If some Americans had their way, the United States would be an island — isolated not only from danger and outside threats, but from any unwanted contact. Isolated from foreigners.

It should come as no surprise that this xenophobic attitude has been bolstered by the news that authorities have foiled an alleged plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in Washington. Earlier this month U.S. officials announced the arrest of Mansour J. Arbabsiar, an Iranian-American car salesman living in Texas. He and Gholam Shakuri, a member of Iran’s Quds Force, are accused of plotting to kill Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. In addition, American officials have alleged that members of the Iranian government were complicit in the plot, which also involved plans to bomb the embassies of Saudi Arabia and Israel in Washington.

The case’s most surprising twist, however, was the allegation that the two suspects sought the help of the Zetas, a Mexican drug cartel, in carrying out the attacks. According to U.S. officials, Arbabsiar tried to hire a cartel assassin — a man who turned out to be an informer for the Drug Enforcement Administration, which is how authorities found out about the plot.

After the killing of Osama bin Laden earlier this year, many Americans surmised that the threat of terrorist acts on U.S. soil would be significantly reduced. They were wrong. Though the leader of al-Qaida may be gone, the U.S. military’s efforts to neutralize leaders within the terrorist network have continued, as evidenced by the recent killing in Yemen of the American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki by a drone attack.

And now Americans also have to worry about Iran. Officials in the U.S. have already begun to call for new sanctions against that country, and other reprisals may be in the works.

Unfortunately, the people who will be most affected by this failed assassination plot are the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, since most conservative American political leaders argue against moving forward with any sort of legalization efforts until the U.S. border with Mexico is “secure.” With Iranians allegedly scheming with Mexican drug criminals to commit brazen acts of terrorism in the United States, conservatives will only become more deeply convinced that the border is nowhere near secure. They can point to this failed plot and declare that the nation’s southern border is its weakest spot.

After all, they will say, terrorists, or hit men hired by the terrorists, can easily slip into the United States. They will say that the only solution is more security and a closed border. They will say that we cannot even consider legalization of the immigrants already living within our borders until the nation is isolated and safe. Unfortunately, when the United States closes itself off from the outside, it closes itself off on the inside as well.

The fact is that the border between Mexico and the United States is more secure today than it has ever been — more federal agents with more resources are protecting the country’s 2,000-mile boundary every day. And it is indeed protected. One of the most dangerous cities in the world, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico — where more than 3,000 murders were reported last year — shares the border with El Paso, Texas, which is often touted as one of the United States’ safest large cities.

So the violence plaguing Mexico is not spilling into the United States, nor have terrorists from other parts of the world crossed into the U.S. through that border. (Let’s not forget that none of the 19 hijackers responsible for the 9/11 attacks came to the United States through Mexico. Not one.)

Additionally, according to data from the Pew Hispanic Center, the number of undocumented immigrants living in the United States has shrunk from 12 million in 2007 to 11 million today. And thousands of Mexicans continue to make the decision to stay in Mexico rather than suffer persecution and discrimination in states like Alabama and Arizona.

That is the reality.

But in the collective mind of conservative America — a nation that has been enduring a polarized presidential race, a prolonged economic crisis, increasingly extremist politics and widespread xenophobia — the perception remains that the southern border is wide open and inviting to terrorists, drug dealers and criminals.

And until conservatives decide that is not the case, Congress will not pass immigration reform. All the while, undocumented immigrants already living on this American island will continue to suffer the consequences.

By Jorge Ramos Avalos
© 2011 Jorge Ramos
(April 04, 2011)

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Jorge Ramos has been the anchorman for Noticiero Univision since 1986. He writes a weekly column for more than 40 newspapers in the United States and Latin America, and provides daily radio commentary for the Radio Univision network. Ramos also hosts Al Punto, Univision’s weekly public affairs program offering analysis of the week’s top stories, and Fusion’s AMERICA with Jorge Ramos, a news program geared towards young adults. Ramos has won eight Emmy awards and is the author of ten books, most recently, STRANGER - The Challenge of a Latino Immigrant in the Trump Era.

A survey conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center found that Ramos is the second most recognized Latino leader in the country. Latino Leaders magazine chose him as one of “The Ten Most Admired Latinos” and “101 Top Leaders of the Latino Community in the U.S.”