Posted by Mitch Townsend on April 27th, 2010 (All posts by Mitch Townsend)
The president of Mexico, Felipe Calderon, does not like the immigration law recently enacted in Arizona. He thinks it “doesn’t adequately guarantee respect for people’s fundamental rights.” Whether there exists a right to enter and remain in a foreign country without permission is certainly a proposition open to debate, and not often said to exist in other circumstances.
The US border has long served as a safety valve for Mexico. When there are no jobs available there, unemployed Mexicans have often come north for better prospects. Not only does this situation permit Mexicans to make their living here and support the families they left behind, but it also takes pressure off the Mexican establishment. From the point of view of the Mexican authorities, the poor and unemployed are better off working in the US than staying home causing trouble. The prospect of violence and insurrection is a real one. A porous border protects Mexico from some of the effects of its statist policies. The remittances from abroad, even with the US in recession, are still second only to oil as a legal source of foreign income.
The US has an official policy of excluding illegal immigrants from Mexico, a business policy of employing them cheaply, and a political policy of appealing to whatever side of the question brings in votes and money. What we have not done is address the Mexican government’s policies. The current Mexican policy is to encourage illegal emigration to the US in sufficient numbers to compensate for the lack of economic opportunity within Mexico’s borders. Mexico makes little or no effort to restrict the northward flow, and has no incentive to do so.
Leaving Mexico out of this discussion makes it completely useless to deal with the subject at all. Any immigration reform in the US that is not acceptable to Mexico will be subverted.
Physical barriers can make it more difficult to cross into the US, but no barrier is impenetrable. Past efforts have affected the immigration flow only marginally. Now people cross the desert in Arizona instead of California. It is more dangerous and expensive now, which makes the smuggling gangs more important and prosperous. Short of erecting a Soviet-style border defense, with barbed wire, minefields, and machine gun posts, this is an approach that has not worked and will not work.
The single largest factor that reduced illegal immigration from Mexico was the US recession. We should take a hint from that. Think of the border as a semi-permeable membrane. If the border is impermeable to investment, but permeable to people, people will flow across toward where there is investment (and jobs) until an equilibrium point is reached. To reduce this osmotic pressure, and reach an equilibrium point involving less movement across the border, it is necessary to increase investment in Mexico.
Under the Mexican constitution (Article 27), all mineral rights belong to the government. Oil is extracted and processed by a state monopoly, Pemex. With the state desperate for money, Pemex has deferred maintenance and exploration, and is considered to be in a run-off mode as existing petroleum reserves are used up and newer extraction techniques are ignored. Nevertheless, Mexico has for many years issued licenses to foreign mining companies, and is the world’s second largest producer of silver. Under the same article, foreigners cannot own land within 100 km of a border or 50 km of the sea. Various restrictions also apply to foreign ownership in communications, transportation, and financial services.
The Mexican state uses its power over the economy to reward political allies, punish enemies, and extract benefits for the politicians themselves. Nothing about this should seem unfamiliar to residents of any large American city, but the scope given by Mexican law for self-serving politicians is something even big city mayors could only dream of.
We are going to have to accommodate a certain large number of Mexicans coming to the US. The circumstances of their coming and remaining should be debated, but so should the conditions that drive them. We should not let it happen without getting economic concessions from Mexico.
Update: Fausta has much more about the Mexican government’s cynical policy on immigration.