Mexicans Keep Coming Because U.S. Businesses Can't Stop Hiring Them

Saturday, November 30, 2002

The Dallas Morning News
published in the Salt Lake Tribune

DALLAS, TX -- Wouldn't you love to have been a mosca on the wall in Mexico City this week when Secretary of State Colin Powell, U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza and other high-ranking U.S. officials met with their Mexican counterparts to discuss what the Americans like to call a mutual problem: 4 million to 5 million Mexicans working and living illegally in the United States?

Can't you hear the Mexicans chortle, "What do you mean our problem, amigos?"

Immigrants -- illegal or otherwise -- have become one of Mexico's most profitable exports. Mexican workers in the United States send an estimated $10 billion annually to relatives back home. That money flows into the Mexican economy and, in some cases, keeps entire villages afloat.

Besides, the Mexican officials might ask, "Haven't you Americanos, in essence, given these immigrants an engraved invitation to join you in your country with your hiring practices, your willingness to turn a blind eye to fake IDs, your insatiable appetite for cheap labor?"

Still, the Mexicans must consider it in their best interests to try to bring some order to an immigration system that has become chaotic at best. Mexican President Vicente Fox used Powell's visit to challenge the Bush administration to restart negotiations on immigration reform derailed by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Fox's impatience is partly rooted in a concern over how Mexican migrants are being treated in the United States.
Mexicans hear stories about citizen posses who roam the American side of the border in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas trying to play border patrol agents. Winchesters at the ready, these vigilantes spend their weekends out on patrol capturing Mexican immigrants who cross into the United States illegally. Sometimes immigrants get hurt. A few have been killed. The posse leaders say they are frustrated by the inability of the Border Patrol to keep out illegal immigrants.

They are right to be frustrated, wrong to take matters into their hands and foolish to think that the problem begins and ends at the border.

Listen to the Mexicans again. "Those stupid Americans! They think they're John Wayne. Haven't they figured it out by now? Mexicans can't stop coming because Americans can't stop hiring them. Do they really think the United States -- the world's last remaining superpower -- lacks the resources to stop illegal immigration? What it lacks is the will, and the reason for that is the current system benefits U.S. business interests who are, after all, in America, the straw that stirs the margarita."

The immigrants do keep coming. In the days after the attacks, with the ensuing crackdown on the nation's borders, the numbers dropped off a bit. But recent statistics compiled by the Border Patrol -- the real one, not the weekend warriors -- show that apprehensions of illegal immigrants are more or less back to what they were before the terrorists struck.

In fact, an assistant chief in the South Texas office says the numbers down there might be "slightly higher" than what they were before Sept. 11. This despite the fact that immigrant smugglers are charging as much as $2,000 a head.

So with armed vigilantes at the border, and more Mexican immigrants than ever entering the United States illegally, who needs government? In the cat-and-mouse game playing out along the border, some people will try to cross and others will try to stop them. And what politicians say or do -- in either country -- is rapidly becoming irrelevant.

That should suit Congress just fine. Since Sept. 11, few members have had the courage to say or do much of anything about reforming the immigration system. Afraid of being accused of encouraging more traffic across our borders at a time when Americans are understandably skittish about border security, our representatives have ducked their responsibilities.

In a climate of such fear, it is no wonder that the idea of "regularization" (read: amnesty) for millions of Mexicans already here -- backed by the Fox and Bush administrations -- has languished on Capitol Hill.

Amnesty isn't the answer. But it is long past time to, once again, start asking some tough questions. At the top of the list: What do Americans hold more sacred -- our immigration laws or the desire to profit from cheap labor? In the first few days after the Sept. 11 attacks, official Washington was quick to assume that the debate about immigration reform was off the table. That was accepted as a political reality. Now, not having the debate seems out of touch with reality.


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