The New Third Rail
Our neighbors to the south are sure to have noticed that immigration reform has hardly merited a sound bite or two in the hubbub surrounding the inauguration. President Bush began his first term with his eye on our hemispheric neighbors, and was quickly and rightly, distracted by the events of September 11th. The repercussions from that day had a chilling effect on both legal and illegal immigration as we struggled to establish the “secure borders, open doors” policy that would become the norm. This is the first in a planned series of posts relating to immigration.
The 2,000 plus mile border between Mexico and the United States is also the border between the first and third worlds- nowhere else on earth do the two collide as they do here. The societies and economies of the two countries are intertwined all along this meandering border, and are interdependent. We have become addicted to cheap labor, and the Mexican government relies on the vast pool of relatively high paying jobs found in America and the remittances to Mexico that come from them.
The government of Mexico (GOM) has long played the role of hypocrite when it comes to immigration issues. On the one hand the southern border of Mexico is as aggressively patrolled as they can manage, and on the other illegal immigration to America by Mexicans is tacitly approved.
In the aftermath of September 11th as the United States became more aggressive in actually enforcing laws already on the books a large number of Central and South American gang members found themselves deported to their homelands. Many of those deportees have worked their way into Mexico, where they are thriving. This, of course, is illegal immigration at it’s worst and must be stopped- according to the Mexicans. At the same time, the GOM continues it’s long held position that it is the right of every Mexican to emigrate if they wish, and that it is the United States problem to secure our border. I can accept that as reasonable, up until the point that the GOM actively assists illegal immigrants.
The “Guide for the Mexican Immigrant” in the form of a comic book advises Mexicans on the ins and outs of immigrating to the U.S. To be sure, the book tells intending immigrants that it is best to enter legally with a passport and visa, but then goes on to detail the following:
"If you get lost, guide yourself by light poles, railroad tracks or dirt roads."
The guide says water crossings are "very risky" and suggests removing thick clothes that could become heavy if wet.
"Avoid noisy parties, the neighbors could become annoyed and call the police and you could be arrested."
The booklet comes at a time when many oppose a guest worker program involving illegals in the U.S. and many more that are calling for stricter enforcement of the laws already in place. This position has much support and is led by conservatives such as Ariz. Sen. Jon Kyl and Scottsdale Congressman J.D. Hayworth. Calls for even more action along the border such as the following are increasing almost daily:
Close the border, Mr. President. Shut it down. Do whatever it takes, no matter the cost.Want to stimulate the economy in this country? Bring 100,000 troops home from Europe where they are doing little but stimulating the European economy and put them to work at the border while we build a 2,000-mile security fence.
Don't tell us it's impractical. It's a matter of life and death.
Secure borders and fences have been built throughout history by nations far less affluent than our own.
No more excuses.
Either we are at war or we are not.
It is reasonable that the fear of our inability to keep out unsophisticated farm workers can be easily translated into an inability to keep out terrorists. No matter what the outcome of the illegal immigration issue we must control our borders.
The answers to these increasingly complex issues lie partially in better enforcement of existing law, partially in reforming and restructuring the law and largely in developing the Mexican economy. Mexico is so heavily dependant on foreign remittances that simply deporting all the illegal Mexicans in America would destroy an already fragile economy in Mexico, and the loss of all that labor would bring the U.S economy to it’s knees. Any program that is put in place for Mexican guest workers in the U.S has to be focused on long-term growth of the Mexican economy.
In a follow up to this piece I’ll float some of my ideas as to just how such a program could be developed, and what I think it would mean to both countries.