Thursday, April 29, 2010

Arizona, Immigration, and America’s Lost Cause: “The War on Drugs”

Some of the criticism I’ve heard recently, concerning Arizona’s new law confronting the state’s illegal immigration crisis, don’t carry much weight with me. For instance, it’s said that Hispanics living in Arizona will now be compelled, by the authorities, to “show their papers” in order to prove that they are living in the country legally, and that, for Hispanics, this will make living in Arizona something akin to living in a police state. But the truth is that Hispanics living anywhere within the southwestern United States have always been compelled by the authorities to “show their papers”, when necessary, in order to prove that they are living in this country legally.

Having both lived in and traveled extensively throughout the southwestern United States, I probably have a much clearer insight regarding this issue than do most Americans, especially all of those talking head commentators who live and work in Washington, D. C. I mean, when was the last time any of them actually saw or crossed the U. S.-Mexico border—up close and personal? I’ve done many times, most recently in the twin gritty border towns of Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora Mexico, which is nothing at all like the more popular tourist cities of Cancun or Mazatlan.

Nogales, Sonora is a violent city. Like other border towns, Nogales is caught-up in the corrupt Mexican government’s on-going war with the Mexican drug cartels. I’ve actually spent a considerable amount of time in the U.S/ Mexico border region. I lived in El Paso, Texas for four years (during the late eighties) and, most recently, I spent a year and a half living in Tucson, Arizona. I’ve visited many towns along the Mexican border with the United States (la frontera): Matamoros, Cuidad Acuna, Presidio, Cuidad Juarez, and Nogales. In the border towns, for many years now, it’s been commonplace to see heavily armed military troops and police clashing with the cartels and to expect cartel related violence to erupt at any time. Not to mention the many stories you hear from the locals about the latest hits, assassinations, and violent shootouts that have recently occurred.

From my observations of the border region—from the mid 1980’s until today—the U. S. Border Patrol has greatly improved its protection of the U. S./Mexico border. But considering the task they are faced with—the border region being a vast, empty desert that is 1,700 miles long—they still have a long way to go. The fact that Arizona now wants to ensure its citizen's protection, in addition to the protection already provided by the overworked U. S. Border Patrol is, I think, quite reasonable.

The idea that racial profiling will now begin, due to the new Arizona law, is ridiculous—the U. S. Border Patrol has, for many years now, been engaging in the commonsense practice of racial profiling in order to identify illegal aliens. For example, I realize that most Americans have not traveled through south Texas on a Greyhound bus as I have, but I can assure you that the U. S. Border Patrol, for many years now, has routinely stopped such busses and asked Hispanic people for their papers and that I, being white, have never been asked to show mine. Likewise, whenever I’ve traveled on Interstate 10 through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, I, like everyone else, have had to stop at the U. S. Border Patrol checkpoints along the way where the U. S. Border Patrol will ask Hispanic people to show their papers. But again, I have never been asked to show mine.

The new Arizona law simply allows ordinary police officers in Arizona, and not just U. S. Border Patrol officers, to ask Hispanic people for their papers, which prove that they are in the country legally. Legal aliens have long had to carry these papers with them and the U. S. Border Patrol has long been asking to see them. Considering the fact that Mexico is virtually a war zone, due to America’s failed War on Drugs, and a smuggler’s free-for-all, what’s the big deal about Arizona’s now allowing Arizona cops to assist the incredibly overworked U. S. Border Patrol in policing illegals?

There are two, commonsense alternative solutions to this border /illegal problem, but I doubt that Washington would ever permit them to be implemented: 1) grant refugee status to all illegal aliens from Mexico, due to the on-going war that is occurring there; or 2) legalize marijuana, because the cash flow from marijuana sales is what the Mexican drug cartels are using as venture capital in order to support their (much more, risky, profitable, and dangerous) narcotics trafficking business, which is operated on risk capital.

The second option is the better of the two solutions. Legalizing marijuana would devastate the cartels financially, effectively putting them out of business. The money they make from marijuana sales is what they use to fund their sales of narcotics. For example, if a cartel “loses” a shipment of heroin, which isn’t hard to do, because the shipments are relatively small and very valuable, about a pick-up truck load, that loss is then made-up with the large cash flow that is provided by the cartel’s marijuana sales. Marijuana is not as easy to smuggle as heroin. On the level of cartel financing it requires a large scale operation, because it requires several pick-up truck loads each time; therefore the cartels require vast, regular, illegal inroads into the U. S. in order to keep this money flowing (see also, a recent article concerning this important issue). If marijuana were to be legalized, this action would shut down the cartel’s illegal inroads, defund their narcotic trafficking, and put loads of tax money into U. S. coffers (about 70 billion dollars a year), which makes a lot of sense to me, and it would also bring an end of the Mexican government’s war with the cartels.

According to Charles Bowden, with whom I agree, in his excellent book Down By The River, as things stand today, both U. S. and Mexican authorities, at high and low levels, have been—and will continue to be—corrupted by the massive amounts of money that flow their way via the illegal drug trade. This is the real problem, on both sides of the border, and until it is dealt with—through the legalization of marijuana—I don’t see how any of these problems, including immigration, can ever be solved.

America’s “War on Drugs” policy is a proven failure that has only led to corruption, violence, murder, and more people than ever fleeing Mexico for their lives. This horrible situation will continue until the real problems are addressed and I can assure you that the real problem is not Arizona’s new law regarding illegal immigration; it’s America’s failed drug policy.

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