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Saturday, May 7

Mexico-US: The darkness of inattention

(Many thanks to Bruce Kesler , who alerted me that The San Diego Union-Tribune is a good source for US news about Mexico and sent me the Union-Tribune report that quotes Sidney Weintraub.)

"Pundita, re your essay on the external approach to solving the illegal immigrant problem:

The way I conceptualize the problem is in terms of "pull" forces and "push" forces. Both need to be addressed but while the push forces (the forces pushing Mexican migrants over our borders) are the more important they're also the hardest to address both politically and pragmatically.

The pull forces can be addressed by putting more onus on employers. Leaning on employers in just three states--California, Texas and Illinois--would produce a mighty effect. Coincidentally, those three states have large numbers of electoral votes and presidents (or those who wish they were presidents) are disinclined to do much leaning.

An additional problem in dealing with immigration is that we don't even agree on the terms of the discourse. I'm in the process of preparing a decision diagram on immigration that may make things a little clearer.
Dave in Chicago at The Glittering Eye."

Dear Dave:
Please hurry up with that diagram; it's desperately needed. I am going to assume that by "immigration" you're referring principally to illegal immigration. Now let me see if I understand you correctly: It's hard for Americans to address the actual reasons that drive large numbers of Mexican/Central Americans to illegally enter the US. Ergo, Americans who want solutions to the illegals problem should busy themselves with addressing the price of tea in Outer Mongolia.

If you cry, "Foul!"--well, pragmatic solutions only work if they deal with reality. The reality is that the Mexican government has the US government in a hammerlock because of the oil deal that Fox struck with Bush. Fox's government has taken obscene advantage of the deal. His administration has a tacit program of encouraging Mexicans to illegally immigrate to the USA--a program that's flowed to the state and local levels in Mexico. The upshot: a tidal wave of Mexicans trying to get across the border. According to Georgie Anne Geyer at the San Diego Union-Tribune:
Mexico, as a state, is publicly encouraging its people to go to America – in effect, to break its neighbor's laws – so that (1) it can rid itself of its egregious overpopulation and bring its approximately $12 billion in remittances home every year, and (2) thus also rid itself of ambitious dissidents who politically could threaten the corrupt and inept state they come from.

The Bush administration wants to form a guest-worker program for the estimated 500,000 Mexican workers who cross the border every year. Sidney Weintraub, one of America's most cogent Latin American scholars, now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, recently pointed out in The Financial Times that what America would really be doing with a guest-worker program is subsidizing companies who can get away with paying foreign workers pittances of what they pay Americans.

At the same time, he pointed out – and these figures can be backed up endlessly with examples of the Mexican government's corruption and haplessness at development – federal tax revenue in Mexico is now less than 12 percent of gross domestic product, one of the lowest ratios in even Latin America.

So one can argue that U.S. taxpayers are not only relieving Mexico of its excess and potentially politically tricky population, but also making good the shortfall from the failure of the country's own tax collection efforts.
So if you won't take it from Pundita or the International Monetary Fund, perhaps you'll take it from Sidney Weintraub. The rich tax deadbeats in Mexico and Fox's government are pulling a fast one, which is why my first essay on Mexico was titled Why Vicente Fox is going straight to hell.

There's no internal or "pull" solution that will deal effectively with a bunch of slicks operating from Mexico's side of the border. And with all due respect, it's naive to propose that the US employers who benefit from Fox's human export program are going to cooperate with US laws meant to break dependence on illegal employees. Such employers will stop hiring illegals only when forced to do so by draconian enforcement mechanisms that would turn this country into a police state. But no fear of that happening because the expense of creating and maintaining that kind of enforcement would crash US state budgets.

Of course laws already on the books should be enforced but the first task is to thin the crowd of illegals so that present US enforcement mechanisms are not overwhelmed. The only way to thin the crowd is to back it away from the border: deal with it at the points of origins; e.g., southern Mexico. But this approach depends on breaking Fox's hammerlock on the Bush administration. This in turn depends on the American voter waking up to the "push" side of the problem.

Realize that Fox's human export program operates under cover of darkness--the darkness of inattention from the American public. The irony is that many educated Americans of Mexican heritage are not blind to what's going on in Mexico, but their voices don't make it onto the US nightly national news.

It's so hard to address the "push" issues simply because Americans haven't the foggiest idea about the issues. That's because for decades our glorious national news media have conceived of Mexico as situated somewhere out in the galaxy between Venus and Saturn. Only a handful of regional (southwestern) US media do daily reporting on Mexico yet that is not enough, given Mexico's importance to the USA and the complexity of the illegals problem and it's connection with post-9/11 defense concerns.

The upshot is that Americans can't talk knowledgeably let alone intelligently about Mexico's problems. So when asked why so many illegals come to this country from Mexico, Americans reply that it's because of poverty and unemployment. Internal or what you term "pull" solutions stack up from there. Yet the entire stack is based on erroneous perceptions, a general view of Mexico that is decades old, and ignorance about recent developments in Mexico.

Because of the knowledge deficit, few Americans are aware that concerns in Washington about Lopez Obrador's growing power in Mexico translate to a glass ceiling for many proposed US measures to deal with the immigration problem.

Because of the knowledge deficit, few Americans know there is a faction in Mexico that intelligently views the illegals problem as Mexico's problem to deal with. This is an extraordinary development. It goes against the long-held Mexican tradition that looks at the illegals as America's problem to deal with--a tradition that Fox's government has promoted.

The faction has set off great controversy in Mexico. So they need all the help and encouragement they can get from Americans, including the Congress. Instead, they're getting obstruction from American activists who work to help illegals assimilate in the US and no attention from the general American public, which translates to no help from Congress.

And because of the knowledge deficit, Americans can't argue to Mexicans who have been unwitting pawns of Fox's human export program that they are pawns. Mexico's ruling class has long encouraged the export of their 'troublemakers' --the Mexicans who have the strongest opposition to corruption and inertia in their government. This set in motion a vicious cycle: the more the really outraged Mexicans flee to the US, the fewer troublemakers left in Mexico to contest bad government. This makes conditions in Mexico worse by further weakening opposition to bad government. This causes yet more Mexicans to flee.

To help break the cycle, Americans must effectively argue to their congressional representatives, the White House and Mexicans that if there was ever a time for Mexicans to stay home and fight for better government, now is that time because of historical forces. Yet Americans can't argue because of their knowledge deficit.

I hope by now I've made my point. Americans concentrate on internal solutions to the illegal immigrant problem because that's all they know--and even their knowledge of technical and legal matters concerning proposed internal solutions is very sparse and often erroneous.

But because of the knowledge deficit, the American window on Mexico only looks out on the US-Mexico border. Thus, Americans fixate on solutions that equate to asking, "How can we stop this flood of Mexicans and Central Americans from crossing the border into the US?"

Just from the security angle that's the wrong question. Once you've got a flood backed up, the most you can do is play Hans Brinker. The right question is to ask how to prevent pools of people from becoming a human tide at a border. The answer is that you use every diplomatic means available, including the US arsenal of policy instruments, to stop the pools from turning into a tide at the border. For a few specific suggestions, read back through my earlier essays on Mexico.

But the World Bank and the IMF have dug in their heels. They've said in effect to Fox's government: Fix the blasted tax code and go ahead with structural adjustments, or forget getting more megabucks WPA-type project loans that we know Mexico will default on anyway.

So what we have is a Mexican Standoff. Is there any way to break the standoff? Yes; there are two ways that I've seen. But much depends on Mexico's political parties and the Fox and Bush administration seeing Americans awakened from their long slumber about Mexican affairs. As with so many other problematical situations around the world, the "illegals problem" has flourished in the darkness of inattention.

I understand that I've thrown a great deal of data at the reader since starting my series of essays on Mexico and the illegal immigrant situation. Much if not all the data is new to Americans who don't live in the southwestern United States and don't follow doings at the World Bank and IMF. I myself am struggling to play catchup regarding Mexico's situation because so much of my attention has been focused the Middle East and Europe since 9/11. But the journey of a thousand miles has to begin. If Americans really want a solution to the illegals problem, we must get better informed about the "push" factors and act on what we learn. Toward this end I look forward to your diagram.
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