OP-ED: The southern border isn't necessarily a fine line


No one, I suspect, not even Donald Trump, believes that America will actually try to identify, corral and deport the 11.3 million illegal immigrants that live among us.

Trump's unsupported assertion that he can deport them in a "humane fashion" should be filed along with the claim that he can build a wall along the southern border and make Mexico pay for it.

Even staunch conservatives have objected to Trump's proposal for mass deportation. Columnist Charles Krauthammer was succinct: "This is crackpot."

Columnist George Will objects, as well, pointing out that 88 percent of the 11.3 million illegals — down from 12.2 million in 2007, he says — have been in the U.S. for more than 5 years. Of the 62 percent who have been here more than 10 years, 45 percent own their own homes.

And about half of the illegal residents have children who were born here, that is, who are American citizens. In other words, many of these illegals didn't swim across the river last night; they've been here long enough to put down roots.

After the testimony of Will, Krauthammer and your own common sense, you probably don't need me to conjure a portrait of how un-American a forced mass deportation would be. In fact, Will facetiously ponders the prospect of requiring deportees to sew a yellow patch on their clothing. "There is precedent," he says.

Over the top, perhaps. Still, a lot of Trump's assertions about Hispanics are based in ... well, let's not call it racism so much as prejudice, fear and condescension toward people who aren't as white as "white people."

This is another way of saying that Trump may know a few Hispanics, but he doesn't understand them very well. Maybe a reconsideration of how we view our border with Mexico would help.

Borders are places where cultures rub up against each other. Usually we mark them with rivers or mountain ranges or lines in the sand and sometimes even walls.

But borders can be dynamic, as well. Before 1848 — let's face it: the Mexican War was an audacious American land grab — the place where I now live in south Texas was part of Mexico. After the war, the border was moved considerably further south to the Rio Grande, a river that doesn't pose much of a barrier to anyone who wishes to cross it.

But why get wet? For long stretches of time our border with Mexico was a comparatively porous boundary that nurtured a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship.

Anglos went south for bargains, dental work, drugs, vacations, cuisine and margaritas; in fact, they still do. Cheap labor flowed to the north and money flowed back again to the south. Some of this movement was technically illegal, but since mutual needs were being satisfied, for long periods illegal activities not only were tolerated, they were encouraged. And plenty of people still benefit, not only in south Texas, but wherever cheap labor is valued.

Down here in Texas, the border seems less distinct than Trump imagines, not a place where you could easily build a wall. In fact, often it seems more like an exotic blur than a distinct boundary. Many people have connections and roots on both sides of the river. Parts of Texas look like Mexico and vice versa.

And 11.3 million "illegals" seem less like rapists and drug dealers than honest, hardworking people who want to make a better life for their families.

Certainly, they're still illegal, but context provides a little nuance to how we view them. Many were encouraged to come here to fill a need and in the process they became an important part of our economy. Some of their children are in my classes, preparing themselves to contribute even more.

In short, there's a lot of interesting melting still taking place in the exotic pot on both sides of the border, and it's not a bad thing. In fact, it's hard to think of many things that are more American.

— John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas. Readers may send him email at