Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses…

statue of liberty“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” is part of a poem by Emma Lazarus that is immortalized at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. My grandparents and hundreds of thousands of other immigrants fleeing from the oppressions and trials of their home countries in Europe and elsewhere first saw the Statue of Liberty as they looked for refuge and a new life in the US. In a conversation on immigration I recently asked a young college student if she were familiar with this quotation at the base of the Statue of Liberty. She looked at me blankly unaware or forgetful of what is such a large part of all of our families’ histories. That in fact we are all from a stock of immigrants (native Americans and African Americans excepted). That our strength and vitality as a nation has come from immigrants fleeing oppression going back to the Pilgrims to more recently, Vietnamese and Southeast Asians making their way to our shores. My young friend’s lack of understanding of this basic underpinning of our national heritage unfortunately is not unusual. Witness the recent uproar by public and private citizens with the arrival of more than 62,000 Central American children since October of last year, “illegally” crossing our border with Mexico and seeking asylum status. We fail to understand our history and further lack understanding of the meaning of the word “refugee” and the national and international laws which pertain to refugees here or elsewhere in the world. Continue reading


Illegal Immigration–A Global Problem

Surge of undocumented children immigrants overwhelms border facilities

Surge of undocumented children immigrants overwhelms border facilities in Texas

Recent headlines in the U.S. have focused on a major influx of undocumented immigrants crossing our southern border with Mexico, many of them children either traveling alone or with single mothers seeking refuge. According to Homeland Security some 52,000 children have arrived on the U.S.-Mexico border since October of last year, most coming from Central American countries including Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, looking to escape the upsurge in violence and destitution threatening those countries. Some, apparently, are trying to take advantage of special treatment afforded children and families that cross the border illegally which they believe, mistakenly or otherwise, will allow them to stay. The paid “coyotes” smuggling them encourage this misinformation in promoting their services throughout the perilous journey from their home countries to the border. This is only the latest in the influx of undocumented (illegal) immigrants from the south that have looked to the U.S. for shelter from economic and/or violent social oppression in their homelands. While the details may vary, the problem of illegal immigration is not limited solely to the U.S., but is in fact a global problem that requires a far more comprehensive approach than we or any other nation is taking. Continue reading


Is Hell Freezing Over?

cannabis_2423701bIn 2012 Border Crossings ran a series of posts (“The War on Drugs”) reviewing the history of our drug laws, the long term consequences of those laws, and recommendations to decriminalize and legalize recreational use of marijuana and other drugs.  In November of that year, Colorado and Washington state voters approved referendums legalizing the recreational use of marijuana; and this January, the two states began to implement regulation and taxation of marijuana sales despite grumblings from the Justice Department and DEA.  Sale of pot in Colorado netted tax revenue of $2 million in just this first month.  While only a drop in the bucket of the state’s $20 billion plus annual budget, other states have taken notice and additional referendums to legalize marijuana are being advanced for consideration of the voters during the next election cycle.  Recent polls show that a majority of Americans (51% plus) now believe that marijuana should be legalized.  Even the President has weighed in, recently downplaying the hazard posed by marijuana, declaring the drug no more dangerous than alcohol, pointing to the graver risk presented by other recreational drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine.  Have we turned a corner on the War on Drugs? Continue reading


The War on Drugs–Going Forward

This is the last of a multi-part series on illegal drugs and their impact on our society with a special emphasis on the US-Mexico border region, exploring how we got here, what are the economic and social impacts of our policies, and exploring alternatives to our current policies going forward.

Illustration by Victor Juhasz, Rolling Stones Magazine, Dec 2012

Illustration by Victor Juhasz, Rolling Stones Magazine, Dec 2012

This past November much of our attention was riveted on the election of a new President along with the other political contests up for grabs for our national, state, and local representatives.  Almost as a side event was the decision by the electorates of the states of Washington and Colorado to legalize and regulate the use of small amounts of marijuana for personal recreation.  For the first time since the early part of the last century state law made it legal for individuals to use marijuana subject only to the same kind of restrictions and regulations that have been applied to alcohol or tobacco, including taxation, abuse (DUI) and age restrictions for use.  The US Department of Justice officials were quick to point out that federal law still classified marijuana as an illicit narcotic, use or possession of which was subject to federal criminal prosecution.  Is this the tipping point, allowing the personal use/possession of marijuana, or simply an aberration in the decades-long war on drugs where the feds will simply step in and squash any attempts to legalize these drugs?  So far the feds have not really taken any action one way or another but there has been no visible change in the enforcement program, including the prosecution of medical marijuana patients. Continue reading


War on Drugs–At Whatever Cost?

This is the second of a multi-part series on illegal drugs and their impact on our society with a special emphasis on the US-Mexico border region, exploring how we got here, what are the economic and social impacts of our policies, and exploring alternatives to our current policies going forward.

The first article of this series explored the history of the War on Drugs going back more than a century where we described how our government officials (local, state and federal) changed our policies and subsequent regulations and laws to view drugs and drug abuse.  This was not done through the lens of a social problem with social solutions but rather as a criminal problem to be resolved primarily through a criminal justice approach.  These changes often occurred with obvious racial and/or economic bias supported in whole or in part by misinformation and sensationalism promoted by self-serving media (the Hearst Publications) and newly created state/federal agencies, e.g. the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.  This latter agency went after marijuana (a non-narcotic drug) with propaganda efforts such as the movie “Reefer Madness”–the butt of many jokes among teens and young adults in later years.  While initially a focus of limited federal and state funding, renewed interest in drugs and drug abuse in the early 70’s with President Nixon’s declared “War on Drugs” has led to an estimated $1 trillion cost to the taxpayers in pursuing this strategy over the past 40 years (!).  We will discuss some of these costs from a purely economic point of view and later look at them from a social cost perspective which has a more significant impact on our society and culture, although it is less easily and objectively analyzed. Continue reading


War on Drugs–A Hundred Years War

This is the first of a three part series on illegal drugs and their impact on our society with a special emphasize on the US-Mexico border region, exploring how we got here, what are the economic and social impacts of our policies, and exploring alternatives to our current policies going forward.

“The farther you can look backward, the farther you can see forward”…Winston Churchill

Seized marijuana bales in Mexico

It’s said that the best definition of insanity is to repeat something over and over and expect a different result.  The war on drugs and our policies and laws regarding illegal drugs is a good example of this adage.  Since the passage of the Uniform Narcotic Drug Act in 1932 more than eight decades ago, through the administrations of thirteen different Presidents, and the enactment of hundreds of new drug laws and regulations,  we appear no closer to resolving the long standing problems of drug abuse, addiction, related illegal criminal activities and staggering economic costs to our society.  Such criminal activities, often violent and leading to thousands of deaths annually not only here but abroad, have only continued to rise. The drug organizations/cartels behind them have grown stronger and more vicious even to the point today of threatening nation states (Columbia and Mexico) and, potentially, the national security of the United States itself.  Drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines are readily available and prevalent in our high schools and even elementary and junior high schools. This has occurred despite spending hundreds of billions of dollars annually, passage of ever more onerous drug laws (e.g., “Three Strikes and You’re Out”), and adding thousands to an ever growing army of law enforcement, border security and drug agents.  In order to understand a path forward to resolving this national and international scourge on our society, we need to look at how we got to where we are and what we might do differently than simply repeating the same thing over and over. Continue reading


War on Drugs–A Threat to National Security?

Mexico's President Calderon speaking last month in DC


News from last month’s Cartagena leadership summit attended by President Obama and other hemispheric leaders was almost completely overshadowed by the ensuing Secret Service prostitute scandal.  Unfortunately, almost no news emerged about the substantive content of the talks.  This included a major focus on the “war on drugs” and the need seen by many to reevaluate our strategies for dealing with the drug cartels and subsequent violence associated with them.  In those discussions numerous Latin American leaders spoke frankly that the US- orchestrated war is failing and sweeping changes need to be considered. Continue reading