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  • LEGAL, SAFE AND COMMON

    We could restore sanity to immigration if we wanted to
      NEW YORK--The Cold War you never thought about, the one between China and the Soviet Union, had been dead for a decade when I made the trip from what is now called the Kyrgyz Republic to western China in 1999. Although troops no longer massed for possible war at this border, crossing the high-altitude Torugart Pass remained an arduous bureaucratic odyssey. Getting out of Kyrgyzstan required presenting a special exit visa at a dozen checkpoints on the way up to the border outpost. A dirt track took me through 20 kilometers of no-man's land to the political border, which was only open on Fridays between 9 a.m. and noon. When my Chinese driver arrived on the other side of a bullet-pocked faux triumphal arch marking the border, two Chinese soldiers accompanied him to sign for me, Checkpoint Charlie style. On the Chinese side came another 20 kilometers of DMZ: minefields, row after row of razorwire, watchtowers, the dirt raked regularly in order to reveal the footsteps of would-be illegal immigrants. The Soviets had maintained similar fortifications along thousands of miles of their southern borders with nations like Iran, Afghanistan and China. As you'd guess, Soviet border controls were highly effective. They kept out unwanted intruders and imprisoned millions of would-be émigrés.
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