The Common Good

Drugs, Guns, and Immigration: An Unholy Trinity of Failed Policy

The reports out of Juarez, Mexico, are depressing, doubly so for me. I grew up in the border area of El Paso with many relatives on both sides of the border. My memories of going to the mercado, of watching the women patty-caking masa into corn tortillas, of festivals and Danza de los Voladores (The Dance of the Flyers), filled me with a sense of the magical and beautiful and a world teeming with mystery. So, seeing that part of the world descend into darkness and evil fills me with dread. Family members have fled, legally, to El Paso for safety. The drug war is destroying part of the world I love, destroying part of me.

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The forces that brought the disastrous border conditions are varied, from corrupt Mexican government to a social structure of Mexico that keeps the poor oppressed. There are problems south of the border. There are also causes north of border as well. The contributing reasons include our failed immigration, drug, and gun policies. These three unholy policies here have help to created a climate where any young guy with a gun and violent moxy can get rich by feeding the economic system of cheap labor and cheap drugs. Capitalism writ large in blood.

Our gun laws feed the violence plaguing the border as cheap guns on this side of the border make for cheap life on the southern side. So bullheaded is our love of guns that even a provision to forbid members on the terrorist watch list from buying guns was defeated. The drug cartels are armed in large part on the U.S. side. Heaven forbid a drug lord or terrorist be denied the right to bear arms. That is the meaning of the Second Amendment. Right?

But focusing only on the number of drug arrests has produced a toxic mess in this country. The story of a major drug dealer giving up a small part of his circle of clients in a plea bargain is all too common. The major dealer gets a slap on the wrist and goes back to recruiting and selling. The low level users get locked up for years, possibly turning them into hardened criminals. The police get large numbers of arrests and stats to dazzle the public. The public gets the raw end. The bad guys go mostly free and the low level users that could be helped with drug therapy go to prison instead.

Finally, an immigration policy based on xenophobia and historical guilt has created a deep resentment in this country to a centuries-old phenomena. On one hand Americans offer immigrants jobs, and on the other hand call them "illegal." "Yes," we say to them, "Do our dirty dangerous jobs that we don't want to do, but after that get out." It is interesting that we call such migrant workers "illegals," but never do we call businesses using that labor "illegal businesses." In fact, we think it good business practice to get the cheapest labor possible. If there were no one willing to hire migrant workers, then immigration would slow to a trickle based on sound economic principles. Yet, we place the whole blame on the "illegals." We want to have our lettuce and eat it too.

St. Paul gave Christians a way of judging actions by basing them on the fruit of that action. Based on this biblical criteria, our policies are a miserable failure. The unholy trio are certainly unchristian and worse, a miserable failure.

portrait-ernesto-tinajero1Ernesto Tinajero is a freelance writer in Spokane, Washington, who earned his master's degree in theology from Fuller Seminary. Visit his blog at

+Ask the U.S. Senate to pass national immigration reform this year.

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