How to Turn a Cold War Hot

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Source: The American Mind, By Adam Ellwanger, October 2023

The federal government is playing with fire at the border.

Over a million people from all over the world will cross our border this year—the same as every other year since Biden came into office. Since then, the number of new illegal immigrants would amount to a city roughly the size of Houston, TX—the fourth biggest city in America (where I happen to live). In the last month alone, the tally of immigrants who entered the nation illegally (the ones we are aware of, anyway) was equivalent to the population of Charleston, SC.

To say that this problem compounds over time is an understatement. Many Americans feel as though they are losing their country. But even that’s inaccurate—it’s being given away by the people elected to run the nation. Citizens have tried to register these frustrations at the ballot box. But in the face of this disapproval, the federal government hasn’t simply allowed the influx to continue—they have actively worked to hamstring any effort by border states to stop the invasion. In late September, Texas Governor Greg Abbott took to social media to post footage of federal agents cutting and removing razor wire that state officials had placed at the Rio Grande to deter illegal crossings.

This hostility to the will of the electorate is not only wrong: it’s dangerous. At a time when so many Americans doubt the legitimacy and effectiveness of our leaders, Washington, D.C. is making a profound mistake in flaunting its disrespect for federal law and the right of sovereign states to enforce their own legislation.

Many have recently discussed the possibility that a civil war is brewing. In my writing, I have deliberately resisted speculation about this topic. Even talking about it could make that outcome more likely. Given the awful bloodletting of our last Civil War, we must do everything possible to avoid that outcome. But when it comes to the matter of immigration, the federal government’s abuse of state sovereignty is so brazen and consistent that it amounts to a provocation that could eventually lead us to a point of real conflict.

The Federal Conquest of Texas

There is no greater example of how (informal) federal immigration policy abuses the public trust than what is occurring in Texas. The long, remote, and treacherous border that Texas shares with Mexico has made it a common point of unauthorized entry. I will not attempt to catalogue the problems that mass illegal immigration has created for the state and its people. Suffice it to say that as the number of illegal entries has risen, those problems have grown more acute.

In 2016, Trump won Texas by nine points, and since immigration was such a prominent concern of his campaign, he had a special mandate to act. Some have faulted Trump for not doing more to address the issue during his time in office. Those criticisms are not misplaced. Still, it can’t be ignored that every measure that his administration did try to enact was litigated, pilloried, and administratively resisted in every conceivable way. As a result, minimal progress was made over the full term even of a president who was friendly to reform.

When Biden entered office, one of his first actions was to eliminate funding for the border wall that Trump had tried to build. Stopping construction in Texas was a top priority. Gov. Abbott decided Texas would continue the wall construction on its own. After Biden nixed the border wall, parts that had already been purchased (but not installed) were declared surplus and mothballed in San Diego. Eventually, those pieces were given to Texas. But now, with the wall far from complete, the federal government is selling the remaining surplus material to the highest bidder. In effect, if Texans want a wall, they’ll have to pay for it twice.

Many states far from the Mexican border don’t understand how dire the immigration problem is. In fact, they’ve insisted there isn’t a problem. In an effort to educate blue state leaders, Governors Abbott (TX) and DeSantis (FL) began shipping relatively small quantities of border-crossers to the large cities that had declared themselves “sanctuaries” from federal law enforcement (and thus, asylums for illegals). When officials in those states begged for assistance, the magnitude of the problem was undeniable. If a state like New York can’t deal with a few thousand illegal immigrants, what kind of dysfunction might the entry of millions be causing in Texas? But the White House looked the other way.

DeSantis and Abbott’s plan to send the new arrivals northward wasn’t new. It is well-known that the Biden Administration has been loading illegal immigrants onto midnight flights from the border states and spreading them out around the nation. Conveniently, the destinations often seem to be purple states that could stand to be a bit bluer, or areas deemed to have an insufficient amount of “diversity.” In effect, the federal government can, under cover of darkness, distribute illegal immigrants to whichever state and locality it sees fit. But now, recent reports suggest the Biden Administration will attempt to force Texas to keep its illegal immigrants in Texas. After rejecting the “Remain in Mexico” policy, Biden is keen to formalize a “Remain in Texas” one.

If Texas doesn’t want more illegals, and the feds won’t allow the state to send them into the interior of the nation, the only option left is for Texas to keep them out of Texas. So, state leadership tried to address the border’s permeability at high-volume crossing points where the wall remains incomplete. Abbott approved the installation of floating barriers in the Rio Grande—barriers that Democrats deliberately mischaracterized as having “chainsaw-type devices” attached. A federal judge promptly ordered the removal of the barriers. In early September, another court decided that Texas can keep the barriers, but there is no reason to believe that this will be the last word on the matter. Again, this was driven home when federal agents disabled and removed razor wire that the state placed along the American side of the river after the barriers were legally vindicated.

A summary of this whole saga is in order. The federal government’s immigration policy, as it relates to Texas, amounts to the following premises:

  • The federal government will not secure America’s border with Mexico.
  • The State of Texas may not secure its border with Mexico.
  • The federal government will not deport illegal immigrants.
  • Texas may not deport illegal immigrants.
  • The federal government can distribute the new arrivals to whichever states it wants, whenever it wants, as it sees fit.
  • Texans must keep people who illegally cross the border in Texas.

In short, the federal government has aggressively undermined any attempt by states to implement the will of electoral majorities and secure its borders. This aggression amounts to a wholesale rejection of state sovereignty, and a complete subordination of state governments to the whims of federal bureaucrats.

Given these realities, what options are left for a state like Texas?

Echoes of 1860 as the Conflict Intensifies

Speaking at the (then) Cooper Institute in 1860—only a little more than a year before the Civil War would break out—Abraham Lincoln characterized how the states that opposed slavery had essentially exhausted every way to peacefully maintain the union. Referring to the Southern opponents of the abolitionist movement, he asked:

[W]hat will satisfy them[?] Will they be satisfied if the Territories [that are about to become states] be unconditionally surrendered to them? We know they will not…. Will it satisfy them if, in the future, we have nothing to do with invasions and insurrections? We know it will not…. What will satisfy them? Simply this: We must not only let them alone, but we must, somehow, convince them that we do let them alone. This, we know by experience, is no easy task…. [Our attempts to do so] all failing, what will convince them? This, and this only: cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right. And this must be done thoroughly—done in acts as well as in words.

I shudder to think that 2023 is our 1860. Mass illegal immigration—against the law and the popular will in the red states, but ignored and abetted by the federal government and the blue states—is a big enough issue that it could galvanize opposition in the same way that slavery once did. It is an enormous burden foisted upon border states by other states that don’t have to deal with it—a problem which, left unaddressed, will change the very nature of the states affected.

Indeed, what will satisfy the federal enablers of mass illegal immigration and the humanitarian catastrophe that comes with it? That Texas hold them to their constitutionally mandated duty and secure our borders? No. What, then, will make them happy? That the states secure their own borders at their own expense? It’s clear they won’t allow that. So, what will satisfy them? That the states deport the illegal immigrants? We know they won’t tolerate it. Perhaps it will satisfy them if the border states send the illegal immigrants to the states that profess their enthusiasm for open borders? Nope. Texas must keep them in Texas.

The extremity of this dire situation is now laid bare. No sensible Texan wants the conflict to escalate. Yet it seems the only option available to Texas outside of deliberate rebellion is to accept that mass illegal immigration is not only tolerable, but good. Not just good for the nation, but good for Texas. The only option they offer requires that we abandon every effort to control the flow. They demand that we enthusiastically accept those who cross illegally as Texans and de facto citizens. The federal government insists we ensure not only that illegal immigrants can cross the border at will, but that Texas will make every effort to make them want to stay here. In short, they demand that Texas and its citizens surrender any right to self-governance.

Of course, Texans will not, should not, and cannot do that. So, what’s next?