Immigration Hypocrisy on the Border

Amidst all the talk about “securing” the border among right-wing candidates for Congress, there is one hypocritical part of America’s system of immigration controls that goes unmentioned: the failure to enforce such laws against middle-class families in towns and cities along the border who hire, harbor, and transport maids, nannies, and gardeners.

I speak from personal experience. I grew up in a border town — Laredo, Texas and lived there for 33 years. I don’t know whether the situation with respect to maids, nannies, and gardeners is the same as it was when I was living along the border, but I suspect it is. 

The Border Patrol was an integral part of life in Laredo. Border Patrol agents wore uniforms and you saw them in their ugly pea-green vehicles everywhere — in town having coffee at Denny’s, stopping cars on roads and highways outside of town, manning fixed checkpoints on the highway, and conducting warrantless trespasses and searches of nearby farms and ranches. We were living under an immigration police state.

Their job? To find immigrants who had illegally entered the area by crossing the Rio Grande, arrest them, and then deport them … except for one thing: Almost always they would leave illegal immigrants who were working as local maids, nannies, and gardeners alone. 

The decision not to enforce America’s immigration laws against local maids, nannies, and gardeners was entirely a practical and political one. The Border Patrol establishment wanted to maintain good relations with the local populace. So, they just decided to look the other way when it came to the illegal immigrants who were employed and harbored in the homes of local residents and who were being transported by local families to and from their homes.

Most middle-class families in Laredo employed illegal immigrants as maids, nannies, and gardeners. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement. Families would pay a relatively small amount of money to hire illegal immigrants. In return, housewives were freed up to do other things. But it was a huge amount of money for the immigrants, compared to what they stood to make in Mexico. In other words, it was like any economic exchange — both sides benefited because otherwise they wouldn’t have entered into the exchange.

Everyone in Laredo, including the Border Patrol establishment, knew what was going on. And everyone also knew that the Border Patrol was looking the other way, so that the local populace would stay on good terms with the Border Patrol.

There was a big problem with this arrangement, however. Because the workers were illegal, they were subject to tremendous abuse at the hands of some nasty housewives. That’s what illegality does — it enables the worker to be abused and exploited by cruel employers. 

Of course, one might say, “Well, Jacob, if the employee didn’t like his or her conditions of employment, he or she could just go to another household to work.”

Not so fast! Sure, that’s what happens in a legal market. But this wasn’t a legal market, owing to America’s system of immigration controls. Take a wild guess at what would happen if, say, a maid quit working for an abusive housewife and went to work for another housewife down the street.

You guessed it! The abusive housewife would retaliate by telephoning the Border Patrol, reporting the maid for being here illegally, and giving the address of the other housewife. In that case, the Border Patrol would dutifully show up at the new address, knock on the door, demand that the illegal maid come out, arrest her, and deport her. 

Now, deportation doesn’t sound like a horrible thing, right? The maid could just come back to Laredo and start working again, right? Well, actually not. The Border Patrol would keep a record of the arrest and deportation. If illegal immigrants were caught a second time, they would charge them with a felony and send them to a federal penitentiary for a few years. That dissuaded lots of maids, nannies, and gardeners from returning and consigned them to living lives of deep poverty on the Mexican side of the river.

The Constitution and the principle of “the rule of law” dictate that if there is going to be a law, then it has to be enforced against everyone in an equal manner. Otherwise, if law-enforcement officials wield the authority to exempt certain classes of people from the law, the system becomes arbitrary and tyrannical. In fact, that’s what the term “the rule of law” means — not that people are supposed to obey the law, as public officials often falsely claim, but rather that government officials are required to enforce their laws, including the unjust ones, equally across the board. 

The Border Patrol’s political decision to exempt middle-class families from enforcement of immigration controls was a hypocritical, unjust, and unconstitutional aspect of their tyrannical immigration police-state system. Like I say, I don’t know if the situation along the border is still the same, but I suspect that families are still hiring illegal maids, nannies, and gardeners, harboring them, and transporting them to and from the families’ homes. And I suspect that the Border Patrol is still looking the other way, so as to maintain good relations with the local populace. But rather than having the Border Patrol enforce its brutal law equally across the board against those families, everyone would be better off with the total dismantling of a brutal system that has brought nothing but death, suffering, violence, corruption, humiliation, and hypocrisy for decades. 

This first appeared on Hornberger’s Expand Freedom blog.

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.