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Kavitha RajagopalanBack to OpinionKavitha Rajagopalan

The border is a state of mind

Just when we thought party affiliation was the biggest wedge between our people, along comes the immigration debate. Now, according to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, there are citizens not of the United States but of individual states.

“This fight is far from over,” said Brewer, following a federal district court injunction against some provisions of an Arizona bill designed to seek out, deport and keep out unauthorized immigrants from the state. “In fact, it is just the beginning, and at the end of what is certain to be a long legal struggle, Arizona will prevail in its right to protect our citizens,” she said.

All over the country, some applaud and some lob rotten tomatoes at federal judge Susan Bolton and the Obama administration for blocking some parts of Arizona’s controversial new “immigration law,” which just went into effect yesterday. According to President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and Judge Bolton, only the federal government has the authority to make immigration policy and the responsibility to guard our national borders. Meanwhile, government officials in border states from Florida to California, and some inland states like Colorado, have expressed support for Arizona’s efforts to “protect its citizens” from the purported economic and social costs of illegal immigration and announced their intention to introduce similar legislation in their own state government bodies.

Officials in border states claim that they bear disproportionate burden in absorbing and policing undocumented migrants and have the right to develop legal responses as they see fit. But while the current legal battle is being fought on the federal versus states rights battlefield, unauthorized immigration raises much bigger questions than who has the right to stem it.

In 2007, the Council on Foreign Relations published a powerful report demonstrating that illegal immigration happens not because of poor border policies and protections, but because it makes good economic sense to both unauthorized immigrants and U.S. employers. Unless the U.S. can develop legal immigration options that give immigrants the security and flexibility they desire and employers the low-cost labor they demand, unauthorized immigration will continue to rise.

In other words, unauthorized immigration is actually good for the U.S. economy.

Of course, these are bold and contentious words. No one can argue that a system that enables and institutionalizes massive human rights violations and widespread criminal enterprise is good for the U.S. Neither can anyone safely claim that permanently driving down wages is economically sustainable. But as we enter into the conversation about how to and who should reform the immigration system, we have to ask ourselves some hard philosophical and economic questions.

In the last decade, the unauthorized immigrant population has more than doubled from five million to an estimated 12 million. Why are there so many undocumented immigrants in our country? Why does our economy rely on a permanent labor underclass with no civil or political rights? Will policing the border and erecting deeper social barriers between citizens, immigrants and unauthorized immigrants really stem unauthorized immigration?

The overwhelming majority of Americans agree that legal immigration is good for the country and illegal immigration is bad. This is too simple a dichotomy. In the current, deeply traumatized immigration system, it is much harder to become a legal immigrant than it was 30 years ago. There are fewer protections for low-skilled American workers and very narrow, clogged immigration channels for low-skilled immigrants. The American economy has undergone drastic shifts and the immigration system has failed to shift with it. The more we obsess about the legal status of immigrants the less we look at the very real, very deep flaws in our conception of immigration.

The border is a state of mind. Instead of reducing the immigration debate to simple us-versus-them arguments or giving into border anxieties, we must begin to think about who our immigrants are, how they come, where they work and why they stay. And this will force us to figure out what we have to do.


  • The border is a state of mind – PBS |

    [...] The border is a state of mindPBS“In fact, it is just the beginning, and at the end of what is certain to be a long legal struggle, Arizona will prevail in its right to protect our citizens …Legal experts: Injunction likely to withstand challengesArizona Capitol TimesImmigration Law Controversy Puts Arizona Cities in 'Legal Limbo," Says ExpertNewswise (press release)Parts of Arizona Immigration Law Take Effect as Legal Battle ContinuesABC NewsNPR -New York Times (blog)all 8,347 news articles » [...]

  • The border is a state of mind – PBS | Law Advice

    [...] The border is a state of mindPBS“In fact, it is just the beginning, and at the end of what is certain to be a long legal struggle, Arizona will prevail in its right to protect our citizens …Legal experts: Injunction likely to withstand challengesArizona Capitol TimesImmigration Law Controversy Puts Arizona Cities in 'Legal Limbo," Says ExpertNewswise (press release)Parts of Arizona Immigration Law Take Effect as Legal Battle ContinuesABC NewsHouston Chronicle -NPR -New York Times (blog)all 7,730 news articles » [...]

  • David Caulkett

    If the border is a mere “state of mind” to Ms. Rajagopalin then her mind is feeble because she does not understand what constitutes a nation. Borders define our sovereign nation. US law, not the wish of foreigners, determine who is a citizen.

    She is attempting this illogical redefinition of a nation in order to satisfy her globalist philisophy. Unfortunately the tactic is rampant in the immigration debate as exemplified by the moronic insulting cliche “We are a nation of immigrants.” In fact, “We are a nation of citizens with a proud tradition of immigration.” Every citizen should be insulted by the contention that immigrants rule and citizens are mere dog crap to be avoided.

    When we lose control of our borders and when we can not determine who are citizens then we eventually will lose our nation because it becomes ambiguious and weak.

    Ms. Rajagopalin must not realize that many, many US citizens died to protect the homeland which she defines as a mere “state of mind.” Her redefinition of USA and is just one more insult to US citizens and our fallen patriots. The redefintions and moronic cliches must end if we are to thrive as a nation which inherently is a border and not her moronic “state of mind.”

    David Caulkett, http://www.IllegalAliens.US

  • JH

    If one ethnic majority is given more of a chance to become a US citizen than any other, is that diversity, is it equality and a fair way of dealing with immigration? Because you have the advantage of geography on your side are you a better choice than someone from elsewhere? I want diversity in my country, I want equality and I want fairness for all who wish to commit and invest their lives here.

  • NLF

    David Caulkett or is it Davy Crokett,

    how feeble is your mind of the history of this country.

    Remember the “Mayflower”, where your ancestors used to come to this country. During those years you did not follow The citizens of this country, namely the “Indians”. Remember!!.

    You did not learn the language of the People, you did not respect them,but called them Savages!, you raped their women and took their land without asking, Please look up the history in the PBS Channel – I am sure PBS would sell you the history that depicted the “Trail of Tears”.

    Do not make a fool of yourself by talking about the author, she is much more learned than you.

  • NLF


    You have a point. I don’t ague about that.
    I think it is better to have the people in this country, do your own dirty work instead of having people come here to do your dirty work.

    If you brain-drain the other countries, the same will happen, There will be no-body especially in the Third-world countries to lead their people to better themselves. There should be a balance, even in America.

  • ManuChe

    I wish you explored the idea of borders being a state of mind more than just a few sentences in the end. From a philosophical viewpoint, I think it is fair to say that every human being is a citizen of the earth and restricting ones citizenship to a place of birth, ancestry or naturalization is imaginary. However, history, geography, limited resources and our animal instincts have defined territories that separate us. I wish it was not like this but we must face the problem with practical solutions. The real issue here is entitlements. Borrowing from Milton Friedman, “people will vote with their feet” – immigrants move to find better opportunities to support themselves and their families. This will never stop even with a fence a mile high. What is unfair is the forced taxation of citizens to finance welfare programs that benefit illegal immigrants. If citizenship did not guarantee so many big government programs, maybe many will not seek it. If legal or illegal immigrants and citizens understand that to live in any society local or national, you as an individual must follow the laws of the land, and understand its culture, language and history. Immigrants will always have a place in the U.S like any where in the world but people must earn their way to citizenship considering the reality that we cannot all be “citizens without borders”.

  • NLF


    You put it in a more appropriate way, but you still don’t address the attitude of the people that try to show their patriotism by not showing Empathy. They forget their illegal ways in this country, and act like, they are so ept at following the rules of Human Conduct. What would have happened if the Native Americans were a civilized race, and had an army to defend their borders. Would the Whites be permitted in?.

    Example: China, India etc.,

  • JRK

    Dear David Caulkett,

    Nice job on pulling the “you’re unpatriotic” card! I guess it won’t be long before you’ll be labeling those who want to find a sensible remedy to immigration as “defeatists”. The author is actually thinking logically about this issue; something that is hard to do if your beliefs are spoon-fed to you by those on the far right.

  • Judith

    Thanks, Paul, for this email. It has given me alot to think about. I have only begun to think about this important issue. I look forward to dialogue, even though I shall not be able to be present this Sunday. Everybody, please do share your thoughts about this issue with me when the opportunity arises.

  • FranciscoGD

    To challenge a couple of points made by author:
    - “Border states share a disproportionate burden of illegal immigration”: Border states, like any other government, economic, or social entity that engages in the hiring and exploitation of unprotected labor, disproportionally BENEFITS from illegal immigration
    - “…options that give immigrants the security and flexibility they desire”: notions of OPTIONS, SECURITY, and FLEXIBILITY are luxuries NOT necessarily desired by immigrant labor. At its core the driver for current illegal immigrant laborers is to gain access to WORK that will yield PAY which will help sustain an acceptable and dignified living standard for their family, with little desired “options” for themselves. The notion of options is a very privileged construct in the so called developed block and not necessarily a top-tier “desire” of illegal immigrants.

  • Roboboggie

    I think the point the author was making was that the us vs them mentality is maladaptive. There is no doubt that illegal immigration is wrong and we should protect our borders but Arizonia’s approach is wrong because it doesn’t consider the social aspect of immigrants. Even if they are not citizens, they are a part of our society and economy. Our economy is in a delicate state at the moment and we should be careful when responding to this issue. Also, I’d like to add that the “illegal immigrant” is an overgeneralized irrelevant common thread. Even if selected individuals are a drain on society you cannot apply that logic to the entire group. It is biogtry at best. If the problem is people who don’t pay taxes, then go after everyone who doesn’t pay taxes. Immigrants must either be transitioned out of the country or into citizenship to maintain the current balance.

  • OldBob

    Some wild-eyed radicals rage that some tyrants don’t do enough to encourage immigration.

    One group of them, attacking the guilty dictator, claimed : “He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither; and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.”
    (– from the Declaration of Independence)

    Who did those people encourging immigration think they were?

  • bw

    One way to solve the border issue is to not have borders at all. Sounds crazy I know, but bear with me. It boils down to money. To get money, you need resources. People and land are resources.

    So tear down the geopolitical borders and join all the countries from North, Central and South America, in to say Pan America, where we can maximize our strength by joining forces, so to speak. We are stronger together than apart.

    After all that’s what the ‘Euro’ is doing or would like to do to all of Euraisa. It’ll be the Dollar fighting the Euro like two superpowers fighting over the World’s resources one day.

    You know the old saying, “if you can’t beat’em join them”!

  • Tremley

    It is not racist, bigoted or xenophobic to demand that our countrys borders be secured . It is racist, bigoted and xenophobic by illegal aliens, their facilitators and advocates to demand that we allow them free reign with impunity in our country, simply because of who they are. Dont fall for their ploy, exhibit a staunch backbone and tell them we are the most diverse nation on the face of the earth we welcome more LEGAL immigrants that the rest of the entire world combined does every yr

  • Tremley

    The Following are Mexico’s Laws

    1.There will be no special bilingual programs in the schools, no special ballots for elections, and all government business will be conducted in our language.
    2.Foreigners will NOT have the right to vote, no matter how long they are here.
    3.Foreigners will NEVER be able to hold political office.
    4.Foreigners will not be a burden to the taxpayers. No welfare, no food stamps, no health care, nor any other government assistance programs.

  • NLF


    I don’t know where you get your information.

    It WAS reported on, I think on PBS, about Retired Americans, going to a certain town in Mexico, buying houses and living on wonderful Medical care for minimum cash payments, I think it was Matzatlan.

    These Americans were showing what a wonderful place it was to be. They were not talking about Voting Rights!.

    Check PBS channels for more information. This was viewed about 3 or 4 months ago.

    Most of the laws you specify are the same as in treating Non-Americans. Only in America there are too many different cultures from the beginning. Think about it!.

  • George O’Brien

    This is just another incident of some post grad liberal arts major trying to make a complicated problem out of a simple issue. Illegal aliens either blatantly go somewhere uninvited or overstay their welcome. Either way it’s trespassing just like if a random bum were to pitch a tent in your back yard all of a sudden. Common sense dictates that you kick the bum out of your yard and build a fence tall enough to keep him out of your yard in the future. With so many unfenced yards in the average neighborhood the bum will look for a new place to camp. If he comes back get a dog or put up some booby traps to snare him in the act (bear trap, spike pit, etc.).

    The border is not a state of mind, but a line on a map that exists regardless of your state of mind. In the case of America the Mexico border is in need of some ancient Chinese medicine to make up by the failures of the Mexican government to properly contain its people who should be arrested for attempting to leave the country without permission (ex: Russia arrests people caught trying to go to Norway without permission). This ancient Chinese stone treatment is a simple concept that begins with stone cutting and ends with rectangular stone blocks being stacked one on top of the other until a wall is formed tall enough that a man cannot hop over it and long enough to protect the entire border.

    George O’Brien

  • NLF

    I am only referring to part of your comment, because most comments come from people that are not informed.

    The Berlin Wall was built to keep the Germans in.
    China is the only country in the world that has got a wall. That started during the Mongols rule in that part of the country, and sorry to say, even the China Wall was infiltrated by the Mongols, it only took a little longer.

    Russia is now divided into a few other groups of people, like the Checks, Bosnia, Serbia etc., but do they have walls?.

  • NLF

    Mr. Caulkett,
    You say, “Many US citizens died to protect the homeland”,
    I ask “From Whom?”.

  • NLF


    “Many US citizens died to protect the homeland” I ask “Protect the homeland from whom”?.

  • FredS404

    I just watched the Rojas tazing. The story calls him an “immegrant worker”. He should be more accurately called an illegal alien, immegrant thief, and junkie. If he didn’t want to be tazed, he should have stayed in Mexico. Father of six kids? How much of a “worker” was he?