The Last Frontier
Frequent readers know that I have just returned from an overdue visit to the United States. I was lucky enough to travel around in the U.S. while there, to a region I had not visited before (I am often struck by the fact that I've seen more of the world than of the U.S., I really need to work on that). This region, known for it's conservatism, was the last place I expected to find a thriving hotbed of multiculturism, but of course my preconceived notions proved false.
More than the Starbucks and Whole Foods stores, more than the occasional Thai restaurant or vegetarian Indian place, however, I was struck by the shear number of Mexican stores, restaurants and Mexican nationals in the area. Having been without good Mexican food (or practically any Mexican food) for a long time I was very happy to see these stores and places to eat. I was less happy to see the knots of men and a few women gathered on the street corners every morning waiting for a pick up to take them to that day's labor. Do I know for a fact that all of these men and women were in the U.S illegally? I do not. Would I bet large sums of money that the vast proportion of them were? I would.
I have addressed illegal immigration from Mexico before, in the "Tortilla Curtain
" and "El otro lado
" among other pieces. Now, with the discovery of a new tunnel across the border
- a tunnel that is paved with concrete and includes an intercom system, the issue has come to the fore again. Speculation abounds that this tunnel was built by and a drug cartel for the movement of cocaine or other illegal substances. That sounds like a reasonable enough assumption. Of course the above referenced article is from the New York Times, and so the security angle is played down in favor of the liberal bleeding heart finale of the piece:For some Mexicans, the border here seems a cultural affront. On Monday evening Carmen Castillo, a 47-year-old former nursing aide who along with her husband was deported last September after living illegally for 18 years in California, came to the Mexicali wall to visit her five children and a grandchild she had never met. She talked to her children, all of whom were born in the United States and have citizenship, playing with the new baby through the rusty bars dividing the countries."It's like visiting in prison," a daughter, Carmen Nero, said as she held her infant son up to the bars. "It's heartbreaking. It's sad that there's a fence when we know we are all supposed to be together."
I have said this before, and I still hold it to be true. Were I a poor Mexican dirt farmer I hope I would be able to find the courage to face the long and often dangerous trek north in search of a better life for my family. I am not, however, a Mexican dirt farmer. I support a rational fix to our immigration system and encourage a dialogue on the issue. In the meantime, families that feel separated by the border are free to be together- in Mexico, until such time as the relatives in Mexico can enter the U.S. legally.
Presidents Bush and Fox along with PM Paul Martin will meet today with a host of other leaders, and odds are that this will be another pro-forma meeting, perhaps paving the way towards an eventual accord, but nothing more. The Council on Foreign Relations has produced an excellent set of recommendations for the future of U.S.-Mexico-Canada relations- briefly excerpted here from the 15 page document:
1. Create the institutions necessary to sustain a North American community. We propose that the trinational summit become a regular event... We propose further the establishment of a North American Advisory Council to prepare and monitor action to implement the decisions made at these summits.
2. Immediately create a unified North American Border Action Plan. The threat of international terrorism originates, for the most part, outside of North America. Our external borders are a critical line of defense against this threat... The governments of Canada, Mexico, and the United States should articulate as their long-range goal a common security perimeter for North America. In particular, the three governments should strive toward a situation in which a terrorist trying to penetrate our borders will have an equally hard time doing so no matter which country he elects to enter first.
3. Adopt a common external tariff. We recommend that the three governments begin by harmonizing external tariffs on a sector-by-sector basis to the lowest prevailing rate consistent with multilateral obligations.
4. Stimulate economic growth in Mexico. To realize the full benefits of economic integration, and to ensure that these benefits are distributed broadly, Mexico must increase and sustain a rate of growth commensurate with its development goals. Mexico must devise a set of policies that commands broad public support and decide on the steps it will take to attract investment and stimulate growth.
5. Develop a North American energy and natural-resource security strategy. A reliable supply of key natural resources is essential to the region's long-term security and prosperity, while respecting each country's individual policies and priorities...Ultimately, regional collaboration on conservation and emissions could form the basis for a North American alternative to the Kyoto Protocol.
6. Deepen educational ties. Given its historical, cultural, political, and economic ties, North America should have the largest educational-exchange network in the world. We recommend the expansion of scholarship and exchange programs for students at both the secondary and university levels, the development of a network of Centers for North American Studies in all three countries, and cross-border training programs for elementary- and secondary-school teachers.
Just as I support a gradual end to traditional foreign aid in exchange for a program of market development, I am convinced that as long as Mexico is poor we will face hordes of illegal immigrants. By extension, as long as we cannot stem the flow of illegal workers we have no hope of weeding out the potential enemies of America who may make use of this back door into our country. Plans such as the one put forth by the Council are a step in the right direction, but they will take time. Unfortunately time is one element we can not trade with the radical Islamists that want to see us all converted or dead.
So as the leaders of North America meet today I hope that they keep one thing in mind. The people of the United States of America are not callous, we would all love to see a prosperous Mexico, able to feed, educate and defend her citizens. We appreciate the trade and close relationship we have historically had with Canada and Mexico. At the same time, however, we will hold our government responsible for our common defense. Paved, lighted tunnels across our border do not give me a warm fuzzy, and I know that I am not alone in this. While we work to spread liberty and freedom around the world we must continue to be vigilant at home, and this means securing our borders. President Bush has proven that he is able to speak plainly to the leaders of Europe and the Middle East. It is time for the same type of talk with our neighbors. The message should be clear and simple: we will protect our borders. That protection can benefit all of us, but the choice is yours.
I'll revisit this idea once we have an idea of what, if anything, emerges from today's multilateral talks.