LZ: Decoding political buzz words
00:59 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com and the 2009 winner of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation award for online journalism. Follow him on Twitter: @locs_n_laughs. Watch him on Tuesdays on CNN Newsroom, 9 am ET hour.

Story highlights

"Secure the border" has been a theme of the GOP presidential campaign

LZ Granderson asks why focus is on Mexico border rather than larger one to the north

He says the U.S.-Canada border is less than 1% secure

Granderson: Hidden message in the debate is about race and fears of a changing America

Grand Rapids, Michigan CNN  — 

In case you plan to see Wednesday’s GOP debate, allow me to offer up some crib notes so you don’t get lost.

First, when you hear the candidates talk about “job creators,” that’s just another way of saying “rich people” or “the guy bankrolling my super Pac.”

When someone says “family values,” that’s to remind the audience that they don’t like gay people; “religious freedom” means “Christianity”; and it’s not really a GOP debate until a candidate attacks the “liberal media” for asking questions they’re too afraid to answer.

LZ Granderson

Now there will be plenty of other buzz words and euphemisms that will be tossed around during the debate, but since it is being held in Arizona, chances are the most popular phrase will be “secure the border.”

We must secure the border.

The candidates will argue that it’s a matter of national security. That it isn’t just the friendly illegal immigrants looking for work we must worry about, but terrorists, drug lords and other criminals who seek to make their way through our porous border. They will say if they were president they would build walls, add troops, even commission a Death Star to keep this country safe.

Newt Gingrich has promised to build a double fence along the entire southern border, adding, “”The United States must control its border. It is a national security imperative,”

Ron Paul said “If elected president, I would move to quickly end foreign nation building efforts and use many of the resources we waste playing world’s policemen to control our southern border.”

They all will receive applause, and it will all sound great … until you realize that “secure the border” is slang for “keep the Mexicans out.”

Oh boy, here comes the black guy playing the race card again.

Yep, that’s me – pointing out that the Canadian border is largely ignored in this dialogue despite being more than twice the size of the Mexican border and less than 1% secure, according to a 2011 report by the Government Accountability Office. Even if we were to disregard the 1,538 miles between Alaska and Canada, the 3,987 mile border connecting the lower 48 to our neighbors up north is still much larger than the 1,933-mile stretch that connects us to Mexico.

And yet the attention we give the northern border is miniscule at best when compared to the resources we allocate to the south. There are definitely reasons for serious concern about safety along the Mexican border, but according to our own intelligence, Mexico should hardly be our only concern.

You would think presidential hopefuls genuinely concerned about our safety would remember that just four years ago, Michael Chertoff, President Bush’s Homeland Security secretary, said he was more afraid of terrorists coming into the country from Canada than Mexico and that his department arrested more people connected to al Qaeda and Hezbollah trying to come in from up north than down south.

This is not to perpetuate the myth that the September 11 terrorists came through Canada or defame our northern neighbors. But rather to point out the glaring disconnect between some of the crowd-pleasing rhetoric the GOP candidates like to deliver about “securing the border” and the more nuanced reality.

For example, did you know reports show that from 2007 to 2009, the amount of marijuana seized at the Canadian border jumped 22% and that Homeland Security has seen a sharp increase in the trafficking of more dangerous drugs such as heroin, cocaine and ecstasy? Yes, there are drug tunnels along the southern border, but the Drug Enforcement Administration also found a 360-foot drug tunnel from a hut in Canada to a house in the state of Washington as well.

We know an estimated 350,000 people trying to come in through Mexico in 2011 were stopped. We also know that number is down from the 447,731 arrests made in 2010 and that is significantly less than the 1,643,679 people stopped in 2000.

What we don’t know is how many people are illegally trying to get in from Canada, because less than 1% of the world’s largest border is secure. Conversely, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the Mexican border is as secure as it has ever been, adding, “It is clear from every measure we currently have that this approach is working.” Still, judging from the tone of the immigration talk so far in this campaign, no one debating in Arizona on Wednesday really seems to care about either point.


Last year a group of senators had to petition the Obama administration for military assistance to catch the drug traffickers who were using low-flying planes to move their products from Canada into the United States. Ten years after 9/11 and we still had undetected aircraft crossing the border because it wasn’t the border we’re scared of.

You know, this whole immigration discussion would be a lot more productive if the people leading it would be more honest and stop pretending as if it’s only about national security. It’s a part, but the larger truth is that nonwhite people will be the majority in this country by 2040 and this browning of America scares the hell out of a lot of people, particularly some white people. The thinking goes that if the country can deport the Mexicans who are illegally here and stop new ones from coming in, maybe that trend will slow down or even reverse.

That sentiment is at the core of the racial profiling laws started in Arizona and is at the core of the entire illegal immigration conversation. It’s a clumsy attempt to talk about race without mentioning race so as not to appear racist .

But the dialogue is transparent because if it was really about “securing the border,” the facts suggest Canada would be a big part of the conversation and not just an afterthought.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.