New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced this week that he will refuse to deploy National Guard troops to assist in border control—though no one asked him to, and no one is ever likely to ask. Cuomo is a master of the political non sequitur—last month, he promised to send a Dunkirk-style small-boat flotilla against offshore oil rigs that don’t exist—and he’s also pretty good at twisting the English language to serve his interests.
In this, he is not unique—hence the rhetorical riot generated by the Trump administration’s so-called “family separation” policies—but the governor’s National Guard posturing is at once over the top and instructive. “In the face of the federal government’s inhumane treatment of immigrant families, New York will not deploy National Guard to the border,” Cuomo announced Monday. “We will not be complicit in this ongoing human tragedy.”
Well, again, nobody asked. But the Guard diversion is a useful tool, deflecting attention from the fundamental dishonesty of the governor’s full statement. That is, the federal government is treating no one inhumanely; the “families” involved are not so much immigrants as they are economic migrants with no inherent right of entry into the United States—and to the extent that there is an “ongoing human tragedy” on the border, responsibility for it resides with those attempting to enter the county illegally.
It is true that Americans love children. The Clinton administration discovered that in 2000, when it sent heavily armed immigration agents storming into a Florida home to remove a screaming seven-year-old boy. The reaction was furious. That same instinct underlies the current controversy, as well as thepoliticized reaction to it. Just as most people don’t want bad things to happen to children, even fewer want to be perceived as agents of harm, and not just to children. That’s why disingenuous rhetoric such as Cuomo’s can be such an effective tool.
Indeed, not since “the homelessness crisis” blossomed a generation ago to constrain honest discussions of substance addiction, disintegrating families, deinstitutionalization, and an explosion of common vagrancy has artful rhetoric so successfully obscured facts, law, and sound public policy. Then (as now) it was deemed judgmental—a grave sin—to censure personal choices or behavior. The problem, advocates and the media insisted, was lack of a home, and it was up to government to provide one. Since then, billions have been spent on housing and other programs, to no discernible long-term positive effect—and it is still all but impossible to have a serious public discussion about the addled, the addicted, and the socially dysfunctional.
Fast forward to America’s southern border, where—advocates and the media contend—children routinely are “ripped” from their mothers’ arms, shunted off to “cages,” and pretty much traumatized for the rest of their lives. Once again, facts and context are optional; politically opportunistic rhetoric drives what little debate is allowed, and meretricious politicians like Cuomo get away with simply making stuff up. Never mind that the policies now at issue date at least to the Obama administration, even if the circumstances have changed. Or that the alternative to separation is a choice between jailing the children with their illegal-alien parents, or allowing those parents free passage into the country.
That last point, of course, is the fundamental element in the debate: is America to have control of its borders, or not? Once again, euphemism obscures the issues; when “illegal alien” morphed into “undocumented immigrant” in the popular lexicon, the debate was largely over. After all, immigrants are American icons—isn’t that where we all came from?—whereas illegals are a nettlesome law-enforcement problem. And as was the case with the socially dysfunctional, if you label problems as something other than what they are, you can ignore the issues they raise.
Meanwhile, is there a more delightful attention-deflector in America discourse than the word “undocumented?” Every other country on the planet requires passports, entry papers, work permits, and the like, but on America’s southern borders, just tell the immigration agents that you left your “documents” in your other suit, and everything is cool. Or so the advocates, and especially the media, would have it. But “illegal alien” is precisely the correct term because it speaks directly to the debate’s core issue: territorial integrity, the basis for national sovereignty. Without that, there can be no meaningful rule of law—and withoutthat, every place becomes a sanctuary city, and eventually an MS-13 gang war.
So let’s lay it out in simple terms: Americans have the right, if not the duty, to lock their doors to keep their persons and property safe. Why shouldn’t the nation, too? Senator Ted Cruz has advanced a humane proposal to let detained parents stay with their children while their cases are adjudicated, but opponents of the administration’s border policy are arguing for blanket immunity from the democratically legislated consequences of blatantly illegal conduct. There’s no other honest way to put it—not that honest debate seems to matter.