Thursday, September 7

Golden Oldie - Mexico-US: The darkness of inattention

Pundita is on vacation until September 16. The following essay, which I've abridged for this post, was originally published in May 2005.

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 it can (1) 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.

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.

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 has 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.

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 to 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.)

In addition to diplomacy 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.

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