Bor­der ‘emer­gency’: Cul­ture clash causes an iden­tity cri­sis

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR. Ruben Navarrette’s email ad­dress is [email protected] ruben­navar­rette.com. He au­thored this for The Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group.

You want to talk about a bor­der emer­gency? Grab your pass­port, and take a quick trip with me around the world. Look at the ten­sions be­tween Is­rael and Syria. In­dia and Pak­istan. Iraq and Iran. Colom­bia and Venezuela. South Korea and North Korea.

Now, closer to home, look at this re­la­tion­ship: United States-Mex­ico.

Thank good­ness for good neigh­bors. Amer­i­cans re­ally need to stop hy­per­ven­ti­lat­ing about the sup­posed cri­sis on their south­ern bor­der — bet­ter known as the nat­u­ral mi­gra­tion of peo­ple from one place to an­other — and count their bless­ings.

I’ll start. Amer­i­cans are for­tu­nate that Mex­i­can law en­force­ment pro­vides reg­u­lar in­tel­li­gence on ter­ror­ist threats along the bor­der. In 2011, then-U.S. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric Holder cred­ited Mex­i­can au­thor­i­ties with help­ing un­cover a mur­der-for-hire plot to as­sas­si­nate the Saudi am­bas­sador to the United States. The plan came to light when Manssor Arbab­siar, a nat­u­ral­ized U.S. ci­ti­zen from Iran, met with a per­son he thought was part of a Mex­i­can drug car­tel, but who was ac­tu­ally a con­fi­den­tial source for the Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

You’re wel­come, Amer­ica. Or as the Mex­i­cans say: “De nada.”

A good friend is an an­titer­ror­ism hawk who stud­ies the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der and who re­cently gained ac­cess to a mi­grant car­a­van head­ing north through Mex­ico. What keeps him up at night are the so­called “spe­cial-in­ter­est aliens” from ter­ror­ist-pro­duc­ing coun­tries who roam around the bor­der, and what their in­ten­tions are.

Ac­cord­ing to the lib­er­tar­ian Cato In­sti­tute, as many as 45,000 spe­cial­in­ter­est aliens have been cap­tured by U.S. au­thor­i­ties since 2007. And yet there has never been a ter­ror­ist at­tack on U.S. soil linked to this pop­u­la­tion.

Yet when I speak to groups about im­mi­gra­tion, I never hear a peep about po­ten­tial ter­ror­ists. You know what I hear? This:

“We have to stop this in­va­sion of il­le­gal aliens from Mex­ico who refuse to learn English and as­sim­i­late into our cul­ture.”

As the Repub­li­can-led Se­nate pushes back against Pres­i­dent Trump’s at­tempt to de­clare a “na­tional emer­gency” on the U.S.Mex­ico bor­der to clear a path for him to build his “big, beau­ti­ful wall,” it seems like a good time to clar­ify the ex­act na­ture of this emer­gency.

The real four-alarm fire is a blind­ing fear of chang­ing de­mo­graph­ics and a clash of cul­tures that has wor­ried na­tivists and other im­mi­gra­tion re­stric­tion­ists for 30 years. It was in the early 1990s that im­mi­gra­tion from Mex­ico started surg­ing and the me­dia be­gan run­ning sto­ries — in the march to the 2000 cen­sus — about how the Latino pop­u­la­tion was swelling and how whites would even­tu­ally be­come a sta­tis­ti­cal mi­nor­ity.

That freaked out a lot of peo­ple. A decade later, some peo­ple were even more fright­ened by those mas­sive im­mi­grant marches — in cities like Dal­las, Phoenix, Chicago and Los An­ge­les.

Over the years, fear grad­u­ally turned to re­sent­ment. Now re­sent­ment has mor­phed into panic — with a dash of op­por­tunism. For those who worry about chang­ing de­mo­graph­ics, Trump’s na­tional emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion is a con­ve­nient ve­hi­cle to stop the brown­ing of Amer­ica.

That’s what this whole calamity is all about. And no wall can fix that. This is about pulling up the draw­bridge. This is like shut­ting down El­lis Is­land 100 years ago be­cause the Ital­ian im­mi­grants who were en­ter­ing were thought to be of in­fe­rior stock.

Maybe Repub­li­can law­mak­ers know this full well, and they don’t have the char­ac­ter to ad­mit that there is noth­ing high­minded or right­eous about Trump’s emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion. Or per­haps they’re so dense that they re­ally do think what’s hap­pen­ing on the bor­der is about keep­ing out opi­oids, turn­ing back crim­i­nals and res­cu­ing chil­dren from hu­man traf­fick­ers.

Syn­di­cated ra­dio host — and self-ap­pointed ex­pert on the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der — Rush Lim­baugh sounded the alarm last week when he told lis­ten­ers: “This cri­sis is trans­form­ing the United States into some­thing it wasn’t in­tended to be. There’s no ques­tion that there is an in­va­sion go­ing on of peo­ple who can’t be ab­sorbed or as­sim­i­lated into our cul­ture.”

I ap­pre­ci­ate the hon­esty. Lim­baugh is half right. It’s a cri­sis all right.

But it’s not about turn­ing away un­de­sir­ables. Ev­ery day, south of San Diego, more than 100,000 peo­ple cross the bor­der be­tween the United States and Mex­ico — ei­ther to make money at work, or spend it at play. Not ex­actly a war zone.

Rather, it’s about what Amer­ica is turn­ing into — and those who want to turn it back to what it used to be.

What we have on the bor­der is not a se­cu­rity cri­sis. It’s an iden­tity cri­sis.

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