Stemming the Tide

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece called “Birthright,” also published here on WordFeeder.  In it, I made the point that many illegal Mexican immigrants, by virtue of their initiative, their motivation, their work ethic and commitment to the fundamental principles of our country, may well deserve to be here.  Whatever the circumstances of their coming, I argued that they have earned their right to be citizens of these United States, and that we should welcome them and the contribution they and their successors will make.

That having been said, I understand the problems which the continuing flow of illegal immigrants into the country present to the local communities which are affected, and to the individual American workers whose jobs may be threatened.  At the time, when I wrote “Birthright,” I said I didn’t have a solution to the immigration problem.  Well, that wasn’t quite true.  I do, but just wasn’t ready to talk about it.

Instead of trying to stop Mexican people from crossing the border illegally, let’s take away their primary reason for wanting to leave their native country – and help the US economy in the process.  Let’s learn from what motivates these people, and leverage their circumstances and work ethic to our advantage in a mutually beneficial way.  It will take a while, but the fix will be permanent, and of great benefit to US business and our workforce if it’s done right.

Why are they coming?  To find work, to make enough money to take care of their families, and improve the quality of their lives, because living here is better than living there.  Instead of spending billions of our tax dollars to keep illegal Mexican immigrants out of the country, and to deal with them once they’ve come here, let’s use those same dollars, in cooperation with corporate America and the Mexican government, to build the economy of Mexico – starting with highly concentrated efforts in those communities and regions which are disproportionately high sources of illegal immigrants.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about foreign aid.  Not even close.  I don’t even like the concept of foreign aid, except in times of extreme national emergencies when assistance can’t wait for economic development.  What I’m talking about is spending our tax dollars to encourage our nation’s companies – of whatever size and in whatever businesses make sense – to set up shop in Mexico, create jobs and income, to provide services essential to native development of the Mexican economy, generate foreign trade for the US economy, and ship the profit dollars they make back to the United States.

And I’m not talking about some piecemeal, now and then effort by our government, and privately by selected corporations who are moving production (and US workers’ jobs) south of the border to save money.  What I’m suggesting is a widespread, coordinated effort through which US businesses produce and sell both US-made and locally manufactured products and services by and for Mexicans – most definitely not for the purpose of producing what we already make here, but less expensively there, although there are circumstances under which that might make sense.

In the process of reducing the influx of illegal immigrants, we’ll be generating additional employment for Americans here and there.  And we’ll be doing something else even more profound.  We will have begun, in earnest, the long overdue task of accelerating the development of the Mexican economy to make that country a more lucrative trading partner, increasing their demand for United States goods and services.

The Europeans have their Union.  It’s high time we join with Canada and Mexico to form our own Union of North American Economies, and then eventually reach out to recruit qualified democracies in Central and South America.  (Don’t you think it’s time China got up in the morning and worried more about what we were doing, economically speaking, rather than the other way around?)  But let’s not get distracted.

Will using economic development – by American firms in Mexico – to reduce immigration take time?  Sure, although starting by making investments in local Mexican companies already in place might help.  But then sealing the border will take time, too.  More importantly, it’ll do nothing to change the circumstances that created the flow of illegals, and nothing which will have any significant, long-term beneficial impact on the US economy.  No question about it, the problem of continuing illegal immigration from our neighbor nation to the south is serious, and something we have to stop as soon as possible.  So why not choose a solution that addresses its underlying causes, while making a substantial, enduring contribution to our own economy?

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