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Thursday, April 14

Mexico: Beep this is a recording

"Pundita, I'm writing about your observation [in yesterday's post] "The illegal commutes can and must be thinned out, so that the banditos and terroristas cannot easily commute between Mexico and the US under cover of crowds."

That's what I've advocated for some time. Your World Bank approach is certainly an effective method although the method I've advocated is enforcement with employers in California, Texas, and Illinois. By the way, W. F. Buckley isn't entirely clueless about Mexico. He's a native speaker of Spanish (spoke Spanish before English IIRC), spent his early years in Mexico, has close contacts there. Family fortune made through the Mexican oil industry.
[Signed] Dave in Chicago"

Dear Dave:

Buckley's own words, as expressed in the Op-Ed piece I quoted in the post, demonstrate that he is not knowledgeable about Mexico--although it would be more precise to say that whatever he knows or believes about Mexico is no use whatsoever to getting a handle on Mexican immigration, the problems of Mexico, what constitutes good US policy toward Mexico, and the southern border security problem.

Enforcement of laws with regard to employment is a purely domestic issue, which is outside this blog's purview. But off the top of my head I think it's wrong to put the American small business employer on the front lines of the war on terror. Of course we should all be watchful and this applies as well to employers, large and small. Within their limits small business employers should hire only legal workers; however, I wouldn't depend on them to accurately verify whether a prospective hire is in the US legally.

And the issue of border security needs to be looked at as distinct from the issue of illegal migration/commuting. That point was pounded home by the 9/11 hijackers. Having legal status in this country is no barrier to the person being a terrorist.

The 9/11 terrorists found US airports to be a soft target; that's why they chose that venue of attack. The same applies to US border checkpoints, which are still a soft target. The task is to harden those checkpoints. The question is which border most needs hardening. The US Customs and Border Protection division of INS reported in 2004 that:
A majority of illegal immigrants who try to cross the southern [Mexican] border are not from border communities. They have made the long journey from rural villages in southern Mexico.
The big question is how many of those journeying people are Mexican. Don't expect good results on that question from the Mexican government. They don't want to spend money on the kind of studies and patrolling that's needed to get a good handle on migrations from other Latin American countries into Mexico and via Mexico to the US.

Yet one of the most striking bits of information I've come across is that the ratio of USD-peso wage earnings has barely changed in a century. That means higher wages in the US, per se, have not created the flood of migrants from Latin America. What's changed vastly is ease of travel from Central America to the Mexico-US.

America saw few migrations from southern Mexico and further south in Latin America until the 1960s, when extensive road building projects in Latin America and cheap airfare made it possible for large numbers to travel long distances with relative ease.

The most irritating information I've seen is from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas :
Underdeveloped capital markets in Mexico are a contributing factor [in Mexican migration to the US] because they make borrowing difficult for most people. In surveys, migrants often cite the need for capital to start businesses, build houses, repay loans or pay for medical procedures as a main reason for migrating to the United States.
What is this? "Give me your tired, your poor, your first time home builders and loan refinancers?" I swear, Vicente Fox and the entire Mexican government are going straight to hell unless they modernize the banking system, cut out mountains of regulatory ed tape, and get the rich in Mexico to pay their fair share of taxes.

But when you put those two pieces of information together, something is screwy. This is on the theory that poor rural southern Mexicans don't have paying off loans and raising capital for business startups at the top of their list of reasons for migrating.

So I suspect that the Dallas Federal Reserve tends to use the term 'migrant' loosely. There seem to be three separate categories of workers from Latin America: migrants, commuters, and 'expats' -- people living and working in this country just long enough to study or raise capital before they return to their homes in a Latin American country.

Pundita can't find data that treats the Latin American 'migration' situation according to the three categories and within those categories the breakdown on illegals and legals. That doesn't mean the data isn't available; it means I can't find it and I'm not going to spend weeks scaring it up. That's the government's job. Then they need to publish all the compiled data online so we can see what we're really dealing with.

Of course data on the number of illegals is always a rough estimate. But Pundita dislikes feeling her way around in the dark. How can we come up with intelligent strategies for hardening the border checkpoints without good data?

In any case, that's I mean when I talk about thinning out the crowd at the southern border checkpoints. It's going to take a combination of approaches before the checkpoints can be hardened. The World Bank-IMF have a use in this respect because they can lean on Fox's government to make structural adjustments. These will remove the impetus for the Mexican loan shoppers and capital raisers to travel to America. That will greatly reduce traffic at the border crossings.

But that doesn't thin the traffic enough, when all three categories are taken under consideration. The idea is to thin the crowd to the point where border agents have roughly as much time as Israeli airport personnel to examine inbound and outbound commuters. For that, you need filters.

The number of Mexican-US checkpoints should be increased and strung out over a larger area. Commuter buses or trains can bridge the distance needed to travel from an outlying checkpoint to the one nearest the commuter's region of employment.

But the first filters should be deep in Mexico. For that the Mexican government has to cough up the money for improved border patrols, surveillance, and data gathering and analysis. Here, a World Bank loan would come in handy but the Mexican government doesn't want to take out that kind of loan. They want other types of loans from the Bank--loans they wouldn't need, if they had an adequate tax base beep this is a recording.

With that, we bring to a close, for a time, our series of discussions about Mexico.

For links to other Pundita essays on Mexico, US-Mexico relations, immigration from Mexico and the Mexico-US border situation/war on terror, see Mexico Desk.
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