Please don’t ask me to transcribe what I heard during Representative Mark Amodei’s (R-NV2) Telephone Townhall thing he had tonight, during the dinner hour. I always seem to be contacted while the “town hall is already in progress,” and Amodei’s dismaying propensity for scrambling his answers into disjointed phrases interspersed with touching attempts to give the questioner reason to believe he might have heard and understood the question, combined with hunger, means I rarely stay for the whole performance.
I got in just as “Linda from Reno” was posing a direct question: “When are we going to close the borders? Don’t you think we ought to close the borders?”
There’s nothing nuanced about this inquiry. It’s about as straight forward as it gets. Closed border good? Representative Amodei responded, as he nearly always does, by starting a sentence — shifting to an independent clause — shifting to another thought — reverting to the initial topic long enough to — insert another qualifier, before — circling back to touch on whatever it was that made him think of — another qualifying statement, leading to the beginning of another sentence.
As nearly as I can guess, Representative Amodei believes that the current crisis of too many undocumented and unaccompanied children at our border detention facilities means we have no control over our borders.
Whoa — if we didn’t have control over our borders then they wouldn’t be in DHS Border Patrol detention facilities would they?
The obvious point that if the southern border were “open” these children would be “all over the place” instead of in detention and case processing facilities stipulated, the notion that the opposite might be the case leads Representative Amodei to suggest that deploying the National Guard should be implemented.
For what? We have 21,000 border patrol agents, local, state, and tribal governments have programs funded by the Federal government to assist in border security, and we need the National Guard? According to Representative Amodei (I think, from my notes with arrows and lines trying to track his answer) this is necessary to have “absolute control of the border.” I’ll return to this point in a moment, but first there’s a need to be more specific about the difference between the question from Reno and the answer from Amodei.
Closed Minds and Borders
Let’s pause for a moment, because Representative Amodei really isn’t offering a direct answer to “Linda’s” direct question. She wasn’t talking about controlling the border she was advocating closing the borders. Closed borders have serious consequences, consequences “Linda” may not have considered when expressing her desire to stop all immigration.
First, and most obviously, a closed border works both ways. While closing the borders would prevent immigration, it also prevents trade and tourism. If country A closes down its border with country B, B always reacts. The reactions, and the economic implications thereof, create a plethora of issues which often have consequences intended and unintended.
The most obvious example of a closed border in recent memory is that between East and West Germany. The destruction of the Berlin Wall provided iconic images, but the process of reunification was far more problematic. For example, East Germany had been considered one of the more prosperous Eastern Bloc countries, but without Russian assistance/hegemony, and without a universally valued currency, when the wall fell so did the East German economy. Further, there were those, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher included, who saw a re-unified Germany as a threat to European security and urged the Russians to prevent the process as much as possible. However, a central point to remember is that for all the drama associated with PM Thatcher’s practice of carrying a 1937 map of German borders in her handbag, or the complex problem of what to do with East German industrial subsidies, the closed border between the two Germany-s before 1990 allowed the economy on the East side of the line to paper over serious economic flaws and abysmal infrastructure.
In other, simpler terms, closed borders hide and obscure as much as they secure.
Secondly, borders don’t exist in the imagination, they define regions, and in doing so they create “border areas,” those sections on either side of a closed border which create social, political, and economic environments simply because they are border areas. There’s another European example of the consequences of closed borders as they apply to border regions.
In 2005 a study was conducted of the consequences of the Emerald Curtain, i.e. the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. [The Emerald Curtain pdf] Unlike it’s German counterpart, the Emerald Curtain didn’t come as a response to any specific migratory or economic trends, it accreted over time. Established in 1921, and discussed intermittently until 1925, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic is a “tale of unintended and unforeseen consequences.”
One of those unintended consequences was the creation of a border area, without major urban areas, and without any robust trade, which engendered dependence on agriculture, under-employment, lack of market access, lack of transport, and the inaccessibility of services like education. The areas on both sides of the Emerald Curtain tended not to be amenable to economic diversification, which in turn exacerbated social and economic trends including low disposable incomes and higher levels of illiteracy. Even the “Irish Tiger” boom period, didn’t have the same impact in the southern border regions as it did further south.
For all the attention, verbiage, studies, plans, and parliamentary speeches about improving the Emerald Curtain border regions — the area in 2005 was still characterized as “lagging behind national benchmarks for growth, employment, and development.” [The Emerald Curtain pdf]
The Emerald Curtain isn’t even drawn that tightly shut, but still Ireland’s largest customer is the United States, followed by the UK, Belgium, Germany, and France. Most Irish imports are from the UK, followed by the U.S., Germany, Netherlands, and China in that order. [MIT.edu] Meanwhile, the economy in Ulster moves forward, with most trade between the UK and the Republic of Ireland. The economy in the north is still tied to the economy of the UK. [Belfast Telegraph]
Whether “Linda in Reno” is advocating a militarized tightly controlled border like the Iron Curtain, or a softer, less organized one like its Emerald counterpart, the results are essentially the same. The fencing may obfuscate and render opaque issues which will cause major problems over time, and may as easily create regions in which economic activity is stunted or diminished.
Good fences may make good neighbors, but they tend not to encourage economic growth and development.
As promised earlier, it’s time to get down to an item on Representative Amodei’s wish list: US absolute control of its borders. This sounds good — it’s also meaningless. But wait, meaningless is good, especially for the Republican talking point generators and distributors.
By oversimplification and sloganeering complicated and thorny issues can be reduced to ‘sound bites,’ easily digested and something of a Rorschach Test for the listener. “Linda in Reno” may come away from her portion of the Amodei Word Salad Shooter Session believing that when he says “absolute control of the border” he’s espousing her version of a closed, militarized, border — or a softer more informal one, as might be characterized by a line between two groups of people not yet completely over the Battle of the Boyne. The beauty of the oversimplified, and thus meaningless, sound bite is that whatever interpretation might be applied to it, the politician using it can pivot at any point and walk away … “I really didn’t mean precisely That…” Whatever “that” might have been.
Yes, Representative Amodei wants “absolute control of the border,” BUT not so much that the Mexican government responds with a closure on its side? Or, BUT not so much that cities like Brownsville, Nogales, El Paso, and Laredo suffer economic declines from a lack of cross border trade? Or, BUT not so much that the flow of international trade, commerce, and currency is disrupted?
What is “absolute” control? Does that mean not a single solitary migrant moving over the borders without a visa is to be found? Or, is there an acceptable level of ‘leakage?” If so, what’s the level? Once again, the Rorschach Test comes into play. The message means whatever the listener wants to hear.
Who do we intend to “control?” Another Rorschach Test — are we ‘controlling’ for racial or ethnic characteristics? Political or ideological perspectives? Does “control” mean keeping lower income, ethnic minority populations, at bay? Does it mean deporting PhD candidates in the field of applied physics? In order for there to be “control” there must be something, someone, under that control. Who or what that might be is left to the interpretation of the listener. These little bits of meaninglessness are handy for politicians who don’t want to specify policy positions or describe their legislative proposals. They are also incredibly useful for criticizing the proposals of opponents.
Using sound bite slogans makes it an easy task to critique the elements of S. 744 by saying it “doesn’t provide absolute control over the borders.” Whatever that might mean. Or, “it doesn’t require enough from those applying for naturalization? Whatever “enough” could be. Or, “it’s too close to amnesty.” What’s amnesty and what’s too close?
In the final segment, Representative Amodei wanted to reassure “Linda from Reno” that he’d contacted the Department of Homeland Security and they had indicated to him that there were no federal facilities in Nevada to which the unaccompanied children or families would be transported. Hint: There’s no need to round up the pick up trucks, letter the signs, and power up the bull horns? Once up this easy grade, Representative Amodei got entangled in his explanation of how the federal government couldn’t insure that private organizations in Nevada, especially churches, wouldn’t accept detainees during processing. If I were to attempt to translate my notes this paragraph would read:
“Something, something, Federal Government can’t tell churches what to do, something, something, especially in light of the Supreme Court decision, which I agree with, something, something, it’s a sticky wicket, trying to tell churches what to do, something, something, government should stay out of church business. ” I’m guessing he’s referring to the Hobby Lobby decision. I’m guessing he’s telling “Linda from Reno” that if a church or private non-profit organization wants to house detainees during processing there’s nothing he can do about it.
I lasted one more question and answer, and then the desire to return to dinner overwhelmed my inclination to try to make intelligible notes from Representative Amodei’s Word Salad Shooter. Each one of these sessions makes me all the more appreciative of the members of the local press in Nevada who have the Herculean task, as a part of their job, to make sense of Representative Amodei’s verbal barrages, interminable regressions, and equally predictable sloganeering. Somewhere there is a Salad Shooter spewing Scrabble tiles that needs a hug.