We are at risk of losing the meaning of the word “crisis,” as each day brings forth fresh red-alert anxiety about some unmanageable, intolerable, unthinkable calamity. There are life-draining viruses spreading around the world without any detection or hope for a cure. There are bloody conflicts flaring up in regions we’ve never heard of before, and old conflicts flaring to new life. There is a palpable sense that both the natural world and the dark despicable side of human nature is rebelling against civilized life – threatening to draw us back into some medieval gloom.

Of course, feeling something and knowing something are different. We fear war and disease, but we have a fairly rational understanding of their causes and how to address them.  Broadly speaking, war and disease are two of the primary factors that caused humanity, slowly and with much sacrifice, to establish civil societies — not ever easily and in no case perfectly, but preferable in every way to the alternatives.

Apart from all the other peculiar, admirable, or aggravating tasks it chooses to do, preserving and promoting civil harmony is the foundation of the government we maintain and nominally endorse.  Now, it’s worth wondering whether it still can do that, or whether it is willing to do that.

I’m referring now to the “crisis” of illegal immigrants flowing into the U.S. from Central America: it’s not a crisis because it cannot be addressed but because it will not be addressed. The solution — to enforce the immigration laws as they exist and amend them as may be needed according to the general consensus — is not an available option because we do not have a government that performs its responsibilities so much as we have individuals who occupy offices in order to fulfill their own ambitions, or to agitate for their own causes. 

Early in my tenure as a business-to-business writer I learned the duality of the immigration issue: the faceless, nameless force animating “big business” wanted immigration to be simple and open, so that wage costs remained low. Individuals in business would express doubts about using human beings in this way, but the policy never changed much. The risks associated with open-borders — crime, specifically, but lately disease, espionage, and terrorism must be considered too — were always tolerable because law enforcement could be relied on to address the violators, and charities as well as general prosperity would help those harmed economically by the arrival of new workers.  

Of course, there always has been a human price for this opportunism, though mostly it was paid by the immigrants’ own sacrifices. That is less true now, less true each day apparently, as the current level of economic expansion pales with that of past decades. The new arrivals don’t have the same opportunities for self-improvement they might have had a decade ago. Their arrival raises the opportunity cost to the current, underemployed workforce. What’s changed, mainly, is that labor cost is no longer the particular concern of “big business,” and yet all the serious risks of open immigration remain.

This does not change the immigrants’ need to seek a better, more civilized life for themselves, and we should not try to stop them from seeking it. But, they must accept the standards we are working to preserve and protect. Allowing them to arrive without such realistic hopes, without establishing reasonable expectations, and at the same time to escalate the associated threats to our own civil society, is cynical in the extreme. Authorities that choose the convenience of doing nothing while law and order dissolve are as much a threat to individuals’ security as crime and chaos, and that threat is increasing.