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Don’t Take Your Eye Off the Border

You don’t have to accept the “new normal.”

Screen Shot 2022-07-06 at 2.18.19 PM
(F Armstrong Photography/Shutterstock)

Despite the record-breaking heat wave enveloping the southern United States, illegal immigration increased significantly last month, per the latest numbers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Law enforcement caught roughly 130,000 new crossers, an enormous increase from June, when Border Patrol reported just under 100,000 encounters.

Neither the American nor Mexican papers of record had any note of this on their front pages Monday; even the Wall Street Journal consigned it to lowly A3. This state of affairs beggars language. A population the size of New Haven’s, give or take, is coming over the border every month. Over the course of a year, that’s two Wyomings. Yet the national presses of both the destination country and the final leg of the migrants’ Latin American voyage can’t spare this story even six inches of below-the-fold front-page space in their flagship papers.


Nor do the duly elected political leaders of either nation seem especially interested in addressing the unregulated movement of peoples through their putative territories. President Joe Biden is on his way to Lake Tahoe. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is saying he can die in peace because he has reduced poverty in Mexico. (Go ahead, AMLO, make our day.) You would almost think there’s a conspiracy on.

One of the characteristic ways things happen these days is that they drag out for so long that the initial shock wears off; by time people of goodwill figure out what’s going on, let alone get into a position to do anything about it, nobody cares. Russiagate. The TSA’s routine violation of the Fourth Amendment. Domestic spying and mass surveillance on American citizens. Hillary Clinton’s servers. Fast and Furious. The Obama IRS targeting scandal. Elian Gonzalez. Ruby Ridge. By time the investigations were wrapped up, wrongdoing identified, blame assigned, everyone had moved on. A phrase that became popular for describing this dynamic during the Covid state of emergency was “the new normal.”

This is the threat; this could happen to the national crisis at the border. The unregulated mass influx of people could just become “the new normal,” as it was at smaller scale for decades. When you see the same headlines again and again, they lose their shock, especially when the press is so hell-bent-for-leather on treating the story as if it has the same national importance as the shipping forecast. 

But this border crisis is a man-made disaster of a completely novel scale. While earlier go-nowhere scandals were either matters of personal corruption or the erosion of political rights—not to downplay the gravity of these threats to a constitutional order—what we are now seeing is the involuntary transformation of the nation itself. A nation is at its core a subjective thing; those are in it who agree they are in it. Mass illegal migration makes a fundamental change to the character of the nation without its political consent. It is an unarmed invasion.

These aren’t new insights. They have been reduced to cliche by repetition. This is itself a symptom of the problem, of the creation of a “new normal.” A man who repeatedly points out the fire when there is a conspiracy to let the house burn down begins to look silly. That doesn’t make him wrong.

So you should stay angry, and you should remember who is to blame. Mexico is a weak and corrupt oligarchy; its state cannot or will not enforce tranquil order even in its own capital city. It has little desire to make its sovereignty felt in the more remote portions of its territory. When it tries to bring state power to bear, the non-state actors—criminal syndicates—can use the apparatus of international human rights and NGOs to punish the state. American politicians and administrators have ruled in a way that encourages migrants and the cartels that prey on their movement; the problem aggravates the conditions, strengthening the cartels and destabilizing countries south of the border with traffic from the nations to their south. It’s a self-licking ice cream cone of human misery.

It doesn’t have to be this way, and you shouldn’t pretend that it does. Don’t stop saying that the house is on fire. Don’t accept the “new normal.” A foreign population the size of a major American city without any kind of supervision or sanction from the federal government is not something that you have to accept as the cost of doing business. Mexico is America’s largest trade partner; we can use that to persuade the Mexican government to put its own house in order, or to compel the Americans doing business there to shoulder their share of the security burden. Failing that, there are other, less friendly ways to export order across the frontera.

Things are far from hopeless. But our political class must be reminded—reminded good and hard—that behind them stands a nation. With the right techniques, even subjectivities can be made very real.