by Austin Bay
April 5, 2006
The economic and political evolution of Mexico -- in preference
to destructive revolution -- remains the big strategic goal of the North
American Free Trade Association (NAFTA).
In the next three to five decades, expanding economic and
political opportunity in Mexico will drastically reduce the number of
illegal aliens (both immigrants and migrants) entering the United States
from Mexico and Central America.
To paraphrase the line attributed to John Maynard Keynes,
however, the long run isn't a good guide to current affairs, for "in the
very long run we are all dead." While great plans may ultimately produce
extraordinary benefits, human beings live by their daily bread.
The difference between immigrants and migrants has policy
implications. American immigrants intend to stay. When given the
opportunity, the immigrant opts for integration and Americanization --
adding new melt to the melting pot. Economic migrants, however, come to the
United States to work, but often have little interest in remaining in the
country. A work-permit program is a short- to mid-term solution for the
economic migrant dimension of the illegal alien problem. A sound
international work-permit program legitimizes and regulates the worker's
status. It also provides economic migrants with civil and economic
protections they now lack.
"Illegal," however, is the volatizing word that raises
legitimate, rational issues of justice and authority, but also sparks a
range of emotions, from xenophobic anger to generous sympathy.
Unfortunately, a cruel strain of false sympathy frustrates reasoned
political discussion. The faux-compassionate caricature all attempts to
address border control and immigration issues as racist and nativist.
Amnesty programs, which in effect reward illegal entry -- and
thus penalize legal immigrants who followed the rules -- are unjust. They
erode respect for civil authority. Granting "amnesty now" sets a precedent
for future demands, and thus fails to resolve fundamental issues.
At the same time, there is no just or rational way to prosecute
or expel the 11 million to 13 million illegal aliens living in the United
States. Difficult human factors, such as the "citizen child" with an
"illegal immigrant parent," vex the debate. In these complex cases, exacting
letter-of-the-law penalties divides families -- a result that is anything
Legislation that creates pathways to legitimacy, while
stigmatizing illegal entry (with a fine or similar consequence), is the best
available solution. The legislation proposed by Sens. John McCain and Ted
Kennedy may be imperfect, but it's a good start-point for fashioning a
"pathway program" that will help mitigate the current crisis.
Tackling the long-run problems of immigration and border
controls requires a more comprehensive strategic approach, one that won't be
solved by building a wall or punitive laws.
Securing economic justice and political reform in Mexico is key
to any truly effective long-term solution. The Mexican people know it. A
decade ago, I met with a number of businessmen and women in northern Mexico
who were "dollarizing" their businesses because they did not trust the
corrupt central government. I also met several northern Mexican political
activists who detailed their plans for ending the Institutional
Revolutionary Party's (PRI) decades of one-party rule.
In 1997 and 2000, those plans led to opposition-party victories.
Vicente Fox's presidential election, however, was the end of the beginning
for Mexican reformers. Mexico's bitter mix of statist economics, poverty and
elite corruption frustrate quick change.
Mexico's elites do indeed export their unemployed, as well as
potential political dissidents. That policy must end. On the other hand,
U.S. businesses benefit from low-wage workers (many coming from Mexico). The
U.S. birthrate has declined, and immigrants compensate for that decline.
America must confront those facets of the immigration problem.
U.S. demand for illegal narcotics feeds Mexican corruption.
Narcotics trafficking negatively affects political and economic conditions
in Mexico (and thus has an impact on immigration). Getting real control of
the borders means curbing America's appetite for illegal drugs.
All too often, "difficult dimensions" like demography,
corruption, political reform and drug smuggling are ignored when U.S.
leaders slap together immigration and border security legislation. We can't
let that happen this time. Sept. 11 demonstrated that porous borders, lax
visa policies and unenforced immigration laws do have disastrous security