A few weeks ago, students angry about Customs and Border Patrol’s (CBP) presence at the University of California, Santa Barbara Career Fair got together to protest. They made their anger at CBP evident in multiple languages at once. But did their actions really make a positive contribution to the political dialogue at UCSB?
Protesters chanted slogans like “Fuck your borders, fuck your walls.” But what does this mean? One of the primary functions of a nation-state is to protect its borders. Sociologist Max Weber famously defined the state as the entity which “successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.” This definition necessitates that a nation has physical borders, and that it enforces these borders. If a state cannot even perform this basic function of maintaining its monopoly of force over a given territory, then all the laws of the land — including our basic Constitutional rights — are meaningless.
When the anti-CBP protesters chanted “Fuck your borders,” does this mean that they do not even believe in the legitimacy of the United States government over its internationally recognized territory? Because that is what it sounds like to me. The current immigration laws may be flawed. I believe they are, but this is not the point. If the United States is to remain a nation based on the rule of law, then it must prevent individuals from violating its immigration laws. This may seem harsh — but the entire concept of a system based on rule of law is that it must enforce all laws regardless of the strength of the emotions involved. This is a perfectly legitimate argument supporting the necessity of CBP — and yet the protest did not engage it in any form.
Not long ago, I wrote an opinion piece for this newspaper expressing my concerns with mob mentality on campus. This anti-CBP protest was a perfect demonstration of mob mentality in action. Rather than getting students together to have a civil discussion about what is wrong with our citizenship laws and how best to change them, the protesters got together to make a lot of noise and mindlessly chant slogans. This did absolutely nothing to encourage independent thought or advance the dialogue about immigration at our school. All it did was encourage blind conformity to the mob, even when that mob was denying one of the most basic functions of our government.
The protest also hurt our school’s reputation. Customs and Border Patrol (which was not at UCSB with the intent to deport anyone) was far from the only employer at the Career Fair. One of the traits which employers look for in their employees, especially college-educated employees, is an ability to think critically. The anti-CBP protest gave the employers at the Career Fair no reason to believe that UCSB students are capable of engaging in critical thinking or seeing multiple sides of an issue.
Whether we agree with the protesters or not, their actions have an effect on how we look to outsiders. UCSB students went to the Career Fair to improve themselves and their futures, and it is a safe bet that some of their job searches were hindered by the protest. Is this the sort of consequence that the demonstrators wanted?
With all this said, I am not entirely unsympathetic to the protesters’ cause. The rhetoric surrounding immigration in America has taken a dark turn lately. America is a land of immigrants, and many immigrants, including my own great-grandparents, have contributed greatly to this country. With every new wave of immigration — Irish, Eastern European, Jewish, Italian, Chinese — there has been a new wave of xenophobia, and each time it has been proven wrong, and the group in question has managed to integrate itself into American society within a few generations. I believe that the current wave of Latin American immigration will be no different.
The immigration debate is an extremely complex issue, and there are many sides to it that we need to explore. Childish and simplistic calls from our potential leaders to “build a wall” and “send them back” will not contribute to the dialogue, but neither will obscene, disruptive protests that chant mindless slogans targeted at a single government agency — one which is far from the root of the problem.