by Austin Bay
May 17, 2006
The year was 1993. A friend of mine who worked at a hospital inTexas' Rio Grande Valley -- a short ride from Mexico -- described "the babypredicament."
Here's a sketch of his story: At the first indications ofimpending birth, a pregnant Mexican woman crosses the border in a car. Asher labor begins in earnest, her driver drops her off at the hospital. Thedoctors confront an immediate challenge: A baby is definitely being born. Inthe 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, comepolitical hell in Washington or high water in the Rio Grande.
"I'm in a legal and moral bind," my friend continued. Denial ofservices has potentially severe legal consequences. No one wants a patientto die or suffer. "But," he said, "we've medical costs. And the doctorssuspect 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 thehospital 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 childborn in my friend's hospital is now a U.S. citizen, meaning the mother'sploy worked. Why did she do it? No doubt a few women pulling this trick seekan economic or legal gain for themselves, but the most likely reason themother crossed the border to give birth was to give her child a shot at abetter life in the United States, the land of liberty and economicopportunity. That's a hard slap at Mexico, and a deserved slap.
I didn't ask my friend about his hospital's role indocumentation. This was a conversation at a college reunion, not aninvestigation.
"Where's the limit?" leads to another question: "Who's atfault?" Even if a lawyer made the case the mother's action was "borderline"legal, she certainly jinked the immigration system. An angry voter mightalso blame the hospital for providing a birth certificate. A smart cop mightfinger the driver who dumped her at the curb. Politicians of various stripeswill bewail "the broken system" and scream about "lack of leadership."
In 1993, Ann Richards -- a liberal Democrat -- was governor ofTexas. Democrats controlled the Texas legislature. Bill Clinton, a liberalof sorts, was president, and Democrats controlled both branches of Congress.The Simpson-Mazzoli immigration reform bill -- a bipartisan bill -- had beenin effect since 1986. That bill didn't solve the immigration crisis. Criticsblame lack of enforcement. In 2006, Republicans are in charge in Texas andin Washington, and the immigration crisis continues.
What's changed since 1993? In 2006, the United States, Mexicoand "points further south" have larger populations. That means there aremore people in the United States and more people -- with and without properpapers -- looking for work. The power of narcotrafficantes along theU.S.-Mexico border has grown. The gang violence spills across the border,increasing tensions.
Today, the United States is more security conscious -- 9-11 didthat. New security concerns have a subsidiary effect: an increased emphasison immigrant assimilation. Most new Americans learn English and salute theflag. However, radical "multiculturalists" (many drawing paychecks at U.S.universities) urge separatism. Their abrasive identity politics lackspolitical traction, but they have media pizzazz. One suspects they want toexacerbate existing problems.
Putting 6,000 National Guardsman on border duty, as PresidentBush proposes, will only minimally enhance security. As a symbol oflong-term intent to improve U.S. security, however, a troop deployment maylead 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 leftistcandidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador agrees, calling illegal immigration tothe United States "Mexico's disgrace." However, his prescription is morestatist economics policies. That's wrong. Mexico needs freer markets, but afree market needs an honest judiciary.
The long-term solution lies in expanding economic and politicalopportunity in Mexico. That's what NAFTA was really about -- evolvingMexico. In the short term, however, that doesn't pay bills at the borderhospital.