The statements by the president of the United States that hordes will storm American borders if his immigration ban isn’t implemented has to be met with utter mystification by the men and women of the U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement.
That is because anybody who has ever tried to get a loved one into the United States – including me, with a foreign-born wife – the truth is that it is probably harder to get into the United States to live and work than perhaps any major country on the planet. Since President George W. Bush was in office, the United States has spent more than $130 billion in the effort to keep people out. And largely it has worked. Net migration from Mexico has reversed.
Why the president has been able to get away with this fiction is inexplicable. The 17 candidates for the Republican nomination did their best to brand each other “soft on immigration and soft on terrorism.” Nobody, including the Democratic candidates, ever stood up and pointed out forcefully that as far as terrorism is concerned, the U.S. is as close as you can get to a fortress.
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The president has claimed the country is beset by terrorists, radicals, extremists, assassins, con men and murderers. Can it be possible that the president is so uninformed about the process that he believes the borders are naked? They aren’t. They are covered by steel fences, drones, sensors, night vision surveillance cameras, helicopters, light aircraft and radar.
It may have come from the manic and panic-stricken Breitbart website, which reported last September that it had uncovered leaked data that 7,712 “terrorist encounters” were reported by the Federal Bureau of Investigation within the U.S. in a single year. But a close examination of the data by the website Metadebunk.com, dedicated to debunking rumors and inaccurate news reports, found that most of the encounters were routine events including traffic stops and TSI screenings. That exaggerated report was amplified across the right-wing spectrum by Hannity.com, Counterjihad.com, Truthrevolt.com, Newstarget.com and a flock of others.
According to Metadebunk, what the data meant was that immigration officials and other law enforcement personnel had identified 7,712 people they thought might have suspicious tendencies. And if anything, it points up the hair-trigger reflexes of law enforcement officials. Those arriving at the border or by air discover that their entry is left to the discretion of officers who can turn them around on a whim, and have at increasing rates since the Jan. 20 inaugural. They are likely to discover just how few rights they have when they offer up their passports.
This is not just a phenomenon from Republican administrations. The Obama administration deported more people than any administration in history – 2.5 million people compared with 2 million by George W. Bush’s administration. And it’s not to say there isn’t a real danger.
One database lists eight jihadi attacks in 2016 that took the lives of 53 people – 50 of them in one horrific incident in a Florida nightclub by a Muslim shooter who had been born in the United States. None of the attackers was from the six countries the administration has demanded be banned in its latest travel ban signed Monday by Donald Trump.
About half of all FBI agents are now assigned to national security, according to an interview with FBI chief James Comey by Atlantic Magazine. For the luckless immigrants, there is limited access to legal counsel – or was until the U.S. legal profession legged it toward the nation’s international airports in response to the first travel ban imposed shortly after Trump took office. The right of free speech and protection against unreasonable search and seizure are limited at best.
And there is nothing like being confronted by a stone-faced bureaucrat in a U.S. consulate in another country. It is not a pleasant experience, either for a tourist or an émigré. It is a process born out of years of suspicion of travelers, not so much because they are suspected of being terrorists, but because there are so many seeking to get into the country.
There was a time when a bride (or bridegroom) could simply marry his or her way into citizenship. That is no longer true, and it hasn’t been for years. While citizens overseas can petition for their spouses and in-laws, there are numerical limits for all other categories. An émigré spouse must first qualify for a green card, then spend three out of five years in the United States before he or she can qualify for citizenship.
In fact, for the vast number of those wanting to get into a country that was built on immigration, there is no line to get into. Migrants can come to the U.S. to work, to reunify with family members who are already here, or for humanitarian protection. But each of these processes is intricate, throbbing with eligibility requirements and limited in numbers. Very few have such family or job relationships. Requests for human rights or political refugee status are viewed with deep skepticism by bureaucrats hardened by years of looking for scams and saboteurs.
Nobody waltzes into the United States. Nobody.
John Berthelsen recently retired as editor of the Hong Kong-based Asia Sentinel, a regional news site covering 23 countries across Asia. He now divides his time between Sacramento and Asia and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.