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The Rise of Shantytown America

Illegal immigrants are building their own cities in the U.S.

Credit: robertindiana

Welcome to the City of the Future! No, not the Freedom Cities that former President Donald Trump wants to build. This is the makeshift city of Colony Ridge, Texas, a direct result of President Joe Biden’s disastrous border policies. Most of the residents of Colony Ridge are illegal immigrants, many of whom live in shacks, tents, trailers, and, occasionally, actual houses. Paved roads and running water are something of a luxury, and the school district has added “66 portables” to accommodate its growing student population. 40,000 people currently live in Colony Ridge, but the city’s main developer predicts that number will grow to more than “100,000 residents in 8-10 years.” But wait, there’s more: Colony Ridge will “have the potential to grow to over 200,000 people over time.”

Predictably, Colony Ridge is neither clean nor safe. Residents dump their wastewater in the nearby bayou or allow it to fester in the streets, and members of drug and human trafficking cartels will often visit, resulting in a rise in violent crimes. As the French authorities have done with the banlieues of Paris, most state and local authorities treat the city as a “no-go zone,” which further worsens the situation.


Taking issue with this situation, 25 state congressmen have signed an open letter to Gov. Greg Abbott demanding some kind of action. For his part, Abbott has called for a special session to explore options on what to do about Colony Ridge. Unfortunately, because illegal immigrants can legally purchase property and are eligible for public services, dissolving the town or deporting its undocumented residents is no simple matter and may not even be possible. 

If nothing happens, Americans can expect more shantytowns like Colony Ridge to sprout up across the country. Already, most cities have their fair share of illegal immigrant neighborhoods, and most of them are still finding room to house more of them. In towns along the border, many illegal immigrants are simply camping out on the streets.

The Biden administration insists that the crisis at the border is not an invasion. We wonder what the threshold for that word might be. Is it a matter of quantity, where the number of illegal immigrants reaches a number high enough to overrun all semblances of law and order? Is it a matter of quality, where the kinds of immigrants who arrive are so poor and desperate that they effectively change the cultural and political makeup of the whole country? Does it signify the full capture of local, state, and national governments by criminal organizations who essentially dictate the laws and who enforces them, as it is done in Mexico and other Latin American countries?

The real answer to this question will ultimately come down to how Americans respond to these new arrivals. If the American government continues on the current course where it simply allows foreign nationals to come and squat on American territory, then it’s a slow invasion that will gradually dissolve the nation. If the American government takes action to secure the border and require these new residents to assimilate and become citizens, then this invasion can transform into enrichment.

Making this distinction is crucial to the future of the U.S. As Jens Heycke argues in his recent book Out of the Melting Pot, Into the Fire, history shows that civilizations rise or fall based on how well they incorporate new people. On one side is the “melting pot” model, exemplified by the Rome’s Republic and early Empire, which were able to assimilate conquered societies by offering pathways to citizenship and opportunities for social advancement and economic integration. This allowed the Roman civilization to both expand rapidly yet retain its territorial integrity for over a millennium despite constant foreign entanglements and periodic political dysfunction. 

On the other side is the “multicultural” model, shown by the Aztec Empire which remained ethnically segregated and quickly collapsed when a few hundred Spaniards decided to pit one group against the other. In truth, there really was no Aztec people as such, but a triple ethnic alliance between the Acolhuas, Tepanecas, and Mexica-Tonochna, with the last group dominating the other two. Despite sharing the same territory, each of these groups had their laws, language, and culture that were as separate from one another as they were from visitors from the other side of the world. And as Heycke concludes about this arrangement, “it all worked pretty well…until it didn’t.” 

The problem with cities like Colony Ridge is that they mirror this latter model of immigration, failing to integrate new people into the American system. Consequently, they are largely shut out of the advantages of American life, vulnerable to predators and cartels, and often condemned to destitution and dependency. They may not outright rebel or declare independence at the moment, but they do present a net drag on the country and may become more resentful and violent down the road—again, much like the unassimilated immigrants in Paris who start fires and demand more social entitlements. 

Therefore, they must either be given a legal path to citizenship, which would begin with the expectation that they come to this country legally, or they must be sent home. Biden’s reversing his decision to build Trump’s wall has little bearing on this matter one way or the other. Pretending they don’t exist and allowing them to settle in various undeveloped tracts of land or urban enclaves only compounds the challenge and makes solutions down the road more painful and more expensive. By contrast, acknowledging their existence and reforming our broken immigration process would go a long way not only in ensuring the success of new Americans, but also in revitalizing America itself, keeping it prosperous and free for generations to come.