More than 30 years ago, I began going down to the U.S.-Mexico border on a regular basis. I was a correspondent covering Latin America, and I knew, appreciated and loved the unique beauty of its undulating rivers and mountains, and of its peoples, who then seemed to have created along the now-traumatized border a kind of naturally ordered little state of their own.
There, Mexicans and Americans mixed with a pleasant congeniality, in great part because emigration from “El Sur” to “El Norte” was small, unthreatening and manageable. But even then, there were warnings.
The populations of tiny Central American states would soon burst, without rational leadership. Speaking with El Salvador’s anti-birth control Archbishop Fernando Saenz Lacalle in San Salvador, I asked about how the country’s uncontrolled birth rate was feeding the bitter wars of the 1980s. He simply smiled and told me smugly, “Belgium is smaller than Salvador, and it has far more people.”
Salvadorans, as Belgians?
Thus, when I spoke in 1983 at the California Seminar on International Security and Foreign Policy in Los Angeles, I found myself predicting that “the threat present in Central America, which was not present in Vietnam, is the threat to the territorial integrity of the United States. … It could cause a flow of immigrants to the United States and further fragmentation in the American society.”
And now, as the “caravans” of thousands of those same Central Americans push north, we must ask again whether there is any real hope for change in American policy that could develop these countries and keep their people at home. Why is it not possible, at the same time, to hammer out the long-awaited comprehensive immigration policy that would replace all the ranting and raving with reason and moderation?
First, we have the ongoing domination of Trumpian “policies”: sending in excess of 5,000 troops to control the border, effectively illegally employing the military for partisan purposes; dividing parents and children in scenes that shocked the world; lying about the true nature of the “caravans” and the entire immigration picture itself.
From these complaints, you may well ascertain that I embrace the policies diametrically opposed to the president’s, but you would be wrong. The other extreme — the “open borders” of the far left and many Democrats — is just as irrational and just as demagogically dangerous as the cruel Trumpian.
This left knows only one word: “racist.” That is what you are, without mercy, should you foolishly choose to disagree with them. This left eschews any idea that American principles of culture and polity are superior or worthy of preserving.
For years, 85 percent or more of the American people have wanted reasonable immigration reform. But their struggle is being strangled by these two extremes; common sense is constantly out-shouted by these two lunatic fringes.
Some people ARE thinking, and thank God! Victor Davis Hanson, a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and a respected and balanced scholar, wrote in the Washington Times recently words that effectively say it all:
“If the border was secure, immigration laws enforced and illegal residence phased out, deterrence would be re-established and there would likely be no caravan.”
William A. Galston of the Brookings Institution, another highly respected middle-ground thinker, wrote in The Wall Street Journal of the deeper questions in the immigration debate: “National governments are not required to value the citizens of other countries as highly as their own. A degree of self-preference is morally justified and politically essential.”
The Center for Immigration Studies just released a report saying the Central American immigrant population has increased 28-fold since 1970. In the months to come, and long after this election, the border will become an ever more profound problem. It will call for policies requiring caution, fairness, toughness, mercy, a sense of proportion and moderation, and a respect for the superior historical role of American culture.
Where will this leadership come from? Can reason ever overcome the tirades? Can one somehow silence the ranters?
Georgie Anne Geyer has been a foreign correspondent and commentator on international affairs for more than 40 years.