Resistance to Border Security Triggers Trump

Trump has declared a national emergency in order to appropriate money from the Defense Department to fund further construction of the security barrier at the Mexico-United States border. The security barrier is a decades-long bipartisan project to control the flow of people and other things entering the United States. Presently, there exists nearly 700 miles of fencing, much of it constructed during the Obama Administration, the result of implementation of the Secure Fence Act of 2006, a bill passed by both parties and signed into law by President George W. Bush. However, construction of the network of barriers started in the early 1990s. The barrier is comprised of chain link, concrete walls, post and rail, sheet piling, and wire mesh structures. (See Democrats are Being Disingenuous on the Role of Security Fencing in Reducing Illegal Immigration and Crime for a history of this.)

There are similar walls going up around the western world. For example, the Syria–Turkey barrier, a system of fences and walls aimed at preventing illegal crossings and smuggling from Syria into Turkey, people and contraband that then make their way across Europe, enjoys funding from the European Union. Mass migration to Europe has raised crime rates and fueled the rise of rightwing nationalism, a countermovement disruptive to establishment hegemony the neoliberal agenda. But it’s more than this. Migration pressure are growing worse with continued population growth and the coming catastrophe of climate change. The world population is on a path to reach 9-11 billion by mid-century, and almost all that growth will occur in developing countries, especially where pro-birth religions prevail (Islam and Catholicism). (See The Urgency of Population Control and Appreciating the Accomplishments of the Developed World for an in-depth analysis of the problem.) European elites realize that uncontrolled immigration is contrary to their long-term interests. Uncontrolled immigration is also contrary to the interests of the proletarian, so it is a relief to see the establishment coming around to the importance of immigration control. Unfortunately, as I discuss in this essay, US elites are late in coming around to the same understanding.

Those areas along the southwestern border of the United States where security barriers have been emplaced experienced substantial reductions in illegal immigration and significant reductions in associated crime. Despite claims to the contrary, security barriers are highly effective in reducing illegal border crossings. (It is rather curious to see people on the left ape the fallacious argument of the rightwing gun rights crowd that people serious about breaking the law will not be deterred by government efforts to enhance public safety.) But serious problems remain. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 266,000 criminal illegal immigrations over the last two years, including 4,000 homicides. Based on these statistics, 3.5% of the population is committing nearly 12 percent of homicides in the United States every year (see a detailed analysis here: What is the Relationship of Immigration to Crime?). Considering that central and east Asian populations are underrepresented in violent crime, the disproportionality is largely attributable to immigrants from Central America and Mexico. In other words, demographic realities mean that an even smaller proportion of the population is responsible for a large number of homicides.

It is important to consider why there is so much reluctance among Democrats to appropriate money for more comprehensive border control (such was their opposition that they participated in the longest government shutdown in the history of the nation). For establishment Democrats, reluctance admits the neoliberalism they have advanced for decades. Immigration is a tool capitalists use to undermine the standard of living of and politically disorganize native-born labor. Marxist economist Melvin Leiman documents this history in Political Economy of Racism. “[B]y constantly changing the composition of the working class,” he writes, “[immigration] very effectively prevented the establishment of a stable organizing base.” Leiman shows how this tactic in particular interferes with efforts to forge labor solidarity across racial lines. (For a critical summary of the literature concerning the economic and political impact of immigration see Smearing Labor as Racist: The Globalist Project to Discredit the Working Class.) The period of immigration control between the mid-1920s and mid-1960s, the result of rank-and-file labor fighting for its class interests, marked by a stretch of growing and widening affluence for ordinary Americans, led to the emergence of strong worker solidarity and class consciousness. Opening the country to large-scale immigration in the mid-1960s was part of a business strategy, working through the Democratic Party, to undermine labor strength and disrupt worker consciousness. Public pressure to control immigration has therefore been crucial to political enthusiasm for border control measures. At the same time, the appearance of controlling illegal immigration is a propaganda element in legitimizing legal immigration, which presently approaches late-18th/early-19thcentury levels.

For the new crop of Democrats, the so-called “democratic socialist,” the push for open-borders and the hostility towards law enforcement reflects the power of leftwing identitarianism in muddling thought, paradoxically providing support for globalism, a result of the successful socialization of postmodern conceptions of power. This development functions to advance capitalist interests by recasting worker interests as reflective of white privilege, thus disrupting class consciousness and worker solidarity. As I am sure most readers of blog know, racism is a very old strategy used by bourgeois operatives to defang the working class. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries identity was used by the far right to disrupt leftwing politics. Fascism is the most obvious species of this type of strategy. Walter Benjamin observed in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” that “the growing proletarianization of modern man and the increasing formation of masses are two aspects of the same process.” Here he is referring to the process of divorcing individuals from the means of production under conditions of mass production creating the potential for workers to realize their collective situation of exploitation. “Fascism attempts to organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate,” he writes. “Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property.” This expression takes the form of fetishes for race and various other identities that divide populations rather than unite them in common struggle. The suppression of the worker’s right is thus obtained via aesthetics, “the production of ritual values,” values and practices that eclipse class (the marketing of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign is illustrative of this dynamic). Consciousness inverted, the progressive Democrat embraces the same sensibilities, albeit on opposite sides of the identitarian divides; and while the politics of the left are not nearly as destructive as fascist politics, they press in the same direction with respect to the harm they cause to class politics. As a result, the cosmetic politics of diversity replace the substantive politics of class. Propagandists then easily slot immigration into the logic of bourgeois antiracism and multiculturalism, which, pushed since the early 20th century (for example by cultural pluralist Horace Keller of the New School, who claimed that cultural diversity and national pride were compatible and strengthened America), has become status quo consciousness, conflating working class interests with nativist sensibilities.

Thus, the Democratic Party appears between neoliberal establishment and leftwing identitarian types, but types that nonetheless support open borders over against the interests of working class families. Moreover, the election of Donald Trump as president in 2016 inspired something the left calls “the resistance,” which, born in hysteria, and deftly pushed by the corporate media, committed itself from the outset to categorically oppose Trump’s agenda, even when articulating traditional values of the marginalized authentic left, such as skepticism of imperialist and militarist ambition. Of course, the Trump presidency is straightaway an affront to the establishment. To be sure, Trump is a capitalist, but he is not a globalist. His patriotic sense of nationalism instinctively guides him to oppose endless war, transnational capitalist hegemony, and open immigration policy because these are bad for his country. Thus Trump is disruptive to the smooth hegemony neoliberals have endeavored to emplace, a hegemony that facilitates the dismantling of nation-state and national cultures, replacing them with supranational political-economic authority and multiculturalism. Because western society has achieved the highest standards of living in the world, in part because of the work of the labor movement, and enjoys a political-legal system open enough to allow for democratic sensibilities and practices, it has become the primary target of neoliberal adjustment, a project that devolves popular public functions to elite private control. This project was developed and led by Democrats in the 1960s. For example, in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson, John Kennedy’s successor of John F. Kennedy, signed into law what was at that time the largest tax cut in U.S. history and followed it with the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (the Hart-Celler Act), both measures that undermined working class power and affluence and concentrated wealth in the hands of the capitalist class. The project has enjoyed bipartisan support since then. Out of step with the times, Trump is an obstacle to the adjustment of the modern capitalist republic (and it is a failure of the left and concerted efforts by the Democratic Party that it does not have its own representative in that office). Since Americanism is, for many, synonymous with white supremacy, it has been easy to enlist young progressives in the neoliberal and globalist project to discipline the working class. This is not just an American phenomenon. The entire West is yielding to neoliberal ambition and identitarian politics.

This is the ideological backdrop. In the foreground of the dispute are pragmatic-sounding and faux-political objections to Trump’s actions. One objection rests on the claim that there is no crisis worthy of a national emergency. Border crossings are down, opponents claim. What is the emergency? Thanks largely for security fencing and more border control assets, border apprehensions are down since 2000, when 1.64 million were crossing the border annually; however, total southwest border apprehensions climbed from just over 300,000 in 2017 to 400,000 in 2018, representing more than a 33% increase. Crucially, the social profile of illegal immigration has changed, reflecting an increase in families and children. Family unit apprehensions at the border have almost doubled, climbing from 75,000 in 2017 to nearly 110,000 in 2018. “In Arizona,” NPR recently reported, “the number of migrant families and children crossing the border more than doubled last year, straining resources in the U.S. and Mexico.” Apprehensions of unaccompanied children are up 25%, from 40,000 in 2017 to 40,000 in 2018. The changing migration profile requires updates to US border control strategy, especially in making it harder for smugglers to dump families and children in the most dangerous parts of the southwest. The pattern of families traveling in large groups reflects their understanding that crossing in larger groups makes the journey safer. However, the Mexican side of the border is controlled by cartels, and they are leading families to remote spots to avoid detection. Humanitarian work is taking agents away from their law enforcement duties, which gives the cartels more opportunities to smuggle drugs and people into the US. Thus Trump’s motive for building more security barriers echoes the work of progressive European elites in providing funding for security barriers at key points of entry on their own continent. Are these efforts also considered fascist and racist? This is one of the ideological objections to Trump’s declaration of a state of emergency: it’s fascist and racist. Is Sweden now a fascist and racist country because it moved to restrict immigration after the troubles the recent migrant crisis brought its citizens? Hardly. Such hyperbole is meant to prevent the citizens of the United States from demanding what is in their best interests.

As implied above, without economic development and secular institutions in the developing world, migration pressures will only grow. A survey of the situation in these countries tells the observer that the possibility of such developments in the near term are remote. Fencing therefore must be central component to any effective strategy of immigration control. From the NPR story cited above: “Despite the recent influx of migrant families, the Yuma sector is widely considered a border enforcement success story. The number of illegal border crossings in Yuma today is just a fraction of what it used to be in the early 2000s.” Yuma is not the only success story, as I have documented on this blog. Indeed, the reduction of illegal border crossings and the continue problem of illegal immigration supports the argument for stricter border controls. Persons who believe their chances of illegally crossing the border are slim are less likely to make the hazardous journey. The difficulty of getting into the United States reduces the number of persons seeking entry. A recent The New York Times headline reads: “With Trumps Tough Deterrents, Many Asylum Seekers on the Border are Giving Up” (the vast majority of asylum seekers are found to have no legitimate claims to asylum). Leftwing identitarians for whom every migrant is a refugee will read this headline with horror, but it is good news for the American working class. Moreover, illegal border crossings, beyond their inherent criminality, are associated with other forms of crime. A porous border is exploited by drug and human traffickers. Individuals who attempt to illegally cross the border are at risk for exploitation, injury, and death. Border control agents describe a much better situation today a decade after extensive fencing. Before, to use the words of one agent interviewed by NPR, it was “out of control.” Another agent interviewed stated that they were “unable to stop the thousands of trucks filled with drugs and humans that quickly crossed a vanishing point and dispersed into communities all across the country.” (See The Border in 2014 … and Now for details.)

The threats to personal security, working class interests, and a concern for human rights makes illegal border crossings a crisis. A more comprehensive approach to border security, including extending the security barrier, will reduce illegal border crossings (see The Situation at the Border and How to Respond to it). This will save lives and jobs and reduce crime. If not stopped, Trump will extend the barrier using dollars that would otherwise be spent by the military for purposes the public has been conditioned to believe represent true “national security” interests. And while national emergencies are unusual events and should be rare (keeping in mind that, between presidents spanning Carter to Trump, 58 national emergencies have been declared since 1976, with 32 of these still in effect), inaction by Democrats to address the problem at the border is partly responsible for the president’s drastic action. Contrary to the interests of working families, Democrats exploit the president’s unpopularity to obstruct efforts to strengthen border security. They are concerned that any success Trump will have on strengthening US borders will put immigration control in a positive light, and this could very well lead to growing consciousness about the harm of immigration on the standard of living and personal security of working people (for an analysis of the harm see The Immigration Situation) and the need for immigration restrictions.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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