An Immigration Meme

Why is the right comparing our immigration laws to Mexico's?

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If you listen to a lot of talk radio (as I do), you can often hear an idea or talking point spreading out among conservatives like a meme, or a weed, or perhaps like a vast right-wing conspiracy. The theme on Friday was that anyone who criticizes Arizona’s new get-tough-on-illegal-immigration law is a hypocrite, because Mexico’s immigration laws are even tougher. Here in Seattle, I believe I heard it on Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Medved and a local guy named David Boze. (I was doing a lot of driving that day.) It might or might not be true about Mexico’s laws, but it is an absurd point in any event.

You see, boys, Mexico is the country these people are trying to get out of, whereas the United States is the country they’re trying to get into. Mainly for economic reasons, to be sure, not political ones. Nevertheless, most of them would probably have no trouble agreeing with Rush and Sean and Glenn that Mexico is a dreadful place with a corrupt government that has terrible, onerous laws on many subjects. Why is this considered to be a telling point? Mexico is the last country in the world whose immigration laws should be of any interest when we set the rules for immigration from Mexico. It would be like defending a lack of sympathy for refugees from behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War on the grounds that the countries they fled were totalitarian. To which the only sensible response would be, “You’re telling me?”

Columnist Pat Boone recently weighed in on the subject. (Yes, that Pat Boone—didn’t you wonder whatever happened to him? He became a political columnist and, as a result, sank into total obscurity.) Boone wrote, “I remember several fact-based TV movies about tourists being extricated from prisons in Mexico, once by a heroic helicopter rescue. Even our government has advised against ‘spring break’ visits to Mexico by exuberant American college students—because of real dangers caused by rampant lawlessness, corruption, drug cartels and renegade gangs, armed to the teeth and threatening even to Mexican law enforcement.” If American college students go to Mexico and engage in rampant lawlessness, perhaps Mexico’s  border policies aren’t intolerant enough. But we’re wandering a bit from our topic here (a common problem among arriviste political columnists), which is supposed to be Mexico’s government policy toward illegal aliens.

The same list of horrors in Mexican immigration policy appears in dozens of conservative columns and websites. Here is Michelle Malkin: "Illegal entry into the country is equivalent to a felony punishable by two years’ imprisonment. Document fraud is subject to fine and imprisonment; so is alien marriage fraud…. Illegal re-entry after deportation is punishable by ten years’ imprisonment," and so on. By contrast, here in the United States illegal aliens who are caught and told to leave the country can go to prison for four years if they don’t. Fleeing or evading an INS checkpoint is five years. Marriage fraud is five years. Faking documents can get you ten years. Re-entry after deportation is a relative bargain in the US: only two years. (This assumes that all you did was to sneak across the border. If drugs or international terrorism are involved, the sentences head upward.) In other words, I don’t know how these rules are enforced in both countries, but as policies on paper they seem about the same.

True, two years in a Mexican prison may feel like ten in an American one. But that is not something the Mexican government can be expected to take into account.

Judging, once again, from talk radio, there are many American citizens (or alleged American citizens—we need to see their papers to be sure) such as Rush and Sean and Glenn and Michelle Malkin--who find life in Barack Obama’s United States close to unbearable. Perhaps they are thinking of shoving their laptops into waterproof bags one night, Photoshopping some fake passports, and sneaking over the border—with or without help from a helicopter—to breath the free air of Mexico. For them, the subject of how Mexico treats illegal aliens is an important question. If you’re just a citizen who thinks the United States ought to aim for a somewhat higher standard, how they do it in Mexico is of little interest.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.