The Volokh Conspiracy

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The GOP's Bogus Linkage Between Aiding Ukraine and "Border Security"

The analogy between Russia's invasion of Ukraine and illegal migration to the US is nonsensical. And many of the GOP's demands are intended to make legal migration more difficult, a policy likely to actually increase the illegal kind.


What a real invasion looks like. Russian armored vehicle in Ukraine. March 2022.


Congressional Republicans are linking extension of US aid to Ukraine to the imposition of more restrictionist immigration policies. They claim the two issues are connected because both involve border security. Thus, for example, House Speaker Mike Johnson says "If we're going to protect Ukraine's border, and we have to do what is necessary there,…. we have to take care of our own border first." This analogy is ridiculous. There is no comparison between a military invasion and undocumented migration. In addition, many of the GOP demands aren't actually about "border security" at all; they are proposals to make legal immigration harder, thereby predictably exacerbating disorder at the border rather than alleviating it.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine includes the mass murder of thousands of civilians, large-scale rape and torture, kidnapping of tens of thousands of children, and an attempt to forcibly annex much of Ukraine's territory and replace its democracy with a brutal dictatorship. Nothing even remotely comparable is happening at the US southern border. The main issue there is immigrants seeking freedom and opportunity in the United States. Unable to do so legally because of immigration restrictions, many find that illegal border-crossing is their only way to escape a lifetime of poverty and oppression. Many are escaping repressive communist regimes that conservative Republicans themselves condemn.

Conservatives rightly deride left-wingers who analogize any policies they don't like to fascism. The equation between the Russia's invasion of Ukraine and US border issues is a right-wing version of this trope. They are equating migration they dislike with invasion and mass murder by a neo-fascist regime (there are many obvious parallels between Vladimir Putin's expansionist authoritarian nationalism and early-twentieth century fascism).

It can be argued the analogy makes sense because illegal migrants might commit acts of terrorism. But the risk of terrorism at the southern border is negligible. Between 1975 and 2022, the total number of Americans killed in terrorist attacks by illegal migrants who crossed the southern border was zero. Immigrants do commit ordinary crimes, of course. But the crime rate of immigrants—including illegal ones—is actually lower than that of native-born Americans.

Some also claim that illegal migration qualifies as an "invasion" under the Constitution. That claim is false, and would have dangerous implications if it were ever accepted by the courts. Similar points apply to claims that fentanyl smuggling across the border qualifies as an invasion. Most such smuggling is actually conducted by US citizens coming through legal points of entry; it is a predictable side effect of the US War on Drugs.

Elsewhere, I have argued that Western support for Ukraine is the right thing to do on for both moral and strategic reasons, ones analogous to those conservatives advance for backing Hamas against Israel. It's possible to argue against that on various grounds, such as that Ukraine's cause is supposedly hopeless, or that possible strategic costs outweigh the benefits. But those who want to abandon Ukraine for such reasons should at least stop hiding behind bogus analogies to the US southern border.

The analogy is also misleading because many of the GOP's demands are not really about stopping illegal migration, but about making the legal kind even more difficult than it already is. For example, Republicans seek to severely curtail executive parole authority that can be used to grant entry to migrants fleeing war, oppression, and other humanitarian catastrophes. As shown in a study by the conservative Manhattan Institute, Biden's use of parole to grant entry to migrants from four Latin American nations actually greatly reduced illegal migration across the southern border from those countries, because it enables would-be migrants to enter legally, often without even coming to the southern border at all. That progress has stopped in recent months because arbitrary caps on the number of parole admittees have created a massive backlog, leaving illegal migration once again the only option for most migrants from those nations.

GOP demands to make it harder for migrants to get asylum are similar. The harder it is to enter legally, the greater the incentive to do so illegally. The Biden administration has already adopted a harsh "Trump-lite" asylum policy, a move that hasn't succeeded in reducing illegal migration (the policy is currently the subject of legal challenges, but judges have allowed it to remain in place as litigation over it continues).

Trying to reduce illegal migration by making legal entry harder is much like trying to fight Prohibition-era bootlegging by making it harder to obtain alcohol legally. Such policies predictably promote the very thing they are supposedly seeking to combat. Most of the disorder at the border is a predictable result of the fact that legal entry is nearly impossible for most would-be migrants, combined with horrible conditions in migrants' countries of origin and strong demand for labor in the US. Restricting legal immigration even more would predictably exacerbate these problems, not alleviate them.

There is much Congress and the president could do to genuinely reduce disorder at the border. Among other things, they could drop arbitrary numerical and country limits on parole admission. They could also make it easier for immigrants to get work visas. Similarly, they could empower state governments that want more immigrants to issue state-based visas, as advocated by the Republican governors of Utah and Indiana. These moves and others like them would channel people away from illegal migration. Many would not even need to come to the southern border at all, instead entering by ship or plane.

Obviously, there are a variety of rationales for reducing legal migration that are unrelated to conditions at the border. For example, restrictionists argue that immigrants overburden the welfare state, spread harmful cultural values, damage the environment, and degrade American political institutions. It may be hard to believe. But if we get too many of the wrong kinds of immigrant voters, we might even elect a president of the United States who has so little respect for liberal democratic values that when he loses an election, he tries to use force and fraud to stay in power.

Jokes aside, these kinds of restrictionist arguments are worth taking seriously. I try to do just that in my book Free to Move, and other writings. But those whose real goal is reducing legal immigration should not hide behind the mantra of "border security." Still less should they analogize immigration policies they dislike to armed invasions like Russia's assault on Ukraine.