Some Thoughts on Immigration

Israel Border Police Flag
Image: Israel Border Police Flag from Wikimedia Commons

The subject of immigration has been in the news a lot lately, as US President Donald Trump appears to be moving forward with his plan to build a physical wall along the southern border with the US in order to stem the enormous numbers of people trying to enter the US illegally from Mexico. This subject has affected us here in Israel because we built physical barriers along our southern border with the Egyptian Sinai a few years ago in a successful attempt to address the same issue, and supporters of President Trump’s plans often point to this as an example to emulate. One will also hear, quite frequently, reference to the physical barriers Israel has built to try and control movement in and out of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and the West Bank. These barriers, which were built to address the problem of terrorist attacks against Israelis, are also pointed to as an example of why the US should do the same thing because the US also faces a threat of terrorist attacks by individuals entering that country over the porous southern border, as well as illegal activities including drug smuggling and human trafficking. Once again, these were some of the problems Israel built walls to address, and once again, the success Israel had in these areas is pointed to as an example for the US to emulate.

I actually don’t think it’s good for Israel to be caught up in this discussion, but since it is, I would like to offer some thoughts about it that I hope will be helpful to that discussion. The two situations are comparable, but they’re not exactly alike.

The wall Israel built on its own southern border with Egypt was successful in stemming the numbers of immigrants coming into this country from all over Africa for a couple of different reasons that aren’t necessarily relevant to the situation on the southern US border.

For starters, obviously, the length of Israel’s southern border is significantly shorter. Also, on the Egyptian side of the border there was an army and police force which was in much better shape that its Mexican counterparts and which also shared the goal (more or less) of keeping the border secure. Also, before immigrants from Africa heading towards Israel even got to the Israeli border, they had to get to and cross the Suez Canal into the Sinai Peninsula and then get across that Peninsula. These physical barriers (the Sinai is four times the size of Israel and almost entirely composed of deserts and mountains with very few roads or towns, and thus relatively easy to patrol) stopped a very large percentage of immigrants before they ever got anywhere close to the border with Israel. It’s impossible to know for certain how many died on the way, but it’s safe to guess that many did.

Another difference is that many of the people who tried to get into Israel have other options, to go to Europe or even Turkey or Saudi Arabia. So when it became difficult for them to go to Israel, they had alternatives.

So if, for example, a thousand people from sub-Saharan Africa started moving towards Israel, it is likely that less than 50 of them would ever arrive at this country’s southern border, and that number of people can be managed with a wall and heavy patrols. However, if 1,000 people set out towards the US from almost anywhere in Central or South America, it is likely that as many as 920 of them will reach the border, and that number will be much more difficult to manage. This is not even to mention that America’s border is MUCH longer and more difficult to keep watch over.

To explain further, I’d like to draw a metaphor regarding America’s border woes.

It’s like a man in his late 50s who is in an ambulance on the way to the hospital because he’s had a heart attack. As the paramedics are attempting to revive and then stabilize him, they will use a machine called a defibrillator, which shoots electricity directly into the heart of a patient in the hopes of “jump starting” the electrical current which the human heart uses to pump blood throughout the body. This machine has saved countless lives, but it doesn’t always work. Even when it does, the heart might start pumping again, but the shock to the system of the patient is not a pleasant thing (it’s just better than being dead) and when the patient gets to the hospital, he will have to spend a few days recovering (perhaps longer, if his condition is bad enough to require surgery) and then, shortly before he’s released, he will have a talk with his doctor which will not be any fun whatsoever.

His doctor will tell him that he must take several steps in order to avoid a second heart attack, which he might not survive as he survived this first one. He must quit smoking, stop eating many foods that he really likes, lower his stress level (which likely means leaving a job which is very lucrative or perhaps taking early retirement) and many other things that he probably doesn’t want to do, but which he has no choice but to do if he wants to avoid a second heart attack and probably an early death.

Like the defibrillator, a border wall is probably necessary to save the USA from being totally overwhelmed in this situation, but it’s just a temporary measure to stabilize the immediate emergency. It is NOT a long term solution. This is the main difference between the respective American and Israeli border wall projects.

In order to stem the massive numbers of people trying to enter the southern border of the US, it will be necessary to make many painful adjustments to the way Americans have been living for most of the past 200 years. The vast majority of Americans have no idea about the degree to which their abundant way of life is made possible by the way their own government and large corporations exploit the weak and corrupt governments and dysfunctional societies in much of the rest of the world, particularly the countries of Central and South America, to extract resources from those countries without ever putting much back in. Because of this pattern of behaviour, there are literally billions of people around the world who live very poorly, without much hope that they or their children will ever have anything better.

For most of the past several decades, Americans (and Israelis and Europeans and Australians) could ignore all this because these people lived far away, they weren’t so terribly numerous and they were, for the most part, unaware of the fact that there was other places in the world where life was better and even if they knew this, they lacked the power to leave where they were and go to places like the US, Canada and Western Europe where there was a possibility for a better life.

In the last 20 years, all of that has changed.

The population of these countries has exploded while their economies, and with them their social structures, resource bases and many other things which made life there difficult but tolerable, have imploded. So there’s far too many people living in many of these countries to be supported by them, even if their economies were quite healthy, which they’re not.

At the same time, the internet and smartphones have provided these people with knowledge of places where life is much better, and that makes them want to go to those places. Now, many of them still don’t have the resources to move, but many do, and they’re willing to risk everything to try because what they might gain far outweighs the very little they have to lose.

So all of that is combining to push millions and millions of people towards the southern US border, and they’re not going to stop coming no matter how big, strong and heavily guarded President Trump’s border wall is, until something is done to address the unbearable conditions that exist in the countries they’re coming from. Israel, by comparison, can do very little, one way or the other, to affect the conditions in African countries which are still sending a trickle of refugees our way.

So I hope this blog has illustrated that while the US (and perhaps some other countries) can learn some things from Israel about how to guard a border and otherwise manage issues regarding immigration, each country has unique issues and challenges.

In conclusion, the debate over immigration has caused large and painful rifts within the Body of Christ in many countries around the world, including here in Israel. I don’t know what the solution to this problem is, but it is definitely one of many aspects of the immigration issue which definitely can’t be ignored any longer. This is something that is going to be affecting my life and yours, as well as the lives of our children, for a very long time. It took literally hundreds of years and millions of bad decisions by governments, corporations, consumers, producers and individuals, to bring us to this point. Things are not going to get turned around quickly or easily.

Like the man who has survived his first heart attack, we must all face up to the fact that we have no choice but to make painful but absolutely necessary changes to our every day routines if we have any hope of avoiding getting into an infinitely worse situation. We cannot rely on anyone else, certainly not our governments, the army, border police, etc. My parting advice to everyone, including myself, is to pray about what we can do and then start doing it, because doing nothing is absolutely not an option.