Saturday, April 24, 2010

Some thoughts on Illegal Immigration

It's all over the news these days that Arizona has passed a controversial law requiring that anyone confronted by the police in their state must prove that they are residing there legally. Sounds good on the surface (to some) until you see how the law is expected (by the rest of us) to be used. Since about half of all illegal immigrants are Mexican nationals, it's really going to be enforced based on skin color. Racial profiling is what they call it.

This new law, if it holds up in court, could have profound implications for our society. Other states will be considering their own version of this law. And prior to the vote, few if any, have openly discussed the potential for social and political backlash, not to mention the possibility for violent revolt and opposition.

Most of the anger and hyperventilation has been directed at the Mexican population with little press or air time devoted to the true source of the problem, which I will get to later. What about the Indians from across The Pond? The Asians? The Africans? The Muslims? They are, with very rare exceptions, people who come here for a better life. Their diversity of backgrounds, history and intellect provide an enormous input stream of ideas for solving problems, a fact that is often overlooked with regard to immigration.

Plenty of lip service has been paid to reform over the years. Many proposals for reform have embraced the idea of amnesty for illegal immigrants already living here. Amnesty might seem like a great idea, but it is totally unfair to people who have played by the rules to get here, or still waiting for their turn. If you want to come to this country, you must play by the rules. I'm probably not going to win too many friends on this one, but I think it is fairly said that if you want to be a law abiding citizen, it helps to start out as one.

There is also the issue of citizenship by birth. I'm personally in favor of a bill in Congress that would deny citizenship to children born here only by illegal immigrants. Just because you're born here doesn't make you a citizen. To be fair, you should have at least one parent who is a citizen to become a citizen by birth. It's a reasonable and fair requirement, but that's not law yet. Even if it were to become law, I'm not so sure it would survive a challenge in court.

Finally, there is dual citizenship. Anyone who maintains dual citizenship with US citizenship is going to have a hard time with loyalty to this country. If you love this country so much that you live here, sorry, you really should drop the other citizenship status. This should be a requirement of naturalization in this country, but for a number of reasons, it is not a strict requirement for all conditions.

For generations, there has been a steady demand for illegal aliens as undocumented workers. There seems to be a quiet air of collusion among some American employers to hire illegal aliens for fun and profit. Sure, one could argue that illegal aliens do work that "lazy" Americans won't do. Probably. But perhaps if these jobs paid a living wage with real benefits, we'd see more Americans in the fields picking strawberries.

By far, the biggest issue, one that is almost entirely missing from the debate is that of economic opportunity in Mexico. Mexico has next to nothing in terms of economic and social mobility (although I must admit that there are some hopeful articles on a growing middle class to be found). They have a tiny elite class, a small middle class and everyone else is in the lower class. If they had a real middle class, they wouldn't feel the need to come here. A cursory search on Google would bear this out.

The dynamic I see here is as follows:

The government of Mexico constrains or severely limits economic opportunities for every other class except for the elite classes. High officials in the government receive payoffs from our government and US corporations as well as politically entrenched constituents in Mexico. Some payoffs are public, some are private, but the result is the same. With few legal means for economic mobility, the majority of the Mexican people are left with the following options: continue to live in poverty, pursue the drug and human trades or cross the border when they can for jobs here in the US. Mexico is one country where the dynamic between economic opportunity and crime are readily apparent. With greater economic opportunity and mobility, there is less incentive to commit a crime.

Recent events, such as the housing meltdown costing more than $8 trillion in wealth, suggest that efforts to restore equilibrium are not focused on creating economic opportunity in Mexico. Rather, they are focused on reducing economic opportunities here in the US so that we are more like Mexico. The trend has been observed as an extreme concentration of wealth in America by many in the press, and even by Alan Greenspan (Ayn Rand's greatest fan). The most recent example is from Arianna Huffington in her article, "Shorting the Middle Class." Arianna, through a variety of sources, has demonstrated that what is required to become middle class in America has been reduced to becoming "lucky." That would explain the giant, salivation inducing prizes in game shows, reality shows and Extreme Home Makeover. More on this in another article.

Rather than allow this trend to continue, it could be better to work on ways to encourage the Mexican government to acknowledge the error in their ways. If or when that starts, they are likely to point to us as the reason for their errors. All along, we've been aloof, not really worrying about how they treat their people. The human rights situation in Mexico is taking it's toll, and that is the cause of migration to the US. It's interesting to note how the press has been very quiet on the topic of human rights in Mexico, but quite vocal about illegal immigration. They seem supremely reluctant to give print space and airtime to the topic of human rights violations in Mexico. It's as if they want to set the terms and bounds of the debate.

We should, at the very least, be putting trade pressure on Mexico to create a legal framework for greater economic opportunity and be willing to suspend our trade agreements with them until they do so. In the meantime, we can impose tariffs that would make doing business with them more expensive than not to. In other words, NAFTA isn't working the way it was promised. If and when we send people back to their homeland we could give them a suggestion: fix your own government.

Currently the entire debate is focused on the symptom, illegal aliens, rather than the real problem: lack of economic opportunity in countries that are the source of illegal immigrants. Regardless of how enforcement is performed, unless the source of the problem is addressed, illegal immigration will continue at or more than the current pace, with no end in sight. Please note that Mexico is not the only country to consider here, but since they are neighbors with us, they are the primary concern.

So rather than pass laws which are likely to incite retribution, anger and resentment, we could be focusing our attention on how the Mexican government treats their own people. Do they respect human rights? Do they have sunshine laws for minimizing corruption? And is there economic opportunity for mobility between the classes in their society? If the answer is "no" to any of these questions, then we can frame the debate around how to free Mexico rather than building a wall around it.
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