Spanish are necessarily unwelcome is to misread this sentiment. America has always been a nation of immigrants, people who have abandoned their homes and countries for the chance to buy into the American dream. Would-be Americans have to play by America’s rules, though — when America elects to exclude those who think they’re above those rules, it isn’t discriminating against Hispanics. It’s discriminating against criminals.
It’s certainly endearing in a not-particularly-endearing way to sniff at us charmingly old-fashioned Americans, scrambling in our “anxious attempts at establishing a strict boundary between what is to be considered American and what is to be excised as ‘alien.'” Look at how behind-the-times and “retrograde” we are, “opposed to the open community we should aim to create, which now extends beyond artificial political or racial demarcations.” It’s certainly a romantic worldview, imagining a supernational society, presumably with everyone holding hands and singing and, who knows, living on communes and getting back to the Earth. It must be fun for Trevino and the other members of his open community. The rest of us, of course, have to take artificial political demarcations seriously, because they entail the protections states provide in return for curtailing some of our liberties. It’s Locke’s Social Contract in action, and it’s more than abstract political philosophy. Americans have sacrificed for generations to sustain a country that affords us the greatest liberties in the world — that’s the deal.
This is not a matter of xenophobic rednecks unsettled by “the sight of people with which they cannot identify,” offended by “everything from [Hispanics’] poverty to their children to their language.” America doesn’t want to limit illegal immigration simply because a bunch of stuffy white people are out of touch with “the real face of America,” with its “different skin tones, different tongues, foods and dreams.” The truth is that Hispanic-Americans are Americans, hyphenate or not; Mexicans who evade border patrols and enjoy Americans’ protections and opportunities illegally are not. Nor are international students who can’t be bothered to satisfy the terms of their visas and pass classes. There is no “paradox of a society that wants their hard-working hands but will look right through their faces and smirk at their language.” “Society” does not want to take advantage of the artificially cheap illegal Mexican labor a wall might help to stem; that is the province of unscrupulous businessmen who prey on the vulnerable.
Realistically, a 700-mile-long wall probably isn’t the best way to discourage illegal border crossers. It would already be too expensive, and a public works project of that magnitude would undoubtedly grind to a money-gobbling standstill. But to compare it to the Berlin Wall, as Mexican President Vicente Fox and Trevino do, is indeed “disingenuous and intellectually dishonest,” as U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza put it. The U.S.-Mexican border is not new, and the line a wall would reinforce would not abruptly and without warning separate Mexicans from their families and livelihoods, as the Berlin Wall did. The fact that aspiring criminals aren’t allowed to enter America however they please should come as no surprise, despite the fact that Trevino acts as though it should. And although President Fox may be self-effacing, I feel he might take it a little far comparing his nominally democratic government to that of the Soviet bloc. As for Trevino’s lurid, hysterical imagery of “people entangled in a web of barbs, rusty metal digging in deeper with each frantic tug,” I feel like I’d give Mexicans a little more credit than to assume that they’d run headlong into barbed wire.
Part of what makes America great is that it is an open society, and that it’s more than willing to play the gracious host to foreigners. We are the proverbial city on a hill, and, call us immodest, but we love to show off our liberty. Foreigners who circumvent or violate our immigration laws are taking advantage of that hospitality and violating the rights of the honest Americans (and would-be Americans) who actually take that hospitality seriously. With a wall (or hopefully something a little more practical), America is not attempting to “criminalize Mexican migrants and the evil class-dropping international students.” It is attempting to criminalize criminals — and when you think you’re above the law, that’s all you are.
Sam Heller is a sophomore in Pierson College.