Monday, March 27, 2006

Immigration and Terrorism

Listening to the current immigration discussion, I am repeatedly struck by the absurdity of linking that issue with the issue of preventing terrorism--usually put in terms of some phrase about America controlling its borders.

The linkage is absurd for two different reasons. The first is that current illegal immigrants are not Muslims and have no connection with or allegiance to Islamic organizations, terrorist or otherwise. Most of them are Catholics. They are no more likely to support Islamic terrorism than the people already here—probably less likely.

The second is that the U.S. doesn't control its borders, isn't going to control its borders, and probably cannot at any acceptable cost control its borders, in the sense relevant to the terrorist issue. In 2004, the most recent year for which I found figures, there were more than eighty million tourist arrivals in North America, presumably most of them in the U.S. Anyone with sufficient resources and ability to pose a serious terrorist threat can get into the country as one of those tens of millions—he doesn't have to scramble through a tunnel under the U.S./Mexican border. And making it a criminal offense to hire illegal aliens will have very little effect on those aliens who are working for al-Qaeda. They already have a job.

There are, of course, many other arguments pro and con on the subject of immigration, a subject I may return to in a later post. But this one isn't an argument, it's pure demagoguery.

My own view of the subject is best summed up in an old Buffy Sainte Marie song:

Welcome, welcome, Immigrante,
To my country welcome home.

26 Comments:

At 8:51 AM, March 28, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suspect it is easier to smuggle explosives or radioactive materials across the under-gaurded border than it is to bring them into the US in your suitcase as a tourist.

 
At 10:19 AM, March 28, 2006, Anonymous Dog of Justice said...

While I'm against tolerance of illegal immigration (though I'm very flexible re: legal immigration -- if the citizens voted for an increase in the level of legal immigration I'd definitely be fine with that; I just have a problem with the current attempt at a fait accompli), I agree that the demagogues who refer to terrorism in this debate give my side a bad name. 9/11 had nothing to do with Mexico. That is not a fluke.

 
At 5:38 PM, March 28, 2006, Blogger Wirkman Virkkala said...

David, memory has it that you had a nice couplet in The Machinery of Freedom parodying Emma Lazarus: "Not a free country but a closed preserve/Which you dirty foreigners don't deserve." (From memory, sorry if memory fails.) I thought that nicely summarized the real attitude against unrestricted immigration.

As for the preliminary remark of "dog of justice," my attitude towards bad laws that are not consistently (and CANNOT consistently) be enforced is to blame the law, not the people. Didn't highway engineers have a 90 percent (or 80percent) rule? If you don't naturally get 80 or 90 percent compliance to a posted law, then the law is probably wrong.

 
At 6:39 PM, March 28, 2006, Anonymous David Walsh said...

Likely it is true that these "Catholics" are no more likely to support Islamic terrorism than the people already here. It is not likely that they are no more likely to support terrorism, full stop. Before 9-11, the most prevalent source of terrorist attacks against American targets came from those "Catholics".

http://www.themodernreligion.com/terror/terror-fbistats.html

Some of those attacks were on Americans outside the US. But with more immigration form those "Catholic" countries, this may change.

 
At 6:54 PM, March 28, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The U.S. does too good a job at keeping out highly desirable immigrants and too poor a job at keeping out the less desirable. That is from a selfish American point of view. From a global humanitarian point of view, moving every poor person from Central/South America, Africa, and the Middle East to the U.S. would probably be an improvement (assuming the people currently here don't flee to other countries).

 
At 7:08 PM, March 28, 2006, Anonymous Dog of Justice said...

As for the preliminary remark of "dog of justice," my attitude towards bad laws that are not consistently (and CANNOT consistently) be enforced is to blame the law, not the people. Didn't highway engineers have a 90 percent (or 80percent) rule? If you don't naturally get 80 or 90 percent compliance to a posted law, then the law is probably wrong.

Quite a few other economically successful countries don't have a problem enforcing their immigration laws, so I don't think the claim that they CANNOT practically be enforced is valid. Japan is an example, but it may not be relevant because its racial uniformity simplifies enforcement. But Canada does a decent job at managing illegal immigration, right?

As for natural 80-90+% compliance, I'm a bit wary of that rule of thumb in this context because there are tragedy-of-the-commons style issues here. As an employer, cheap labor is great. Whether it is as great for the functioning of a literate democracy is another question.

 
At 7:25 PM, March 28, 2006, Anonymous Dog of Justice said...

...hmm, we're drifting a bit off topic. Econbrowser has an excellent running discussion of more general immigration issues.

 
At 7:59 PM, March 28, 2006, Anonymous Damien said...

dog of justice, wouldn't geography be relevant in comparing immigration control rates? Japan is an island. Canada only borders the US. Europe would seem to be a better analogy for the US on this.

 
At 10:34 PM, March 28, 2006, Anonymous edgr said...

Re: The first anonymous comment.

It would also be easier and cheaper to allow an explosives company legally import explosives and then purchase them in the US.

 
At 3:06 PM, March 29, 2006, Blogger Francois Tremblay said...

Immigration laws are the last acceptable form of slavery, and anyone who supports the statist concept of "illegal immigrant" is immoral. Anyone with any love of freedom should encourage the hiring of "illegal immigrants".

 
At 6:13 PM, March 29, 2006, Anonymous Peter Bessman said...

Actually, we need to shut down the border. You're free to come in, just come in through the front door.

The problem is that an open border is a terrorist threat --- if terrorists want to get a nuke into America, that's how they're going to do it.[1]

Also, there's more to it than just that. There is a turf war going between two huge gangs for control of multi-billion dollar drug routes into America, using American-trained turncoat anti-drug crack soldiers called "zetas" as mercenaries.[2] Normally this isn't our business, but the fighers are establishing bases of operation inside our border, and it's not going so well for our citizens.[3] And the Mexican government is so corrupt that it can't clean up its own mess --- it's own military is participating in incursions to facilitate trafficking.[4]

So we have soldiers crossing our borders, establishing a military presence to solidify their foothold in our country. This isn't the kind of thing we want to let slide for a number of reasons, but at the very least, we can't turn a blind eye to people attempting assasination of our law enforcement officers.[5]

Ideally, the solution would be to completely open our borders and legalize all drugs. This would eliminate violence stemming simply from human smuggling[6], and make the current violent drug establishment too un-cost-effective to compete. However, given our situation RE terrorism and dirty bombs, the former would be bad tactics. We need to keep the border at least closed enough to keep our enemy handicapped in terms of weaponry. On the other hand, we could legalize drugs without any negative tactical impact, but the problem is that's never gonna happen. People still yell at me for being a "juicer" because I'm (a) kinda big and (b) use creatine --- I don't see them accepting cocaine any time soon.

So, it's a crappy solution --- really, it's like patching a patch --- but I cannot think of a less-bad alternative than simply going for hardcore lockdown on the borders. I am not calling for an end to immigration, but the end of illegal border crossing of any sort.

[1] 'Dirty Bombs' Crossed U.S. Borders in Test
[2] Border Security - BORTAC and the "Zetas"
[3] Images From the Battleground
[4] Video shows Mexican army incursion
[5] Alert tells of Mexican border hit men
[6] Men told to shoot border agents

 
At 1:12 PM, March 30, 2006, Anonymous Dog of Justice said...

dog of justice, wouldn't geography be relevant in comparing immigration control rates? Japan is an island. Canada only borders the US. Europe would seem to be a better analogy for the US on this.

True. Finland is a better example.

Also consider that Mexico has bordered the US for centuries, but the illegal immigration problem has only become apparently "unmanageable" within the last two decades. In the early 1900s, the US was able to keep Mexican immigration under control when it decided it wanted to. Why is that?

I think that provides solid evidence that it's really a question of national will. The logistics of enforcement are practical.

 
At 3:13 PM, March 30, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pete Bessman: "The problem is that an open border is a terrorist threat --- if terrorists want to get a nuke into America, that's how they're going to do it.[1]"

I think Friedman's right and you're wrong.

It seems to me that, for terrorists, bringing in dirty bombs by boat would be better and easier in every way. Moreover, the footnote you provide shows that people could (and probably still can) get radioactive materials past the very inspectors whose job it is to look for them, and who presumably have expensive machines and training meant to help them do so. So your footnote supports the idea that if we beef up border security sufficiently to inspect every single person and parcel that crosses the border, we still wouldn't manage to catch a terrorist bringing in a dirty bomb. But we sure would manage to spend an inordinate amount of money and deter massive amounts of commerce.

This accords with other recent reports claiming TSA airport screening to be completely inept.

Despite this, I see no good reason to believe the Mexican border is more attractive than a cargo ship, and lots of reasons to believe it's less attractive. To name just a few such reasons: cargo ships come directly to New York harbor, they are gigantic and full of tons and tons of stuff, making them impossible to fully inspect down to every last nook and cranny, and they're subject to less inspection and effort to keep them out than people crossing the border with Mexico.

So your argument is founded on a gigantic error -- a fatal error I would say. Basically, I think Friedman has it right: the idea that this is a terrorism issue is ludicrous.

As to your other points, there are several issues jumbled up.

Regarding the threat of Mexican soldiers crossing the border, it sounds like at least some of the people you describe as soldiers crossing our borders are criminals who were soldiers or possibly Mexican soldiers who wander from their post to commit crimes by night. Now, obviously if the Mexican army sends soldiers to invade America, the US must (and will) respond to that as an act of war. Mexico would likely quickly regret its hostility.

If Mexico has lost control of its army and tolerates or simply cannot prevent its army committing depredations on American citizens, that again would have the makings of an extremely serious international incident and deserves the utmost in forceful State Department diplomacy aimed at getting the Mexican government to solve the problem or face the most serious consequences possible. Such incidents could ultimately lead to a war, so Mexico would have every incentive to move heaven and earth to solve the problem.

It's difficult to tell from the few pages you link to what the scale of this problem is. Are we talking about a couple of small gangs of a few criminals, or hundreds of rogue soldiers? If there are just a few such criminals, perhaps they can be easily caught.

You suggest better border security as the solution to criminals crossing the border to assassinate US law enforcement officials. That's a possible solution, but have you any analysis to show that better border security is the most effective means of dealing with this problem? Will it work? How much would it cost?

How about working with the Mexicans to identify, apprehend and punish the criminals, or even to infiltrate their gangs?
Would that work? How much would that cost?

If vicious criminals operate across state lines within the United States, we don't usually propose to close or even tighten the borders between states, though if we can catch criminals in flight police might inspect major interstate routes with unusual attention. Usually the simplest and best way to solve the problem is to track down and catch the criminals wherever they may happen to be, rather than patrolling a particular border.

Similarly, is there any reason to believe that the massive expense, hassle, and likely decreased trade and goodwill that would come from airtight US-Mexican border security is the best way to catch assassins who cross the border? What's to stop them from moving on to travelling under fake passports, or using tunnels or boats or hot-air balloons? Have you got any measure of the costs and benefits to your strategy, as compared to simple international cooperation and police work to track the offenders down, as indeed the Texas sherriffs seem to be attempting? Maybe the best use of time, money and effort is more of that approach.

 
At 6:33 PM, March 30, 2006, Anonymous Peter Bessman said...

Anonymous,

You are arguing about the tactical considerations of dealing with a vulnerable border. I believe this means my point has been made. You can answer your own questions, but I've not the time nor inclination to perform data mining on your behalf.

 
At 8:02 PM, March 30, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Peter Bessman:

Your point entails a massive increase in government spending. Your point is based, as far as I can tell, on blind faith in the efficacy of this particular state action. You are declining to explain even a single detail about how you arrive at the conclusion that such massive government spending is justified. You are doing so in the comment section of the blog of someone who knows a thing or two about economics, law and government.

I believe this means your point has been torpedoed by you.

 
At 8:55 AM, March 31, 2006, Anonymous Peter Bessman said...

Your point entails sticking your head in the sand. Your point entails a blind faith in the incompetency of the government. You are ignoring the details of my position, but they aren't absent. Your cognitive dissonance that this discussion is happening on a libertarian blog is palpable.

Again: a loose border actually is a problem, for terrorism and otherwise. Further, much can be done through government institutions to rectify this. Non-governmental alternatives are not currently feasible given our state of affairs. If you still find this position to be completely absurd, let me know what your standard of proof is, and hold yourself to it --- I do not want to waste time arguing a tautology.

 
At 7:18 PM, March 31, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In reply to Peter Bessman:
"Your point entails sticking your head in the sand."

On the contrary, I acknowledged where you raised legitimate points and questioned or challenged many other things you said. I defy you to point out one thing I said that could be described as ducking a fact.

"Your point entails a blind faith in the incompetency of the government."

My position is not based on blind faith. I know the incompetence of my government well from bitter experience, and I hold the typical libertarian deep distrust of utopian goals for government programs. Moreover your own references included a news story about government agents being unable to prevent radioactive materials from being snuck past them. To put the point plainly for you: they are incompetent at the job you want them to do.

It is blind faith to believe you can cure this problem and get the results you want at a reasonable cost. I'm dealing with situation as it is; you are hoping for an answer and refusing to do the hard work of figuring out what it would cost to get it or whether it would be worth it. This is, of course, typical when people turn to the government for a solution to a problem, for all the reasons most of us joined in colloquy here should already know.

"You are ignoring the details of my position, but they aren't absent."

This is too rich. I replied at the length of 764 words to your first comment. In that reply I pointed out multiple flaws in your argument, including one that I characterized as "fatal", and adduced facts that essentially refuted your entire analysis.

You completely ignored all my substantive criticisms and confined your answer to reasserting the correctness of your position. You then concluded by rejecting out of hand the idea of backing up your proposals with any, you know, facts, such as even a rough estimate of the costs and benefits, which you disingenuously described as "data mining". (What a rhetorical technique! When pressed, just argue 'Why should I back up my argument with facts? I don't have to do "data mining" for you.' It's so crazy it just might work!) You replied, "You are arguing about the tactical considerations of dealing with a vulnerable border. I believe this means my point has been made. You can answer your own questions, but I've not the time nor inclination to perform data mining on your behalf."

And you say that I am ignoring the details of your position? Get real! I painstakingly took your argument apart into its component pieces and pointed out specifically where it was broken or lacking. You could not deal with this, so you argued by vigorous re-assertion.

"Your cognitive dissonance that this discussion is happening on a libertarian blog is palpable."

Don't quit your day job to become a mind reader! I suffer no such cognitive dissonance. I am sadly familiar with the spectacle of ersatz libertarians jettisoning their principles when they encounter a sufficiently attractive utopian scheme or a sufficiently fearsome bogeyman, so I am unsurprised.

"Again: a loose border actually is a problem, for terrorism and otherwise. Further, much can be done through government institutions to rectify this. Non-governmental alternatives are not currently feasible given our state of affairs. If you still find this position to be completely absurd, let me know what your standard of proof is ..."

OK. Here's my standard of proof: 1) Start by reading and replying convincingly to my earlier multi-part refutation of this claim, which you have completely ignored so far. To help you find it, it's the part of my comment that starts at: "I think Friedman's right and you're wrong," and ends at: "the idea that this is a terrorism issue is ludicrous." A convincing reply would respond to all of the substantive points I raised.
If you can do that, you will have shown that my counterclaim might be incorrect -- that maybe there is a terrorism concern involved in the US-Mexican border and that maybe the US government could do something about it and not merely move it elsewhere by tightening border security. You then need to:

2) Give some idea of roughly what the costs and benefits are, with some evidence that this is likely to be a particularly effective means of getting the desired result (preventing terrorists from entering the country and from bringing deadly weapons in the US), and therefore won't be a gigantic waste of money.

Good luck with that!

 
At 8:23 PM, March 31, 2006, Anonymous albatross said...

It's worth pointing out that there's a huge difference between more-or-less open borders and a huge level of illegal immigration. We have 10M or so people living and working illegally here. That's a pool of people who have good reasons to never talk to the police, to buy and use fake documents all the time, and to be involved with criminals to supply those documents and get them across the border. That huge pool of illegal immigrants probably does make it easier to be a terrorist in the US, since it makes it easy to get good fake documents, and makes having fake documents usually an indication of a pretty minor crime (being here illegally) rather than something serious.

I think there's an analogy with the drug war here. It would be bad to strictly enforce the restrictions on immigration, but it may be worse to have laws on the books that we enforce halfheartedly, only for show.

 
At 10:36 PM, March 31, 2006, Anonymous Peter Bessman said...

You know, this is going to take a dang fuckin' long time, and I'm going to bust I don't know how much ass, just so that I can convince some anonymous guy on the internet that considering a loose border to be a needless and fixable terrorist risk is not an absurd position to hold. I hope a corpse such as socrates is smiling on me somewhere, because this really sucks.

OK, here's your play by play.

It seems to me that, for terrorists, bringing in dirty bombs by boat would be better and easier in every way.

The dimensions by which a mode of smuggling can be evaluated for ease, off the top of my head, would be monetary cost, discretion, flexibility, and safety.

In the dimension of cost, boating loses. It is simply more expensive to transport goods over the high seas than on land. In the dimension of discretion, boating loses. Incoming cargo is already scanned for legality at ports, and besides, you have to be on a boat. In the dimension of flexibility, boating loses --- there are fewer ports than potential landbased points of entry. In the dimension of safety, boating loses, largely because it is already under scrutiny as mentioned previously.

If you harbor the notion of suitcase nukes, things change, but this scenario is far, far less likely. Suitcase sized nuclear weapons are the kind of technology which would originate from within the US, not Iran or NK, making this whole discussion moot. The types of weapons which we can expect terrorists to bring in will be very big and very heavy.

If you still believe ports to be the optimal choice for smuggling, consider that the usual routes for illicit substances from Mexico are across our border with them. If water ports were superior for smuggling in every way, such would not be the case --- the superior option would be employed. That the relevant syndicates are engaging in turf war over smuggling routes, rather than exploring a putatively superior water-port model of importation, discredits the notion of water ports uber alles.

Further, if everything was done overseas because ports were the way to go, than there would be no border security. As a result, the borders would actually be the way to go for smuggling. So that position is illogical. More reasonably, general smuggling is best done across the border for stuff already on land, and overseas for stuff not --- and given the resources of the terrorists, barring an acquisition of a vessel which can trek across the atlantic and the customs officials to "approve" it, the path of least resistance would be to transport a nuclear weapon into the immensely porous mexico, and then across the immensely porous US-Mexico border.

Moreover, the footnote you provide shows that people could (and probably still can) get radioactive materials past the very inspectors whose job it is to look for them, and who presumably have expensive machines and training meant to help them do so.

I'm rather baffled by this comment, as it is part of the point I am trying to make. Perhaps this is an example of trees obscuring the view of the forest, so if what follows makes me appear to wax pedantic, my apologies.

DDF started this post to argue that establishing a link between the immigration issue and terrorism is absurd, and nothing more than demagoguery. I argue that such is not the case. Illegal immigration and weapons smuggling are issues which share a root issue --- namely, a loose border. Border security has been a topic of discussion for some time now, and arguments which discuss issues of illegal immigration and terrorism are frequently made in the same breath because they both fall under the umbrella of border security. Perhaps some perspective can be gained by considering that, when discussing the implications of a governmentally mandated 40 hour work week, a libertarian will frequently point out that such legislation will negatively impact the unemployment rate and encourage employee inefficiency --- the point is not that there is some link between a rising unemployment rate and employee inefficiency, just that the two side effects result from the common cause of a mandated 40 hour work week.

The thrust of all the above blather is that the fact that people can get radioactive materials past the very inspectors whose job it is to look for them is actually the topic at hand. It is a facet of the border security debate, one which supporters of increased border security want to see addressed. Increased border security also entails tightening down on illegal immigration through various means. Hence, you will not uncommonly hear statements like "Getting serious about border security is essential to preventing illegal immigration and terrorism." If you interpret this as "getting serious about border security is essential to preventing illegal immigration, because illegal immigration contributes to terrorism," you are misinterpreting the speaker.

On a different note, I will concede that some speakers will attempt to make a link between "wetbacks" and terrorists. However, such is not representative of my particular camp in this debate, nor what I perceive to be the majority of the pro-border-security side in general. LaShawn Barber, Michelle Malkin, and Gabriel Suarez are examples of "ethnic" proponents of heightened border security, with Gabe being the first of his family born in America. There are definitely more white people supporting increased border security, but this should not be surprising considering that there are just plain more white people in America, period. I could be wrong, and maybe most proponents of increased border security are, in fact, bigoted in their motives, but at least understand what my perception of the situation is, and thus what notion of the debate I proceed from.

So your footnote supports the idea that if we beef up border security sufficiently to inspect every single person and parcel that crosses the border, we still wouldn't manage to catch a terrorist bringing in a dirty bomb.

Actually, my footnote supports the idea that border security needs to be taken seriously --- inadequate equipment was the cause of the successful tiger-team penetration. If we expanded the scope of border security without expanding its depth, your statement would be true. But that is not the position I advocate, nor the one I see as representative of the pro-border-security (PBS --- oh irony) crowd in general. The position I do advocate is increasing both the scope and the depth of border security, properly equipping border security agents to detect dirty bombs et al, and expanding their operations to eliminate smuggling of such.

Military installations perform such operations all the time, and the American military is rather good at it. Perhaps the notion of treating border security as a military endeavor is not one you have entailed. I certainly don't have a chubby over it, but it is what I argue for.

But we sure would manage to spend an inordinate amount of money and deter massive amounts of commerce.

That certainly is a relative distinction. As a percentage of GDP, Americans currently have a lower tax burden, and the American government has a smaller budget, than the America under Ronald Reagan did. So, I'm not overly concerned about it. Hopefully it will strengthen the case against social security and other such subsidies, but that is obviously wishful thinking.

This accords with other recent reports claiming TSA airport screening to be completely inept.

Yes, and that is a large part of what displease the PBS crowd. Hence the clamoring to tighten border security. Again, it is not just about scope, but depth.

Despite this, I see no good reason to believe the Mexican border is more attractive than a cargo ship, and lots of reasons to believe it's less attractive. To name just a few such reasons: cargo ships come directly to New York harbor, they are gigantic and full of tons and tons of stuff, making them impossible to fully inspect down to every last nook and cranny, and they're subject to less inspection and effort to keep them out than people crossing the border with Mexico.

The first is an obvious plus, but getting access to said gigantic cargo ships is certainly not easy. You don't simply toss your multiple tons of bomb onto a produce ship and pick it up when it reaches its destination. Terrorists are low on resources, and part of this war is engaging in resource starvation. Sure, hypothetically, they could ally themselves with Chiquita and nuke something --- but even more likely, they could just cart their bomb across the border. Much as we create deterrents to crime with the knowledge that elimination is impossible, I argue for strengthening border security with the knowledge that a certainty of impenetrability is impossible.

And the last point is just false. US customs is much better equipped to perform their job than border security is to perform theirs, and they do it far more thoroughly. Hopefully BOTAC, the new special forces division of border security, will be able to change that --- but that is a facet of the current debate over border security. People legally immigrating into this country do get inspected more than cargo entering this country on a ship, but the situation is not that dichotomous. If you are trying to get illicit materials into this country, moving it over the border is the best way to do it. As I've said above, those who make a profession of such activities already know and exploit this fact.

So your argument is founded on a gigantic error -- a fatal error I would say. Basically, I think Friedman has it right: the idea that this is a terrorism issue is ludicrous.

Then drug dealers in Mexico and farther south all act irrationally when they move their goods across the border. If you agree with this, then we eschew economics as a tool for analyzing this situation. If you disagree with this, then it stands to reason that professional smugglers might know a thing or two about how to get illegal material into America.

If Mexico has lost control of its army and tolerates or simply cannot prevent its army committing depredations on American citizens, that again would have the makings of an extremely serious international incident and deserves the utmost in forceful State Department diplomacy aimed at getting the Mexican government to solve the problem or face the most serious consequences possible. Such incidents could ultimately lead to a war, so Mexico would have every incentive to move heaven and earth to solve the problem.

I and the PBS crowd argue that exactly this has happened. Hence the frustration you probably hear expressed about President Bush's reluctance to address this issue.

It's difficult to tell from the few pages you link to what the scale of this problem is. Are we talking about a couple of small gangs of a few criminals, or hundreds of rogue soldiers? If there are just a few such criminals, perhaps they can be easily caught.

1
2
3
4
5
6

You suggest better border security as the solution to criminals crossing the border to assassinate US law enforcement officials. That's a possible solution, but have you any analysis to show that better border security is the most effective means of dealing with this problem? Will it work? How much would it cost?

It is not the only problem that a loose border entails. If you have a solution to this problem, in addition to the others, which is more likely to work and for less money, I'd love to hear about it. I'm not sure what kind of figures you expect from me, but I my gut has 98% confidence that increasing the scope and depth of border security will work --- figuring out costs is something I can't personally do, which is why I and the PBS crowd would like the issue get into the House, where such matters can actually be deduced. But why don't you show me an example of the standard you expect me to hold myself to by drawing up an alternative solution that meets said standard.

How about working with the Mexicans to identify, apprehend and punish the criminals, or even to infiltrate their gangs?
Would that work? How much would that cost?


That's part of what the PBS crowd and myself are pushing for. Apparently, you are unaware that this is not being discussed by "The Administration," which is a source of great frustration for us.

If vicious criminals operate across state lines within the United States, we don't usually propose to close or even tighten the borders between states, though if we can catch criminals in flight police might inspect major interstate routes with unusual attention. Usually the simplest and best way to solve the problem is to track down and catch the criminals wherever they may happen to be, rather than patrolling a particular border.

This proceeds from your hypothesis that we are dealing with a few criminals. Such is very much not the case. There probably are a few criminals who would be hampered by increased border security, but that would be a collateral benefit. Once again, border security is a multi-faceted issue. Perhaps this is why my post appeared jumbled to you, since I attempted to present several such facets. It's kind of like arguing for "free markets," in that you expect many issues to be addressed by striving for one overarching goal.

Similarly, is there any reason to believe that the massive expense, hassle, and likely decreased trade and goodwill that would come from airtight US-Mexican border security is the best way to catch assassins who cross the border?

Once again, that is not the only motivation. If we were talking about Antonio Banderas, this would indeed by overkill. And as for decreased trade --- how much do you expect trade to be decreased by? Do you have an analysis that shows it will make a significant impact? I certainly anticipate it will result in decreased trade in illegal goods and services, but that's beside the point.

What's to stop them from moving on to travelling under fake passports, or using tunnels or boats or hot-air balloons?

Fake passports are harder than just coming in without any sort of paperwork at all. Tunnels actually are a problem --- one which is being mostly ignored, and as should be obvious by now, is a source of frustration. And a hot-air balloon is something an air patrol, which is argued for, would notice.

Now, I consider both heuristics and algorithms to be useful. I prefer algorithms, but if they are not applicable, I will employ heuristics. If you disdain for my heuristics, then hold yourself to algorithmic standards. Show me the counter-analysis that proves this solution is inherently unworkable. Show me the benefits and costs of maintaining the status quo, since that is the position which you champion.

Yes, that is a low maneuver, but that's just how I roll. I fight women and children without remorse --- hell, I fight women using children as instruments for inflicting blunt force trauma. Further, I sense that you are interested in simply out talking me --- and I do not care to engage in a "who has the least real life" match.

So, if you approve of heuristic measures, than the most you can do is acknowledge that your personal evaluation of the various variables in this equation differs from mine --- but not that my position is baseless and absurd. If you want to argue that my position is baseless and absurd, then we've entered the realm of algorithmic exactness. I've been trying to achieve such exactness in this matter (among others) for a while, so I would be interested to see what you come up with in this department. I think the world at large would be interested, also. So give us a holler when you've got it All Figured Out.

Oh, and my word count penis is now bigger than yours. Neener neener.

 
At 12:35 AM, April 01, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

YOU'VE BEEN HIT BY THE

|^^^^^^^^^^^^^|
|Truck full of Mexicans| '|""";.., ___.
|_..._...______====|= _|__|..., ] |
"(@ )'(@ )""""*|(@ )(@ )*****(@

Sorry they have no insurance )-=

 
At 10:52 AM, April 04, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Peter Bessman:

I hope you'll indulge me in a moment of stepping back and talking about this discussion itself, as you did. I'll try to keep it brief. I too have a life, and needed over the weekend for purposes of getting other things done to lay this aside.

As to the difficulty of arguing in order to convince some anonymous person: I hope you and I are trying to convince anyone and everyone who might read what we have to say. Though I strongly disagree with some of your points, I genuinely appreciate that you are making an effort to argue them from a perspective grounded in a lot of facts and sincerely held opinion. Some of those facts are news to me, and I also appreciate the information.

That said, I don't enjoy replying to some of your personal comments, such as your repeated assumptions about my perspective or motivation, which you've included in two posts running. I'm not trying to out-talk you, nor am I suffering from cognitive dissonance. I have replied to your comments at such length because I have something to say about it, I think you've got it wrong, the issue is timely, and because I think it's a good example of the kind of issue on which libertarians lose sight of the bigger picture sometimes. I also want to make it clear that the only reason I mentioned the word count on my prior comment was that I was exasperated by your claim that I had ignored the details of your point. I'm not in a competition nor a fight here; I don't want to get hostile or vulgar, and I've tried hard to reply carefully, substantively, and fully, with all due civility. I hope you see it that way, too, and that we can drop any animadverions about motivation and similar trash talk. I admit I indulged in a little bit of the same with my remark about "ersatz libertarians". I would prefer to keep this cool, serious, substantive, and impersonal; in your words: "that's how I roll". So perhaps I can return to that standard.
My final point of meta-discussion is that I make absolutely no claim that this discussion is in any way a matter of nativism, bigotry or any kind of bias, and I do not think we even need to raise the issue. I believe you are 100% sincere in thinking of this as a national security issue, and I'm eager to keep the discussion to that point alone, so I'm not replying to the paragraph where you dealt with this question. I think we can agree that no such issue need arise in our discussion.

I challenged you to answer my earlier criticism of your argument. Here is where I think you answered my criticism, and where I think you failed:
Regarding boating -- I feel that we are talking past each other. If we assume, as I think most people do, that loose nukes or nuclear material are most likely to come from outside the Americas, then terrorists would have to get the materials to the North American continent somehow, and land routes are not an economical option. Boats are far and away the most economical option for intercontinental delivery of cargo. Even illicit cargo from South America frequently goes by boat, rather than the difficult land route from Central and South America. So most of your discussion of the economics is on point only if you start by assuming that terrorists will ship cargo to Mexico first. But why should they do that? If they get their stuff on a boat already, why not to directly to the destination?

This is almost the entirety of the point, and I think on this point alone the issue of the US/Mexican border as a major terrorism concern goes away.

Regarding cargo inspection: this sounds like a deterrent, but in the case of a big cargo ship it may not be practical or it may already be too late. If we're talking about bio-weapons or a fully working nuclear bomb, simply getting the materials close to shore would likely be bad enough. If we're talking about radioactive materials broken into small quantities, it may well be possible to offload them prior to inspection, or to hide them inside other materials, or simply for a crew member to keep small quantities amid personal effects. And the fact is that every last container is certainly not inspected. Even if a container is due to be inspected, will inspectors reliably find a few grams of radioactive material in a lead box stuffed into a huge container of consumer goods, cars, toys, or apples? Perhaps, but this does not seem to me markedly more risky than first smuggling such good into Mexico, and then smuggling them across the US Mexican border, and then inside the US. Big ports in the US are often near big cities which are likely targets.

http://www.dhs.gov/interweb/assetlibrary/OIG_05-26_Jun05.pdf
You may also recall the tales of cocaine cartel employees bringing cocaine to Miami in cigarette boats. How much easier to sneak in a small lead box with a few kilograms of radioactive material or a few grams of some deadly disease spores? Especially if you can wait patiently for the ideal moment.

"Further, if everything was done overseas because ports were the way to go, than there would be no border security. As a result, the borders would actually be the way to go for smuggling. So that position is illogical."
This only makes sense if the added expense and difficulty of going through Mexico first is still less than the difficulty of coming through a US port. (Not to mention the possibility of getting disease agents or radioactive materials produced domestically in the US.) I'd like to see evidence for this. Also, is any feasible inspection method likely to be successful enough to yield a positive cost-benefit analysis? Going from a highly porous border to a virtually airtight border will be very, very expensive. If this has to be done in tandem with securing the ports completely, and all the other coasts and waterfront in order to pratically deter the threat you mention, can it be done at a cost where the net harm is not actually worse than massive costs?

On your reply to my comment:

I said : "So your footnote supports the idea that if we beef up border security sufficiently to inspect every single person and parcel that crosses the border, we still wouldn't manage to catch a terrorist bringing in a dirty bomb."

You replied: "Actually, my footnote supports the idea that border security needs to be taken seriously --- inadequate equipment was the cause of the successful tiger-team penetration. If we expanded the scope of border security without expanding its depth, your statement would be true. But that is not the position I advocate, nor the one I see as representative of the pro-border-security (PBS --- oh irony) crowd in general. The position I do advocate is increasing both the scope and the depth of border security, properly equipping border security agents to detect dirty bombs et al, and expanding their operations to eliminate smuggling of such."

"Military installations perform such operations all the time, and the American military is rather good at it. Perhaps the notion of treating border security as a military endeavor is not one you have entailed. I certainly don't have a chubby over it, but it is what I argue for."

You are not answering the following questions I see raised by this issue:

1. When the people currently in charge of inspecting packages have just completed a ramp-up over several years to try to detect radioactive materials and repeatedly failed in tests to find and prevent it, why should I believe that if we give them deserve more money, personnel or training to get it right?

2. How likely is this to be part of a complete and comprehensive system so that it doesn't just slighly inconvenience terrorists by forcing them to try another route, while spending tremendous amounts of our money fruitlessly?

3. How much is all this supposed to cost? How big is the risk, and how great a part of the total terrorist scenario is it?

You also said: "That certainly is a relative distinction. As a percentage of GDP, Americans currently have a lower tax burden, and the American government has a smaller budget, than the America under Ronald Reagan did. So, I'm not overly concerned about it."
Well, here I just disagree 100%. Americans are taxed way, way, WAY, too much. We cannot afford to allow amorphous risk assessments to cause us to spend hundreds of billions of dollars.

...
You said: "You don't simply toss your multiple tons of bomb onto a produce ship and pick it up when it reaches its destination."

Ah, but that's not the threat homeland security sees, at least. They're worried about terrorists sneaking in a few grams of radioactive material at a time. How hard is it to get on the crew of a cargo ship? To get access to a cargo ship while it's in a port somewhere in the world?

"US customs is much better equipped to perform their job than border security is to perform theirs, and they do it far more thoroughly."

Well, DHS says it's simply not feasible to inspect every container, and therefore they inspect the "high risk" ones:

http://www.govexec.com/dailyfed/0805/080505c1.htm

This is much lower than the standard of inspection you seem to be arguing for. I should also remark on the irony of this part of the discussion. I said:

"If Mexico has lost control of its army and tolerates or simply cannot prevent its army committing depredations on American citizens, that again would have the makings of an extremely serious international incident and deserves the utmost in forceful State Department diplomacy aimed at getting the Mexican government to solve the problem or face the most serious consequences possible. Such incidents could ultimately lead to a war, so Mexico would have every incentive to move heaven and earth to solve the problem."

You replied:

"I and the PBS crowd argue that exactly this has happened. Hence the frustration you probably hear expressed about President Bush's reluctance to address this issue."

And yet these are the very same people to whom you would give a mandate to try to create an airtight border!

Why on earth should you not believe and indeed expect that they'll do it in a slipshod manner that would cost us 10s or 100s of billions of dollars while not solving the problem? If they don't even take seriously their mandate to keep foreign soldiers from crossing into America to commit crimes -- a task to which we devote, in a sense, the defense department budget -- why should we expect they would aquire competence and resolve in the much harder task you are proposing -- keeping a few kilograms of radioactive materials out of the US by any and all means of entry that can be had at low cost?

I stand by my assessment: sounds like a splendid way to spend 10s or 100s of billions of dollars while failing to get results.

You said: "If you have a solution to this problem, in addition to the others, which is more likely to work and for less money, I'd love to hear about it."

Have you contemplated that there are some problems that can't be solved? That neither government, nor industry, nor any agency of humanity can address certain issues, and that sometimes throwing government resources at such insoluble problems is a total waste? That seems to me to be the realistic perspective here.

...
"Once again, that is not the only motivation. If we were talking about Antonio Banderas, this would indeed by overkill. And as for decreased trade --- how much do you expect trade to be decreased by? Do you have an analysis that shows it will make a significant impact?"

You have caught me. I don't have numbers. I have been frustrated in dealing with the US/Canada border in completely legitimate trade by what I viewed as needless red tape. Surely there will be some at the US/Mexican border, but I cannot quantify it.

"I certainly anticipate it will result in decreased trade in illegal goods and services, but that's beside the point."

Why is that beside the point? Trade in contraband is still Pareto-optimizing commerce. Such trade does not lose its economic nor social benefits just because it's illegal.

Finally:

"So, if you approve of heuristic measures, than the most you can do is acknowledge that your personal evaluation of the various variables in this equation differs from mine --- but not that my position is baseless and absurd."

Put it this way: it seems to me that some of your imagined innovations -- such as border security that can work so well that it can meaningfully diminish the probability of terrorists wreaking havoc (when terrorists have such a plethora of options available to them) in the US at a cost anything like the expected value of such measures -- are so far-fetched as to be absurd. But I admit this comes down to opinion. I think it's an opinion more well-grounded in the realistic libertarian perspective than yours. But I admit I cannot prove it.

 
At 12:06 AM, April 10, 2006, Blogger David Friedman said...

Wirkman asks about the couplet in The Machinery of Freedom which I suggested as a replacement for the lines now on the Statue of Liberty, assuming we weren't willing to ship the whole thing back to France:

America the closed preserve
That dirty foreigners don't deserve

 
At 6:30 PM, October 29, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

YOU ARE AN IDIOT. How could you POSSIBLY know that EVERY SINGLE immigrant crossing the border is not a muslim... Oh yeah, you don't! Customs agents have intercepted SEVERAL people from countries in the Middle East attempting to cross from Mexico into the U.S. You need to pretend to do research before you write an article.

-An intelligent and educated person

 
At 6:02 PM, December 15, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST ENTERTAINING INTERNET DEBATES I'VE READ IN A LONG TIME. THANK YOU TO PETER BESSMAN AND ANONYMOUS

 
At 6:04 PM, December 15, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OH, AND PETER BESSMAN: In order to be taken more seriously as an itellectual partaker in a debate; i suggest laying of the extreme vulgar language.

and your use of the f word didn't make sense in the context you used it. just thought you should know

 
At 1:26 PM, June 19, 2009, Anonymous disaster preparation said...

It is very hard to keep the immigrants out especially since controlling the border has been more lenient in the past. nonetheless, i think they are doing the best that they can and that's all we can ask for.

 

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