Last week’s flight of some 50 immigrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard, orchestrated by Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, was an unscrupulous stunt.
It’s unlikely he’s ruined lives, since immigrants are already suing DeSantis, and the media attention to his plight will likely give them more support than most newcomers don’t. Still, the scheme was, by all accounts, deceitful, spiteful, and trolling.
At least, that is what it seems to those of us, like myself, who are in favor of a much more lax immigration policy than the one we have now.
widely shared washington examiner the editorial, by contrast, argued that the flight was absolutely necessary, a desperate plea for national attention to a national crisis that some border states suffered disproportionately. I can’t find the ExaminerThe case for is compelling, especially in his claim that the media is simply ignoring an important story “to protect” President Joe Biden. But if the article’s claim of urgency strikes you as unbelievable, literally unbelievable as an honest argument a real person could make, maybe it’s because you have a higher tolerance for clutter.
We usually think of clutter tolerance in much more domestic terms, as in, “Do you like to keep a neat house?”
“Tolerance for disorder is not relevant to all political issues, but it is certainly important to immigration over the last half decade.”
That makes sense, because it’s a pre-political impulse, partly determined by personality but also very much affected by culture. And on the cultural scale, particularly when we look beyond the home to matters of public order, Americans’ tolerance for disorder varies widely and often follows familiar political lines. Conservatives and others on the right tend to have a lower tolerance for disorder; progressives and the left generally have a higher tolerance.
This is not a comprehensive theory of American society. Order is sometimes in the eye of the beholder, and “order” in political parlance has been the subject of much abuse. However, with all due qualifications, I think we recognize this spectrum at a basic level.
It is the distinction in landscaping in that great New Yorker deck from last summer, in which the “Republican’s” row house has tidy box hedges, strict mulch lines, and a short lawn, while the “Democrat’s” pollinating garden, appropriately labeled with a bee-adorned yard sign , is a tangle of thistles and dandelions. That is not just an expression of different environmental or aesthetic points of view. It’s also about order, decorum, and assumptions about what a public space should look like and what will encourage others to have orderly behavior.
Tolerance for disorder is not relevant to all political issues, but it is certainly important to immigration over the last half decade. Migrant arrivals along the southern border are at a record level. Cities like Yuma, Arizona, El Paso, San Antonio, and Brownsville, Texas, welcome hundreds or even thousands of migrants weekly. Thousands more have set up camps on both sides of the border, or directly on bridges spanning the Rio Grande, and images of those makeshift spaces show crowds and chaos.
There’s a reason former President Donald Trump and his disciples, like DeSantis, believe it’s effective policy to exaggerate that chaos, sensationalize and hyperventilate about an “invasion.” The reason is that, for many Americans, those images already produce an instinctive malaise, an anxious feeling that this really is a crisis, that order must be restored. That push doesn’t just lead to calls for tougher laws or tougher enforcement; It’s also part of why border states have a variety of charities and social services dedicated to helping immigrants find their place in the United States.
But it says, loud and clear, something needs to be done about it now.
That instinct is not universal, at least not to the same degree. (The most vivid contrast might be San Francisco, with its long-standing reputation for embracing public disorder, from the benignly weird to the deeply troubling.) it is difficult to suppress and cannot be eliminated by means of laws.
This is where pro-immigration arguments that focus on fairness, cultural diversity, freedom of movement, the American dream, streamlining bureaucracy, or economic benefits can’t do much good. They are important and they are the kind of argument I am inclined to make when I talk about immigration. But they can’t assuage the automatic discomfort many people feel when border clutter sets in—and the messier the border is perceived to be, the more Americans will make restoring order their immigration reform priority.
And if that priority is not addressed, if Congress goes another 36 years without passing a major immigration bill, we will continue to have both a crisis at the border and a deeply felt need in American politics that is left open for politicians with sensationalist rhetoric and unscrupulous tricks.