AMONG THE cornerstones of our democracy (of which there are more than the usual number; the Pentagon alone has five) is the precept that one who does not bother to exercise his hard-won franchise ought not complain too stridently when government does not act in concert with his innermost desires.
In other words: if you don't vote, don't bitch.
I've been bitching lately about the militarization of the U.S./Mexican border, and its effects on those who live and work near it: now I'd like to summarize these observations, draw a few conclusions from them, and cast my vote for a common-sense course of action to improve the situation. Not that anybody with the power to effect change gives a rat's ass....
The general girding-of-loins along the Mexican line has been happening for at least two decades. In 1986 I was writing for New Times in Phoenix and traveled to Tijuana to finish research on a long piece about the hazards Mexicans and Central Americans face when trying to sneak into The Land of Milk and Honey and Minimum Wage Jobs in Mexican Restaurants in L.A.
The ominous and frightening truth of that journey into purgatory was that the U.S. government -- Border Patrol in particular -- had already adopted a kind of trench-warfare mentality where illegal aliens were concerned. Border Patrol technology -- their "toys" -- were straight out of Vietnam-era weapons development. They used night-vision goggles and binoculars, infrared sensitive sights on battle rifles, armed personnel carriers and Hum-vees to chase frightened families of campesinos and villages who were fleeing torture and death in Nicaragua, or merely poverty, exhaustion and death in rural Mexico.
But there were the "coyotes," the smugglers and dealers in desperate humanity for U.S. law enforcement to contend with, I was told, and these people were utterly amoral, greedy for every peso or dollar the illegals could pay for a short, scary ride through the fence, and neither afraid nor loath to shoot their way into or back out of the U.S.
Every evening, literally thousands of Mexicans would gather at a natural amphitheater nicknamed The Baseball Field, and, as if on cue, move in a human wave into San Diego County. The Border Patrol would wait like lions watching a herd of wildebeest, and pick off the weak and the slow.
All this high-zoot weaponry and technology is wasted, I thought then; there is no way the desperate drive of these people for a better life is going to be denied.
I still believe this. And I'm right.
In the intervening years we have seen more Border Patrol assigned to, and shifted around, the border from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific. We've seen the Drug Enforcement Administration reinforced there too. And U.S. Army reserve and National Guard units brought in, both on training exercises and in temporary duty at police units. There has been cross-training of forces, particularly with Border Patrol officers getting the opportunity to back up the DEA on narc detail, and sometimes even chasing down speeders and writing tickets.
They're having big fun, but the results are not amusing very many of the locals. We're fed to the gills with too many men and women in uniform stopping us, questioning us...omnipresently keeping an eye on us.
Of course they're not actually keeping an eye on us blue-eyed blond gringos, but even Sven Nordstrom has to stop and roll down his tinted windows at the semi-permanent Border Patrol check-points, so the lad in the lincoln-green uni can make sure he's not one of your brown types, trying to slip in and dig a ditch for somebody.
The Clinton Administration and the Republican opposition are trying to outdo one another in getting tough on the border. Nowhere is Murphy's Law better demonstrated than in U.S. policy toward Mexico. Our official attempts at cooperation -- NAFTA, principally -- enrich the already rich, keep the poor poor, and encourage environmental havoc along the border. Our efforts to halt crime along the border -- drug enforcement and immigration control -- vary from fruitless to outright counterproductive.
And one reason for this is that our officials are lumping a lot of different problems into one big, confused mess, because the common denominator is the border, and brown people. Hence the cross-pollination of Border Patrol, Drug Enforcement Administration, military and police.
Hence the overall result that the border region has come to feel like Berlin during the Cold War.
We already know that the War on Drugs is not only unwinnable, but destructive and useless in its own right. Anyone with two brain cells to rub together can see that legalizing narcotics and treating their use as a health problem will enable us to help the demand side of the equation, and eliminate the supply side. Plus it would obviate the need for users to rob and steal to support their habit.
Illegal immigration is a different matter. Much as I loathe having to stop at milepost 9 every time I return home from Nogales, I would not suggest our government entirely cease trying to police and control immigration.
What I suggest -- here's the part where I cast my vote -- is that we admit that stopping illegal immigration is futile, and that people like Sen. Ted Stevens, who fly in and say we're going to put an end to this by sending in as many uniformed officers as are needed, are talking out their ass. The United States is like the one family in the neighborhood with a swimming pool. The kids from down the block, up the street and across the alley are going to jump our fence and hop in our pool, as sure as God made little green apples. As inevitably as the tide.
We need to maintain some show of resistance, just to maintain the natural order of things. But within that selfsame natural order there is at work a corollary to Newtonian physics, a behavioral analog to Sir Isaac's principle that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The more our government mans and arms and fortifies our common border with Mexico, the more the people who profit by defying our laws -- by smuggling human and other contraband -- are going to escalate their own level of industry and violence to counter.
This, like other examples of the arms race, knows no natural limit. The tide of humanity washing on our shores will ebb and flow according to the ebb and flow of the quality of life down south where the waves are born. The Border Patrol isn't going to stop such a force of nature.