In Response to: Crisis Contrived

The April 25 cover story on sociology professor Douglas Massey *78 and his 30 years of research into Mexican immigration drew a large number of letters to the editor and comments posted at PAW Online.

Dr. Douglas Massey *78 is patently illogical in blaming enhanced border security for the net growth in illegals over the decades, saying they just ­couldn’t go home like they used to (cover story, April 25). Once our failing economy and closing welfare loopholes ceased to attract them, they sure found their way home quickly enough. Also, he assumes that efforts to stem the flow northward had no effect on the level of gross in-migration, and there is no proof of that.

Those of us in border states are paying billions in disproportionately high state taxes to feed, educate, medicate, and incarcerate the folks who are here illegally. Illegal immigrants account for a grossly disproportionate percentage of our federal prison population.

There is a crisis, but it is not contrived. The border states are going broke trying to cope with this federal failure, while being fought in court when they try to enforce even the federal laws. I was not shocked to discover in the article that Dr. Massey had been an adviser to Sens. Daniel Moynihan and Edward Kennedy, two who probably were more impressed with Dr. Massey’s “scientific method” than was I.

The Woodlands, Texas

This analysis rings very true from what I know of the lives and families in my community, where I serve a church made up primarily of Latino/Latina immigrants. It is they who suffer when a “crisis” is exploited for political gain.

Albuquerque, N.M.

As one who lives at the epicenter of central California agribusiness and sees firsthand the effects of U.S. immigration policy on a daily basis, I believe that Professor Massey speaks the truth. Another unintended, but very real, consequence of U.S. immigration policy has been the rise of gangs and gang culture. It would be interesting if someone could study that connection. If the facts support it, showing that U.S. immigration policy is a cause of the prevalence and increasing influence of gangs (Hispanic and other) should get the attention of the conservative community. (For the record, I am a registered Republican and a conservative in the nonpolitical sense of the word.)

Fresno, Calif.

From 2001 to 2003 I served as the deputy assistant secretary of defense for counternarcotics. I spent a great deal of time, effort, and resources on understanding the border issues from the perspective of national security. I agree with Professor Massey on several points. Worrisome, though, is the significant number of non-Mexican, non-Latino individuals (that we know of — likely only 5 to 10 percent of the true number) who seek access across the U.S.-Mexican border. The number of apprehended Pakistani, Afghan, Iranian, Yemeni, and Somalian individuals caught attempting to enter the United States through the Southwest border in 2003 caused great shock and concern in law enforcement, the Department of Defense, and in the Congress. 

Law enforcement apprehended more than 200 “OTMs” (Other Than Mexicans) in 2003 alone. Were they intent on some nefarious activity? Can any political leader ignore the chance that they are? I think not.

Thus, while the professor believes that the Southwest border is simply an issue of Mexican immigration that cannot be answered with security (I’m sympathetic), he exists in an academic bubble that lacks access to information on the greater threat. Let me finish with this important caveat. No country can or will have a true “secure” border. Fences, more technology, and other symbols truly do ignore the greater issue of economic imbalance. Having said that, no U.S. political leader can morally ignore the potential risk that open borders present to the country — the thorny issue of illegal migration is a subset within a multi-jurisdictional problem. I hope that the professor will acknowledge this reality.

Vienna, Va.

The article on Professor Massey makes good and enlightening points. What it didn’t contain, though, was reference to violent crime along the Mexican border related to drug-cartel activity, which I believe has increased dramatically in recent years, costing many more lives — mostly Mexican, but also American. This would seem to argue for “stricter border enforcement” from a different perspective than simple immigration control.

San Rafael, Calif.

I just returned from lunch with a Latina member of my congregation. I told her about this fascinating article that said “the number of illegal immigrants is on the rise due to border ­security ... ” and she completed my ­sentence for me: “because they can’t go home.” One anecdote doesn’t prove a thesis, but it doesn’t hurt.

Englewood, N.J.

Mark Bernstein ’83’s piece on Professor Massey was interesting and in some ways informative. However, the professor’s tone, and in a few instances his misstatements of facts, suggest that the immigration problem isn’t really a problem at all and no big deal. Professor Massey states, for example, that crossing the border illegally is not a crime, but is a civil infraction on the order of getting a traffic ticket. This is patently false.

As stated in Section 1325 in Title 8 of the U.S. Code, the “improper entry of an alien” such as crossing the border “illegally” is a crime and punishable up to six months in prison for the first offense and for two years for any subsequent offense. This is hardly comparable to getting a traffic ticket!

It is correct that many illegals have entered the country legally and then simply overstayed their visa. True, this is not a crime and is only a civil infraction. However, even in these instances, to suggest that an “overstay” is like getting a traffic ticket is both wrong and misleading. An immigrant found to have entered the country legally but who has overstayed his visa can be deported — not the normal punishment for speeders.

Centreville, Md.

If I wore a hat, I’d certainly doff it to Douglas Massey and the members of the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton. His on-the-ground work and unsparing analysis are more necessary than ever in the ongoing battle over illegal immigration in the United States. After I graduated from Princeton, I spent a year living in the southern Mexican city of Cuernavaca to work with projects related to human rights and disability advocacy. Midway through my year, I traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border and spent a transformative week and a half in the Sonoran desert, working with recently deported migrants by night and visiting the Border Patrol in Douglas, Ariz., by day. 

In one form or another, I found that immigration underlies most of the critical issues facing contemporary Mexico. On the U.S. side, the immigration system has morphed into a shamefully dysfunctional bureaucracy, with the effect of amplifying rather than alleviating the tremendous indignities occurring on both sides of the border.

I commend Professor Massey’s research to anyone looking to get a clear view of the realities of Mexican immigration. There are certainly no easy or one-step solutions, but nothing useful can even begin to happen until voters and policy makers alike educate themselves about what’s really going on. Our shared border with Mexico is a place filled with tragedy, but hope remains. We owe it to ourselves and our Mexican counterparts to cultivate that hope by working together earnestly on this pivotal issue.

Chicago, Ill.

As an alum working for the U.S. government in the immigration arena, it is good to see PAW shedding some light on the complexity of the system. One correction to note: The INS no longer exists. That agency was disbanded under the Homeland Security Act and its functions removed from the Department of Justice. Immigration functions now are handled under three separate agencies within DHS. These are Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS, where I work). 

Alumni also will be interested to know that a Princetonian, Wen Cheng ’91, recently was named chief counsel for the ICE New York district office — one of the largest districts in DHS.

Essex Junction, Vt.