Peter Laufer is a former news correspondent for NBC News with a wide range of experiences reporting on the U.S./Mexico border and is currently a professor of journalism at the University of Oregon. Additionally, Laufer lived in Berlin for some time both before and after the destruction of the Berlin Wall in 1991. He is also the son of an immigrant father from Hungary.
The cumulative effect of these experiences and some time studying the issues of borders, is Laufer’s adamant view that in the U.S., there is a culture around immigration that needs some healing. In his new book, “Up Against the Wall: The Case for Opening the Mexican-American Border,” Laufer argues that to fix what’s broken, a primary solution is to considerably ease restrictions on Mexicans looking to travel north of the border.
The book, according to Laufer, takes a look into the past and demonstrates how inevitable the utter failure of borders have really been.
“The book looks historically at borders across cultures and across time and how inevitably, they fail and at best become tourist attractions where we get an ice cream cone and a T-shirt, and look at some horror that was visited on people in an attempt to control them,” Laufer said.
Laufer also brings the reader to the present day where there is close analysis suggesting that there’s really no issue with people crossing borders, other than the minority of immigrants who could pose a threat. With this in mind, Laufer believes that the idea of “open borders” is should be considered as either a solution or at least a philosophy by which Americans can accept to create a more tolerant international relationship. Laufer explained that a major audience he wants to reach with this book are those who do not agree with him and his primary goal is to spark dialogue around these issues and potential solutions.
Could you go into some of the major issues that the book looks to address?
It’s not to paint the U.S. as some kind of ultimate villain. We have villains on both sides of the border of course. But the book looks at the use of the border as a political tool, at the expense of people who are desperate and in need, the people who are coming across because on the north side of the border we want them to come across—we need their fuel, we need them as employees and we often embrace them as friends and family so the book looks at this mess that we’ve made out of it and looks at how it’s been manipulated by the current administration, to make things worse by multiples. It posits an idea that could help us transcend the horrors of the current reality and work toward building solutions. Specifically, the first is normalize the cross-border relationship with Mexicans so that we have the same kind of relationship across the border that we have with Canadians. There’s no excuse and no reason for us to do otherwise, especially while we continue to seduce, solicit and encourage Mexicans to cross the border illegally because we want them to work cheap.
Why do you think that immigration is important? How do you think that easing restrictions on immigration can make the U.S. a better place?
On a national level, it’s important because the figure of this country is diversity. There’s also the selfish aspect; we’ve got a declining birth rate, we need the people. There’s also the other selfish aspect; we need the workers and like it or not, people come across the border to do work that people here don’t want to do or that we don’t have enough people to do. Of course there are individuals we don’t want here just as I mentioned. There are individuals from Canada we don’t want, there are individuals from New Mexico you don’t want in Arizona! There’s some lousy people in the world but very few. We have a much better chance of catching and keeping out those very few if we aren’t chasing after everybody.
What you would say to those who really do see illegal immigration as a threat to the country?
I would say that I absolutely agree, there should be no illegal immigration. And that is why, in the case of Mexico where we have this shared, intertwined history and where we have a need and desire for Mexicans to come north and where we have Americans going south all the time to play or retire or any number of other things, we need to regularize, legalize the northern movement of Mexicans so that we all but eliminate illegal migration. In Oregon, we had all kinds of problems with marijuana for those who wished to use it, because it was illegal. We fixed that, we made it legal. We agreed this really wasn’t a problem and we were ruining lives. This is a false equivalency, immigration and marijuana are not the same thing. But conceptually if you take it that we’ve created a problem where none exists and we’ve created a terrible problem and we can fix this problem, there will be no illegal immigration if we make it legal.
Do you think that America has the potential to become more tolerant on the U.S./Mexico border and that we will be able to ease restrictions?
I think that if we can relieve ourselves of leaders, if we want to even use the word leaders, politicians who use and abuse the border issue and the immigration issue and the people who are suffering victims of that use and abuse—if we can relieve ourselves of those people having the power to exacerbate the problems, that will be our first step.