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Saturday, May 14

Mexico-US-War on Terror: Disaster planning for what we know and imagine

Liz and Pundita continue the dialogue started in The bridge ahead and the bridge here now....

"Pundita, you ask what would happen to the Mexicans who depend on work in the US, and their employers, if the unthinkable--a catastrophic terror attack against the US--happened. That's taking the view, "You can pay me now, or you can pay me later."

I agree with your view, wholeheartedly.

Plans don't have to be perfect, or even constructed for a particular disaster scenario, to apply with success--provided the plans are "worked at" and don't sit on the shelf. Basic plans for how to respond to a disaster can be quickly adapted.

For example, Merrill Lynch got their people out of the World Trade Center during the 9/11 attack and maintained operations because they had a disaster plan for a hurricane sweeping up the East Coast and pounding Manhattan.

The Wall Street Journal was able to put out a paper the day after the 9/11 attack because they had vowed to never be subject to a failure of a single location; this came about as a result of an electricity crisis in New York years before.

And the United States Secret Service had a plan for backing up data and proper archival after the Oklahoma City bombing. However, the plan was never funded by the Congress, so during the 9/11 attack their Manhattan office lost precious, probably irreplaceable, evidence for ongoing investigations.

The moral is that disaster plans must be conceived and acted upon, even if imperfectly.

If a disaster from a terrorist attack occurs, there are two possible means I can see to lock down the US-Mexico border; neither is politically acceptable now--though, depending on the nature of the disaster and how clear a trail there is pointing at Mexico, either could become so.

First, we could use military force to create a lethal barrier until a physical one can be emplaced. The military can come from activating the remaining reserves and (especially, even appropriately) federalizing the National Guard. However, this detracts from our ongoing obligations elsewhere in the world, and in the interests of the war, we must not do that. Of course, our enemies probably play a little chess too, from time to time, and may have considered that. This adds to the rationale for finding another option.

The second possibility is to adapt the recent Minutemen project in conjunction with the time-honored Western tradition of citizens at arms protecting what the local government is too thinly spread to do: the local sheriff deputizing an appropriate number of townsfolk, and so forth.

Of course, the federal government has the Constitutional responsibility for foreign policy, and border control is a matter of foreign policy. Therefore, it would seem to me that the federal government would have to charter these forces.

To minimize the inconsistency of enforcement by these new folks, organization and at least some training, establishing a set of Rules of Engagement (ROE), clear means of identification of the real border enforcers, and at least some vetting of volunteers (MS13 need not apply) must all be established. Unfortunately, they would probably need to be established on the fly.

For all those reasons, and the logical consequences of them, I agree with your arguments. Getting Washington to listen is not high in my expectations while Senators are more concerned with stopping an appointment of a second- or third-tier Executive in the EPA to force the outcome of an administrative dispute in a Senator's favor. On the other hand, Ronald Reagan demonstrated that mobilizing the people tends to mobilize the Congress, albeit with varying degrees of alacrity.

Oddly enough, another possible means of changing things in Washington would be to end the gerrymander. While this would probably take too long for our current problems, two items stand out for me:

Some states have established independent commissions to draw district boundaries, and those states do have some moderate turnover in the Congress (more in the House, of course).

And the House, as a whole, has a lower turnover than the British House of Lords. If the legislative branch had its tenure threatened, it might be a tad more responsive to the vox populi.

The second observation represents a longer-term solution, but the American public can move surprisingly quickly when something gets our attention, so I don't rule this out as a possibility, no doubt to be taken in conjunction with other tactics.

Regarding your suggestion that the US exert greater pressure on Mexico to make needed reforms--of course, there will be those who would resent our role in accelerating the reforms, but they are not likely to be our citizens. The resenters would probably be those losing privilege/having to pay taxes for a change, i.e, the wealthy and well-connected of the Mexican establishment. So their resentment should not be a governing factor in US policy toward Mexico.

I think the reforms, and the changes they bring to Mexico, will come sooner or later, because the Mexicans will not stand by forever when they can see other possibilities. If we are proactive in adapting to the changes, we protect ourselves and we may earn goodwill from Mexicans who realize that we nudged the reform process along.
[Signed] Liz in USA

PS: You might be interested in the post-9/11 book, Planning for Survivable Networks. It needs updating, and it deals specifically with keeping cyber networks safe from security disasters and planning for a dependable recovery strategy. However, its premise, which is planning for the unthinkable by planning for what we know and can imagine, is applicable to the points you raised and which I've addressed in this letter."

Dear Liz:
Thank you for an instructive and comprehensive reply. There is a third possibility other than the two you discussed or as adjunct. The San Diego-Union Tribune reports that a little known 1996 law authorizes state and local governments to enforce immigration status. (Hat tip: Bruce Kesler) A California assemblyman, Ray Haynes, has introduced a constitutional amendment in the Legislature that makes use of the law. He's drafted a companion measure, which he intends to offer as a ballot initiative. Both proposals seek the same end: creation of a California Border Police agency to enforce immigration law at the border and in the state's interior:
The goal is to block illegal immigration at its source and crack down on employers who hire undocumented migrants.

"The total mission is the comprehensive, statewide uniform application of federal immigration laws," Haynes says. "That's the only job they have. I want to keep it real simple, real focused, real straightforward."

Haynes concedes that it is not entirely clear how much the state can do without the federal government's permission. The law he cites permits state and federal partnerships under federal control. A pilot project under way in Florida operates under strict rules of engagement.

"Basically, you enter into an agreement with immigration and customs about where you can enforce and what you can enforce," he said. "A lot of that is subject to negotiation."

Haynes...envisions a new agency modeled after the Highway Patrol, with mobile agents patrolling near the border, conducting sweeps of employment centers and investigating employers suspected of hiring undocumented workers. Illegal immigrants picked up by state agents would be held until the federal government took them into custody for deportation.

Haynes holds out little hope that his proposal will be approved in the Legislature, where it would take a two-thirds vote in each house to place it on the ballot. But he has enlisted the help of Rescue California, the political committee behind the 2003 recall of former Gov. Gray Davis, to help him gather signatures....
What's particularly interesting about the proposal is that Haynes has attached it to reality. He points out the obvious, which is that the Mexicans who are being fed into the illegal system of work are horribly exploited while the US and Mexican governments look the other way.
"They are exploited by the traffickers who bring them across the border...They work in substandard conditions for substandard pay. They can't report crimes. They live in constant fear. How can you say that's good for them? Through all of this, the government just averts its eyes and says we don't see this happening."
But if you want to be shocked, read the Union-Tribune's editorial in protest of the Haynes proposal. After a critique that wrongly compares the proposal to Proposition 187, the editorialist writes:
...Until U.S. employers stop hiring illegal immigrants and until all Americans begin to treat those who knowingly hire illegal immigrants with the same contempt that they do other lawbreakers, the United States is going to have a problem with illegal immigrants trampling our borders. And it's going to continue happening at a rate that neither the federal government nor state governments can keep up with. When it comes to illegal immigration, Americans have met the enemy‚Äďand, guess what: We're it.
Has this writer never heard of the war on terror? Living on the edge of an active volcano with the ground shaking, the writer's solution to the crowds at the border waits for Americans enmasse to realize we're the enemy.

Earth calling the Union-Tribune: It doesn't even take a terrorist attack on the US to set in motion a disaster for Americans who depend on daily labor by legal and illegal Mexican commuters, and for those Mexicans who depend on the paychecks.

All it takes is a US Code Red security alert extended over many weeks or months and directed at the southern border. There would be no warning of the alert. No time to plan, no time for two-paycheck families that depend on cheap daycare from Mexican workers to find an alternative solution. No time for small businesses to line up other employees.

Yet we're entering a phase with regard to the war and in particular two enemies--Iran and North Korea--where a Code Red could be issued at any moment. In that event the commuter traffic at the southern border could be slowed to a snail's pace for a long time. Here, "snail's pace" would not be a predictable crawl, where you could factor in an approximate delay time. The delay in getting through the checkpoints for all but the most critical traffic would be highly unpredictable--and deliberately so.

I went through something like that right after 9/11. Not that I'm complaining because I understood the reason for the action but it was a commuter's worst nightmare; I had to abandon that vehicular route, as did many others. At least I could find an alternate route. What I went through would be small chips next to the same scenario applied to the US southern border region.

So everything you've noted has great resonance with me. I just don't understand why many who would be most negatively affected by a border lockdown or slowdown have their heads in 1989, when they study the daily crowds at the border.

If only there was some way to get across to the Mexican government, and the American oil company executives who don't want to rile the Mexican government, that Ayman al-Zawahiri is not Pancho Villa.

For links to other Pundita essays on Mexico, US-Mexico relations, immigration from Mexico and the Mexico-US border situation/war on terror, see Mexico Desk.
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