Mr. Calderon, Tear Down this Wall

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.

13 thoughts on “Mr. Calderon, Tear Down this Wall”

  1. 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.

    that’s ridiculous. you just said it worked in california. and please stop meddling in the internal affairs of mexico.

  2. We should not let it happen without getting economic concessions from Mexico.

    That is an interesting suggestion. What specifically do you have in mind?

    I once heard Michael Savage suggest for each illegal immigrant that comes over the border to the US, that Mexico provide on barrel of oil.

    I am not much of a Savage devote but is this what you are suggesting?

  3. @Newrouter: As your nick indicates, the crackdown in California forced the smugglers to take a new route. It didn’t stop illegal immigration. When you say “it worked in California,” but fail to mention why Arizona is now the main entry point and the subject of discussion, you pretty much concede that point.

    It may have reduced it somewhat, but not as much as the recession. It certainly made it more difficult, dangerous, and expensive. One side effect has been that illegal immigrants no longer return home to Mexico, because it is so much more difficult to come back to the United States. Before, they used to head home for Christmas and family gatherings; now they have to stay here. More and more we see wives and children trying to come north to join their men who cannot come home. Any reduction in illegal northbound crossings is largely offset by a reduction in southbound traffic. There are also a lot more bodies in the desert.

    As far as the US interfering with Mexico’s internal affairs, how do you feel about the Mexican government interfering with ours? Do you think they should be permitted to export their labor surplus without our say-so? Calderon’s statements indicate he thinks Mexicans have a right to come here freely, whether we like it or not.

    @Newguy40: At the very least, they should remove the restrictions on economic activity by foreigners. That would include ownership of real estate, banks, telecommunications, etc. Also, as a comparison, the only political office in the United States not available to a naturalized citizen is that of president (btw, the Mexican equivalent of Obama would be ineligible – both his parents would have to have been natural born citizens, according to Article 82). In Mexico, civil offices from policeman up are available only to natural born Mexicans. In all other jobs, Mexicans are legally preferred over foreigners, even those legally resident in Mexico. If they want jobs here but exclude us from jobs there, where is their moral claim? The maquiladora system does not go anywhere near far enough.

    Ultimately, Mexico and the US will continue to converge. Texas is the model I would prefer. Intermarriage, cultural blending, and strong cross-border economic integration beat the California caste system, to my mind. Outside of the Anglosphere, Mexico is the least foreign of foreign countries. They know us, we know them. We need to restore the bracero program ASAP. The US welfare state will have to be scaled back, and deportation will have to be nearly instantaneous in order to accommodate the volume of emigration Mexico needs. Long-term, we need to raise Mexico closer to our level and get relations to something like what we enjoy with Canada.

  4. Ehh, so how are all those mequilladoras working out down there? Seemed like only yesterday that all our manufacturing jobs were moving right across the border.

  5. The big difference in where illegals come across is the fence. Of course, the fence building stopped on Jan 21.2009.

    In Yuma, at least, the fence seems to be preventing illegal border-crossings.

    Bernacke, the patrol agent, says that since the triple fence was finished in October, there has been a 72 percent decline in illegal migrant apprehensions in the 120-mile swath of the US-Mexican border known as the Yuma sector. Eight hundred people used to be apprehended trying to cross the border here every day. Now, agents catch 50 people or fewer daily.

    The 1.5-mile strip of triple fencing that cuts through suburban San Luis is the most impenetrable, says Bernacke.

    That’s because the three walls are separated here by a 75-yard “no man’s land” – a flat, sandy corridor punctuated by pole-topped lighting, cameras, radio systems, and radar units, where unauthorized migrants can be chased down by border agents.

    The answer is clear but the political will is absent.

    By the way, I am pro-legal immigrant. I know a German couple who finally won the lottery for resident visas a couple of years ago. He is a master plumber and she is a nurse midwife. He wanted to start his own business which he said was impossible in Germany. There are millions like them all over the world.

    I review workers comp claims as a part time job in retirement. I would say 75% percent are Hispanic surnames and about 2/3 of them do not speak English. Of the non-English speakers, most claim a second grade education and are illiterate in Spanish, let alone English. The only work they are fitted for is labor and they are often broken down by age 40, after which they live (often in Mexico) on disability pensions.

    The drug wars and kidnappings are involving Arizona now, especially Phoenix, and soon there will be a horrendous incident.

  6. Since the first colonist landed in the “New World” this land has been a job’s creating machine, sucking bodies in from everywhere, including those not free. This was a new land, land was cheap and it was yours. Then we wrote the Constitution, Liberty, Property and a Predictable Rule of Law, not always perfect, just better than anywhere else on the planet! Created wealth and continued being a job’s creating machine. Then in 1973, the SCOTUS said -hey, it’s ok to terminate your pregnancy, don’t want you to be inconvienced. This resulted in +/- 40-50 million potential workers not being available, to substitute, we had more immigration. Census said we currently have about 40 million immigrants, 25 million legal, 15 million illegal, these immigrants cover the spectrum-ditch digger to Rocket Scientist. As we got richer we needed more folks at the entry level, waiter, ditcher digger, lawn mower, apple picker, etc. and because of Roe v Wade they were not there. Obviously, can’t let these unskilled types in legally, let them sneak in and work. Oh, by the way, these manual labor types don’t all work at some submarginal wage, many are good, dependable, hard working types and can demand reasonable wages.
    But one thing we know for sure – Obama has solved the illegal immigrant problem (and legal also), he destroyed the economy, no more are we a job creating machine!

  7. I don’t think Mexico is going to do anything for us. The political consensus in this country appears to be moving in the direction of wanting completion of a full border wall before other measures are tried. The political classes are resisting and want business as usual. The new Arizona law is a major step by border residents to force the feds to act. It’s like the vote to ban minarets in Switzerland or the rise of far-right political parties in western Europe: if national establishments won’t acknowledge an important concern of the voters, the voters will take matters into their own hands, sometimes in crude ways.

    Building a fence or wall is a lousy idea except for the fact that none of the “solutions” advocated by the political classes have worked, and now that Mexico’s crime/warfare are spilling over into our country in a major way the problem can no longer be ignored. Either the border states will start cracking down in ways that will probably degrade civil liberties or we can build a wall. The wall works well in Israel. It will be expensive here because of the length of the border, but the alternatives have higher costs. If border residents are fed up they will eventually tolerate local laws authorizing police to roust anyone who looks like a possible illegal, or worse. A well-patrolled wall, despite its high cost, is the better option.

    It would be great if we could admit anyone into this country who wants to work, but politically that’s a nonstarter until voters are confident that 1) we control our borders and 2) our exploding entitlements system won’t reward newcomers.

  8. One tongue-in-cheek suggestion would be to apply the same restrictions on Mexican immigrants here as Mexico applies to immigrants to Mexico.

    Mexico’s own treatment of illegal migrants is draconian and ruthless. They seem to view migrants coming from Central America as competitors so they just grab people and dump them back across the border without benefit of trial or legal review. (Of course, they are usually shook down by corrupt authorities as well.)

    Mexico has no cause to lecture anyone about racism and inhumane treatment of foreigners and migrants.

    The reason that Mexico is so fanatical about fostering immigration to the US is because immigrants are Mexico’s second largest export behind oil. Remittances from workers in the US pump account for something like 20% of Mexico’s foreign exchange and the profit margin is much higher. All those people struggling across the desert represent big bucks for the Mexican elite.

  9. Just to clarify a point of fact, the Mexican laws restricting foreign land ownership near the coast and the border were implemented at the request of the United States during WWII in order to make it more difficult for German spies to establish points of entry and operating bases for agents looking to sneak into the US. Outdated, yes, but they were our idea – not Mexico’s. Foreigners essentially obtain use of the land via 99 year leases for a whopping up front payment (basically the purchase price of the property) and $1 a year for the lease.

  10. Shannon,

    How do the illegals “represent big bucks for the Mexican elite”? The Western Union offices in illegal heavy areas are lined up with illegals sending money home every payday. You are right that the moeny is a huge addition to the Mexican economy – it, tourism and oil are the 3 biggest sources of money inflow to Mexico, but I don’t see how the Mexican elite gain from a guy sending a couple hundred bucks to the family via Western Union.

    Note that my in-laws are part of the “Mexican elite” and I am sure they would like to know if they are missing out on a lucrative opportunity :)

  11. “Physical barriers can make it more difficult to cross into the US, but no barrier is impenetrable … this is an approach that has not worked and will not work.”

    Mmmmkayyyy. But why not try, anyway? Sitting around wringing our hands and whimpering, “what to do? what to DO?” certainly isn’t keeping the gangs and the drugs and the guns and God-knows-what-else out of our country.

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