The PJ Tatler

What We've Learned From Our Open Border

George Santayana said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Talk of comprehensive immigration reform alarms close observers today because it was deemed “reform” once before, but wasn’t. That 1986 immigration law gave amnesty to millions of immigrants but included no border security.

Not much has changed since then. Last year’s Senate bill, S. 744, specifies a path to citizenship, but does not in fact require the border be secured. Many are demanding border security as a prerequisite today because last time they politely argued for it, and lost. It was called ‘triggered amnesty’ in 1986, and although included in the Republican-controlled Senate bill, was denied a vote in the Democratic-controlled House. It would have delayed amnesty until a Presidential Commission certified the border was secure; but it was not part of the legislation ultimately sent to President Reagan for signature.

Here America stands twenty-eight years later with an open border and eleven million additional undocumented immigrants due to a government policy that fails to stop illegal entrants but spends millions on a bureaucratic maze to legally deport them. Our border policy entices people to enter surreptitiously, and then labels them illegal once they’re here. Today, due to a political standoff, it seems we face the Hobson’s choice of once again supporting legislation that does not require border security, or abiding executive orders to grant de facto amnesty to millions.

If the border were secured — by a combination of high-tech fencing, aerial surveillance, and manpower as required — there’d be no more labeling of people in America as illegals. They’d either be here legally or working their way toward legal status. If the world knew our border was secure, there would be little incentive to try to cross it; the human- and drug-smuggling cartels would suffer for it; and fewer would die in vain seeking illegal entry. This summer Americans saw a snapshot of what has been happening on the border for decades – and they’re not forgetting it. Border security, despite best efforts, is not considered a racist term; and common sense members from both parties must step up and do what is right by citizens on both sides.

Comprehensive reform could happen if our politicians would allow it, but mistakes of the past cannot be repeated. If the border is required to be secured before a pathway to legal status is allowed, then everyone involved would be incentivized to get it done. This time around the border must be secured so that, for people everywhere, the crumbling line along the Rio Grande might actually remain a demarcation between the chaos below it and the safe haven above it.