In a remote mountain cave in the tribal regions of Evilghanistan, the enemies of America met to talk shop. As you can probably guess, I write of a universe similar to our own, but not precisely so.
“It’s too hard to get into America!” said Raul the Mexican Assassin. “I would gladly spill blood all over the southwest, if only I could live there.”
“I have the same problem,” said Mohamed the Islamic Terrorist. “I’d have blown myself up in a shopping mall years ago, if only I could get in.”
“What on earth are you talking about?” asked Sofia the Not Quite Retired Russian Spy. “Haven’t you heard that America has an open borders policy?”
“Yes,” sighed the two men.
“Everyone gets let in immediately,” said Sofia. “All you have to do is hold a job, pay taxes, and fill out a very simple form to register with the govern… oh… I see the problem.”
“There’s no way I could register with the government! I’m on the terrorist watch list,” Mohamed said with evident pride.
“And I’ve got a long, long criminal record in Mexico,” said Raul.
“Well,” said Sofia, “Why not cross the border, but not register?”
Raul looked at her pityingly. “Can you imagine the grief you’d get if you were the only illegal immigrant? It’s easy to live in America legally, so everyone assumes the illegals are hiding something terrible. Usually they’re right.”
“Just stay in hiding,” said Sofia. “Simple as that.”
“I can’t,” said Raul. “Because it’s so easy to get papers, it’s also no big deal when people ask for them. They ask all the time, and it’s a giant red flag if you don’t have them. If all you want to do is work and have a family and boring stuff like that, you register, you pay taxes, you obey the law, and you stay. But if you want a life of crime like I do… that’s a lot harder.”
“Well then I have a plan,” said Sofia. “And frankly, I’m amazed you hadn’t thought of it already.”
“What’s that?” said Mohamed.
“Make it illegal to cross the border,” said Sofia. “Make it hard, not easy, to live legally in America.”
“What good would that do?” asked Mohamed.
“It would give you cover,” said Sofia. “Every good criminal needs cover.”
“It works like this. The United States is a rich country, so employment opportunities there are especially lucrative, all up and down the pay scale. For a typical Mexican, crossing into the United States is the equivalent of getting a giant pay raise. The same is usually true in the Arab world. My economist friend estimates perhaps ten or twelve million people will be willing to take that pay raise, even if it is illegal.”
“So we encourage criminality,” said Mohamed. “By making crime pay.”
“Oh, I’m just getting warmed up,” said Sofia. “Here’s where the plan gets really devious. We’ll make legal residence technically possible, but practically impossible – say, by making a law-abiding Mexican wait 131 years for a green card. That way, ignorant people can say things like ‘They need to follow the law,’ without ever realizing what that simplistic, oh-so-satisfying phrase implies.
“We’ll also make illegal residence the lightest possible offense — a mere civil infraction. Honestly, we pretty much have to. The United States already has the highest incarceration rate in the world. We can’t create millions of new felons; there simply isn’t room.
“And all of this suits our plan perfectly — we want millions of more or less trivial lawbreakers whom they can’t afford to chase. Lawbreakers who stay on the streets. And there’s your cover.”
“Meanwhile, we disappear,” said Mohamed. “No one will ask for papers, because it’s so damned disagreeable. Few want to pester all those basically decent people who are just trying to earn a living.”
“Identity fraud will proliferate,” said Sofia, “not just by terrorists and street gangs, but also by people who want to work for otherwise honest wages.”
“So they’ll never spot the guy with the bomb in his underpants,” said Mohamed.
“Or the knife up his sleeve,” said Raul.
“It’s so obvious,” said Sofia. “All it takes is one misguided law. It can’t be enforced, but all that petty crime will also create an environment where serious crime can thrive.”
“It sounds perfect,” said Raul. “But how are we going to get the Americans on board? Americans love hard work, family, and minding their own business. Immigrants are usually just the same.”
“National pride,” said Sofia. “Americans have a lot to be proud of, but pride goeth before the fall. We’ll say it’s best to keep the foreigners out, and that we need to do something. And once the law is in place, we can bang on the table how you always have to do exactly what the law says.”
“Even if the law only helps your enemies,” said Raul.
“It’s not especially true that Muslims are terrorists,” said Mohamed. “Which is unfortunate. Suicide bombers rarely do repeat missions, and we’re running low at the moment.”
“We’re not playing a numbers game,” said Sofia. “We already know we can’t win on numbers. We’re playing a head game, and all we need is to fake them out.”