I lived in Denver for a few years and had the experience of being referred to as an Anglo when I visited places like Santa Fe and Tucson. Being from New York, it struck me as odd. When I was a kid the W.A.S.P. crowd made sure I was aware of our ethnic difference. I was not Anglo-Saxon or Protestant. So, why are all these Mexican-Americans referring to me as an Anglo
The US has seen many non-Protestant waves of immigrants from the Irish to Italians and certainly many non-Anglo-Saxon waves of immigrants as well. But other than Mexicans, none have had a historical claim to American territory. Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, California, Nevada and Utah were part of Mexico until the 1840’s. Even after those states became part of the US, there was a substantial footprint of Mexicans throughout the territory. Even today, Mexicans who arrive here “enjoy a sense of being on their own turf” according to Boston College professor Peter Skerry.
In this context, it seems that Tea Party Senator Rand Paul is a little late to the party when he pronounced last week that, "Prudence, compassion and thrift all point us toward the same goal: bringing these workers out of the shadows and into becoming and being taxpaying members of society." The fact that he has come to this conclusion suggests that we may yet get comprehensive immigration reform.
Many conservatives insist that we must “secure our border” first. But it’s fair to say that the border has never been secure. The geography of the southwestern US and northwestern Mexico is dominated by desert. There is no natural geographic boundary like a wide river or a mountain range.
And, it’s also fair to say that the status quo hampers the progress of long-time productive residents by ensuring they will always operate in the shadow economy. Legalizing their status will give them upward mobility and provide their children with an opportunity to succeed.
Our focus on the Middle East over the last 10 years has absorbed over $1T of American capital as well as the attention of two presidents, four secretaries of state, four secretaries of defense, the people in the administration who work for them, the Congress and our intelligence establishment. It has also cost over 5000 American lives and impaired our economic prospects.
Meanwhile, a massive state failure was developing on our southern border with more profound implications for our long-term future. No other industrialized country has such a long land border with a third world nation. Perhaps it’s time for us to direct our attention and our resources southward.
The challenges of the porous Mexican-American border are not part of the daily consciousness of Washington elites. Not only are they not dealing with platoons of illegal entrants crossing their property and inhabiting their cities, but also they aren’t paying the bill. The costs – education, medical care and crime prevention – are primarily borne by the states.
Yet, the challenges of integrating massive waves of immigrant Mexicans and Central Americans pale in comparison to the threat of Mexican drug cartels in the rugged terrain of the mountains adjacent to Ciudad Juarez. It may be that the only way to defeat them is through military action. Yet cross border tension and our focus on illegal immigration hamper our ability to create the right kind of alliance between two countries that lack the legal framework to cooperatively address that challenge.
There are millions of Mexican, Central and South American immigrants in this country illegally. The vast majority of them are law-abiding people seeking to work and support their families. Why not legalize their status? There are also millions who cross the border illegally to work and send money home to their families. Why not legalize their visiting worker status?
The legalized status of these people will enable us to focus on the real challenges of our relationship with Mexico. It is essential that the Mexican government not be allowed to fail. We have spent hundreds of billions of dollars ensuring historical outcomes in the Middle East. Yet we are amazingly passive about what is happening to a country with which we share a long land border.
The only question is: WHO WILL LEAD?