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On Point

Solving the Border's "Baby Predicament"


by Austin Bay
May 17, 2006


The year was 1993. A friend of mine who worked at a hospital in Texas' Rio Grande Valley -- a short ride from Mexico -- described "the baby predicament."

Here's a sketch of his story: At the first indications of impending birth, a pregnant Mexican woman crosses the border in a car. As her labor begins in earnest, her driver drops her off at the hospital. The doctors confront an immediate challenge: A baby is definitely being born. In the typical case, the soon-to-be mother has had no prenatal care. However, she has had a plan -- her child will be born in the United States, come political hell in Washington or high water in the Rio Grande.

"I'm in a legal and moral bind," my friend continued. Denial of services has potentially severe legal consequences. No one wants a patient to die or suffer. "But," he said, "we've medical costs. And the doctors suspect she's in the U.S. illegally. What do you do?"

"You help her and her child," I replied.

"That's right," my friend agreed. "But this happens at the hospital every day. We don't have the funds for this. Where's the limit?"

I said I didn't know. And I still don't. I suspect the child born in my friend's hospital is now a U.S. citizen, meaning the mother's ploy worked. Why did she do it? No doubt a few women pulling this trick seek an economic or legal gain for themselves, but the most likely reason the mother crossed the border to give birth was to give her child a shot at a better life in the United States, the land of liberty and economic opportunity. That's a hard slap at Mexico, and a deserved slap.

I didn't ask my friend about his hospital's role in documentation. This was a conversation at a college reunion, not an investigation.

"Where's the limit?" leads to another question: "Who's at fault?" Even if a lawyer made the case the mother's action was "borderline" legal, she certainly jinked the immigration system. An angry voter might also blame the hospital for providing a birth certificate. A smart cop might finger the driver who dumped her at the curb. Politicians of various stripes will bewail "the broken system" and scream about "lack of leadership."

In 1993, Ann Richards -- a liberal Democrat -- was governor of Texas. Democrats controlled the Texas legislature. Bill Clinton, a liberal of sorts, was president, and Democrats controlled both branches of Congress. The Simpson-Mazzoli immigration reform bill -- a bipartisan bill -- had been in effect since 1986. That bill didn't solve the immigration crisis. Critics blame lack of enforcement. In 2006, Republicans are in charge in Texas and in Washington, and the immigration crisis continues.

What's changed since 1993? In 2006, the United States, Mexico and "points further south" have larger populations. That means there are more people in the United States and more people -- with and without proper papers -- looking for work. The power of narcotrafficantes along the U.S.-Mexico border has grown. The gang violence spills across the border, increasing tensions.

Today, the United States is more security conscious -- 9-11 did that. New security concerns have a subsidiary effect: an increased emphasis on immigrant assimilation. Most new Americans learn English and salute the flag. However, radical "multiculturalists" (many drawing paychecks at U.S. universities) urge separatism. Their abrasive identity politics lacks political traction, but they have media pizzazz. One suspects they want to exacerbate existing problems.

Putting 6,000 National Guardsman on border duty, as President Bush proposes, will only minimally enhance security. As a symbol of long-term intent to improve U.S. security, however, a troop deployment may lead to a political compromise in Washington.

But no Washington compromise will solve the problem. The real "broken systems" are the corrupt economies to the south. Mexico's leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador agrees, calling illegal immigration to the United States "Mexico's disgrace." However, his prescription is more statist economics policies. That's wrong. Mexico needs freer markets, but a free market needs an honest judiciary.

The long-term solution lies in expanding economic and political opportunity in Mexico. That's what NAFTA was really about -- evolving Mexico. In the short term, however, that doesn't pay bills at the border hospital.

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