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
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
"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,
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