law enforcement officials are walking into U.S. ports of entry in increasing
numbers to seek political asylum, and the flow may soon become a flood as
Mexico's battle with the drug cartels intensifies. Our first instinct is to
welcome them, but there is more at stake than humanitarian sentiments.
problem is that if our immigration laws are stretched to grant asylum to law
enforcement personnel on the grounds that their own government cannot protect
them, any Mexican threatened by these violent criminal gangs can claim the same
right of asylum.
immigration law does not easily accommodate these law enforcement cases because
they are fleeing threats from organized crime – the Mexican drug cartels – not
political persecution by their government. If our laws are stretched to accept
thousands of refugees from drug cartel violence, it will only exacerbate Mexico's problems.
can sympathize with the Mexican police chief or prosecutor who lands on a
cartel hit list because he will not play ball with them. The Mexican federal
government seemingly cannot protect him and his family, so he flees to El Paso or Nogales and
seeks asylum. The number of such asylum applications more than doubled in the
first six months of 2008 compared to the same period in 2007, but very few have
been approved. What will happen if we do not accept these asylum applications
as a humanitarian gesture? What will happen if we do?
rising number of asylum seekers from Mexican law enforcement and the
professional classes is a new phenomenon, not merely another facet of our open
borders fiasco. These people are not swimming the Rio
Grande or sneaking across the Sonora
desert. They are walking into our border ports of entry from Texas
to California and asking for protection. We
must respect them for following our laws and doing it the right way. But we
must also ask some hard questions before throwing open our gates. Humanitarian
concerns must be balanced against other considerations – because the fate of
Mexico hangs in that balance.
happens to Mexico if all the good cops flee to
the U.S. or Europe
and the only ones left are working hand-in-glove with the criminals? What are
the consequences if all the honest judges and prosecutors flee and only
dishonest ones are left in charge of the courts? What happens if honest
businessmen find it easy to flee to San Diego,
Houston or Phoenix
and only those who will do the cartels' money laundering are running the
nation's trucking companies, farms, and banks?
unpleasant truth is that this new refugee problem is the sign of a deep crisis
not in the Mexican economy but in the Mexican political system itself. Mexico exhibits
mounting signs of a "failed state," a political system that cannot
satisfy the most basic conditions of civic order such as safety in one’s
streets, home, school, and workplace. Failing states begin to hemorrhage people
and their assets. The middle class begins to flee – doctors, lawyers,
accountants, business owners, teachers, and of course, law enforcement
officials, who are the first targets of criminal organizations.
new "civic disorder refugees" are not like the millions of unemployed
or underemployed who leave Mexico to a find a
job and a better life. These middle class citizens have jobs – often good jobs
by Mexican standards – but they do not have security for themselves or their
families. They would much prefer to stay in Mexico
but they cannot do so safely, so they flee.
police chiefs and judges cannot be protected from the cartels, then how can
ordinary citizens feel safe? If we open the gates to everyone who has a
"credible fear" of the cartels, the Border Patrol will no longer have
to worry only about people jumping the fence. Thousands will be waiting in line
at one of over 300 ports of entry.
new "emigration from fear" poses an urgent challenge for Mexico. If Mexico wants to win its battle against the
drug cartels, it must begin by reforming its police and criminal justice
systems so that honest cops, judges and mayors – and journalists – can do their
jobs without undue fear of retaliation. To his credit, President Calderon has
begun to tackle this problem.
operations against the cartel strongholds are probably necessary, but they can
never be a substitute for a functioning criminal justice system. Mexican
citizens must be able to trust the local police, and local police must be able
to trust their government to protect them from gangster-terrorists.
United States must not become an automatic
escape valve for honest officials threatened by cartel violence. If that
happens, Mexico will lose its most valued
civil servants and become increasingly a militarized (and polarized) society.
Mexico is not yet a failed state, but if humanitarian
sentiment and special interest pleadings in the U.S. block sound immigration
policy – as happens all too often in American law and politics – we will hasten
that tragic development.