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Imagine yourself an immigrant.

This used to be difficult. Who would flee the Land of the Free? But today it’s thinkable. Those who don’t believe Donald Trump would destroy the country believe that Joe Biden would. Political apocalypse seems not as impossible as it did two years ago. 

But still – it couldn’t happen here. That’s what people in Venezuela and Afghanistan were saying two years ago.

What if things got so bad you had to leave? If, like me, you’re fond of Silver City, you might check the globe for other places with our latitude: 32.77. 

Would you rather move to Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Israel, Saudia Arabia, Iraq, Iran or Afghanistan? You could go to the high part of Pakistan, India or Tibet—like New Mexico but 10,000 feet higher. Next is the middle of China and the southern tip of Japan. If none of those seems inviting, there’s another hemisphere. Are you into South Africa, Southern Australia, Chile or Argentina? If you chose one of those places, would they want you? 

Or you might be like me – determined to stick it out, no matter how bad things get. But if you at least think about immigrating, perhaps you can understand why others might come here. 

Until recently, the controversy was over illegal immigrants sneaking across the border. Some of us also know legal immigrants whose special skills or relationships earned them a green card. But today many immigrants come here seeking escape from tyranny – or so they claim.

A couple of years ago I took a Western Institute for Lifelong Learning (WILL) class on border control issues. We toured hot spots in the El Paso area with Border Patrol agents. We saw a portion of the wall. It looked impregnable, but there is no wall in the wilderness south of Animas or in the canyons of Big Bend. 

The sight that stuck with me was a family surrendering to the Border Patrol after wading across the Rio Grande in downtown El Paso. These asylum-seekers were looking for Border Patrol agents, not fleeing from them. I wonder where they came from and whether their quest was successful. And I wonder about the kids, caught in a situation they couldn’t understand. 

The United States has often – but not always – been open to people fleeing political persecution. But we didn’t necessarily make the laws on asylum to handle the current situation. Political refugees from Afghanistan are more of what the law had in mind. Many of them helped us in our futile war and its inept end. It’s only right that we should fly a few of them across the ocean and help them assimilate. 

The people fleeing from Juarez to El Paso are a different story. They come from many countries, but let’s use Venezuelans as an example. Venezuela is criticized by the United States for socialist economics and unfair elections. So shouldn’t we welcome its refugees as we did Cubans? 

Well, Venezuela is in an economic crisis, which we might blame on socialism. Nevertheless, by law, we grant political asylum to political, not economic, refugees. But if their bad economics is due to their bad politics, what’s the difference?

The same question applies to Haiti, Nicaragua, Guatemala and many other countries. And we must apply the standard family by family. But there often isn’t much specific evidence one way or the other. Many politicians complaining about open borders don’t distinguish between economic and political refugees. They just want to close the border. Some doubt that asylum-seekers are really that. But there’s the law. We have to evaluate each claim, even if it’s difficult – or impossible.

If you wanted to limit asylum-seekers or change immigration, one way would be to pass a law clarifying the issues. But “lawmakers” don’t want to make laws. No one has proposed serious immigration reform since 2013. 

But plenty of legislators have complained about how recent presidents failed to handle an unsolvable problem based on outdated laws. Does this sound familiar? Are there other problems that legislators complain about, but blame the president instead of themselves? Is it possible to fix anything in today’s divided Congress? 

And why are we opposing immigration anyway? Businesses attempting big projects are often frustrated by a labor shortage. Wouldn’t a carefully planned system for immigration and temporary workers be a good thing? Maybe immigrants are saving us, rather than destroying us. But good luck getting legislators to agree on what to do about it.

Let’s hope that this remains a theoretical problem that we can all complain about without doing anything significant to fix it. We can also be thankful we’re not the ones fleeing a corrupt and dysfunctional country.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Southwest Word Fiesta™ or its steering committee.

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Bruce McKinney

Bruce McKinney is a Silver City business owner, close observer of local government and occasional troublemaker. In his column, which appears every other Wednesday, he tries to address big questions from a local perspective. Send comments and ideas to
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