OPINION

Nelson Balido: After Paris attack, heightened concerns for illegal immigration

NOGALES, AZ - JUNE 22:  U.S. Army National Guardsmen scan the U.S.-Mexico border on June 22, 2011 in Nogales, Arizona. The Pentagon recently extended the deployment of some 1,200 guardsmen who were deployed last year to assist with border security on the U.S.-Mexico border until September 30. Soldiers at Early Identification Team (EIT) observation posts in Nogales work 24 hour shifts, each taking turns resting for 4 hours during the night. The National Guard troops are strictly on surveillance duty, although they are armed and have been credited with helping U.S. Border Patrol agents arrest up to 17,000 illegal immigrants crossing into the United States.  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

NOGALES, AZ - JUNE 22: U.S. Army National Guardsmen scan the U.S.-Mexico border on June 22, 2011 in Nogales, Arizona. The Pentagon recently extended the deployment of some 1,200 guardsmen who were deployed last year to assist with border security on the U.S.-Mexico border until September 30. Soldiers at Early Identification Team (EIT) observation posts in Nogales work 24 hour shifts, each taking turns resting for 4 hours during the night. The National Guard troops are strictly on surveillance duty, although they are armed and have been credited with helping U.S. Border Patrol agents arrest up to 17,000 illegal immigrants crossing into the United States. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)  (2011 Getty Images)

Need another good example of why border security and immigration enforcement are important?

Paris.

As the world has seen in horrific video, terrorists launched coordinated attacks in Paris on November 13, murdering 129 people and wounding scores more. In the aftermath, we learned that at least one of the attackers had entered Europe by masquerading as a refugee, hiding amid the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and terror in Syria and throughout the Middle East. This had been a consistent fear in Europe, one that proved tragically valid.

We cannot embrace the proud tradition of American immigration while allowing hundreds of thousands of people to ignore that which defines the United States: law. And we need not look across the Atlantic for lessons on what happens when immigration laws are ignored. The consequences are already all around us.

- Nelson Balido

U.S. governors and other public leaders in the United States are vowing not to accept refugees from Syria, noting concerns about how effectively we can vet immigrants and whether taking in refugees could lead to terror attacks here. It might.

Yet, even as we rightfully raise an eyebrow to the quasi-crapshoot that is taking refugees from terror-ridden nations, we should be just as concerned (if not more so) about our Russian-roulette approach to securing the U.S.-Mexico border. And there are five bullets in that cylinder.

Black Swans are born of ignorance, and the intersection between border security, immigration enforcement and counterterrorism is where we are dangerously in the dark. For Europe, the threat arising from immigration is particularly acute. The mass migration of refugees from the Middle East to Europe has a specific cause (civil war and unrest) and, while the volume of people has been enormous (more than 700,000 this year), it has also been recent.

Meanwhile, here in the United States, the Department of Homeland Security reports that we also see an influx of 700,000 illegal immigrants every year, either by crossing into the country illegally or ignoring an expired visa by remaining in the United States. 

Unlike Europe, however, the United States has been facing this problem for decades, and we have done arguably nothing about it.

To be sure, Europe’s problems with immigration and terrorism are specific to the continent. We should be cautious about conflating one security threat with another. Not because the United States is free from the threat of terrorists sneaking across unsecured borders, but because focusing on Europe’s problems distracts us from our own. We already have hundreds of thousands of people pouring into the country each year, and ISIS is not the only evil organization in the world.

As a nation of immigrants, the moral dilemma over accepting those in need is particularly sticky for the United States. On the one hand, those who flee their homeland for the promise of something better endure unimaginable hardship, and they come from lands where equality and the rule of law cannot even be found in a textbook, much less in the halls of power. Those migrating to Europe and those trying to come to the United States are looking for a better lot in life.

Fortunately, ours is a nation of laws, and that helps us settle the moral conflict we feel between accommodating an immigrant and guarding the safety and economic security of American citizens and legal residents, regardless of where they were born.

This is something the pundits and amnesty advocates seem to ignore. Indeed, the rhetoric on illegal immigration in the United States is viciously, absurdly binary. Looking to the mainstream media, either one embraces immigrants without any consideration for law, economic impact, security and all the factors surrounding immigration, or one rejects illegal immigration and is a heartless, hateful, un-American bigot.

This false narrative stands in the way of a thoughtful, productive discussion on how to address illegal immigration. As senator and Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz has said:
“There is nothing compassionate about a bunch of politicians saying, 'I'm so compassionate, I’m going to give away your job,' because that’s what they’re saying … None of them are losing their job, but they’re happy to tell working men and women across this country that your job can be taken away by people coming here illegally."

Sen. Cruz has personal experience with immigration and not just because he represents Americans living on the frontline of the illegal immigration fight (i.e., the southern border). His father is an immigrant. The Texas Senator would not be a senator without the law-driven compassion the United States offered to his family through a legal process of immigration. That’s a story common to millions of Americans, and it’s one the United States has told for centuries. 

The moral of this story is that through the rule of law, we can be the most benevolent nation, the most welcoming, the most supportive of the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses.

But we cannot preserve the national virtue of welcoming immigrants without a legal framework for exercising the process. We cannot embrace the proud tradition of American immigration while allowing hundreds of thousands of people to ignore that which defines the United States: law. And we need not look across the Atlantic for lessons on what happens when immigration laws are ignored. The consequences are already all around us.

Nelson Balido is the managing principal at Balido and Associates, chairman of the Border Commerce and Security Council, and former member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council.  Follow him on Twitter: @nelsonbalido

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