Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A sane voice on immigration

In today's Washington Post Princeton University professor Douglas S. Massey elevates the current discussion of US/Mexican immigration above its current xenophobic shrillness.

His main points: that such immigration is inevitable, and that our current efforts at limiting it are not only ineffective, they are actually exacerbating the problem.

After Canada, Mexico is our largest trading partner. We share a border of almost 2,000 miles with Mexico, and trade that totals $286 billion a year. The movement of goods and services is accompanied by the movement of people. In 2004 some 175,000 legal immigrants arrived from Mexico, along with 3.8 million visitors for pleasure, 433,000 business visitors, 118,000 temporary workers, 25,000 intra-company transferees, 29,000 students and exchange visitors, and 6,200 traders and investors. At the same time, 1 million Americans live in Mexico and 19 million travel there each year as visitors. U.S. foreign direct investment in Mexico totals $62 billion annually.

These massive cross-border flows occur by design, under the auspices of the North American Free Trade Agreement. But at the heart of NAFTA lies a contradiction: Even as the United States moves to promote free movement of goods, services, capital and information, we as a nation somehow seek to prevent the movement of labor. We wish to create a North American economy that integrates all markets except one: that for labor. [Emphasis mine - SK]
Which in part illuminates the divisions within the Republican party's stance on immigration. The pro-business, free-trade Republicans that Labor is part and parcel of free trade, their holy grail, something the fear-mongering, xenophobe catering element of the party just can't seem to reconcile with their own paranoia.

And our current efforts to limit migration are worse than ineffective:
Heightened border enforcement has not deterred would-be immigrants from entering the United States, nor has it reduced the size of the annual inflow. What it has done is channel migrants away from traditional crossing points to remote areas where the physical risks are great but the likelihood of getting caught is small. As a result, the number of deaths has risen to around 460 people a year while the probability of apprehension has fallen from a historical average of around 33 percent to around 10 percent.

We are spending more tax dollars to catch fewer migrants and cause more deaths, and once they are deflected from traditional crossing points, Mexicans have moved on to new destinations. Whereas two-thirds of Mexicans who came to the United States during 1985-90 went to California, in the past five years only one-third have done so. Our misplaced border policies have transformed what was a limited regional movement affecting three states into a mass migration to 50 states.

U.S. policies have also pushed Mexican migrants away from seasonal movement toward permanent settlement. Raising the costs and risks of undocumented entry has not deterred would-be migrants from coming.

Paradoxically, it has discouraged them from going home once they are here. Having faced the hazards of border crossing, undocumented migrants are loath to do so again, and instead they hunker down for the long term. As migrants stay away from home longer, they increasingly send for spouses and children.

Rather than remaining a circular flow of temporary male workers, migration from Mexico to the United States has produced a settled population of permanent residents and families, driving up immigration's social and economic costs to American taxpayers.
[Emphasis mine - SK]


Instead of criminalizing behavior that, at its base, is simply an expression of the continuing interconnectedness of our economies, we need to accept that labor is an inevitable, perhaps even desirable part of the immense amount of trade between the US and Mexico.

And instead of forcing people desiring only to better their lives to die in the desert, we rather should guide them through regular entry ports were they can be fingerprinted, photographed and licensed. Heck, we can make them pay their own license fee, better the US treasury than the local coyote, right?

If the main anti-immigrant voices were Democratic I could understand the protectionist impulse. But Republicans are famous for deferring to the twin gods of capitalism: supply and demand. Why are they then so afraid of letting those same forces guide the labor market?

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