Sunday, March 24, 2013

Open the border! Wait, it’s already open!

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?


  1. While I agree with the need to:
    1. Secure the border, both south and north because all kinds of illegal immigrants can readily pass now (there's not even a strand of wire in many vast areas,
    2. Provide a path to legal status, with processing charges and qualification requirements (including being crime free, paying taxes, and learning English),
    3. Among other requirements to get them out of the shadows;

    As a sponsor of an Australian engineer and the brother-in-law of a French HR executive who went through the legal immigration process, I ask how we keep this process fair to those who have followed the rules to become legal immigrants in our country.

    We should also prioritize immigration for those who bring value to our country. Of the million annual legal immigrants, we should seek first those who will add to our business society and global competitiveness.

  2. James Byers • Take a look at Critical Considerations for Immigration Reform, . The USA immgration numbers exceeds all other countries combined. What should be the basis for our allowing someone to immigrate? For me to immigrate to all other countries I have examined, including Canada, I must be young, educated, and skilled in an area that country values. Last time I looked, Canada did not even want medical doctors. But our policy? It's almost all family patriation and illegal immigration, both of which have proved to be unworkable and burdensome.

  3. @James. And yet, it's a fait accompli. The current circumstance leaves resident illegal immigrants in permanent lower class status. They must always operate in the shadow economy. If we make them into taxpayers and provide them with the same opportunity as all Americans, they will thrive and help grow the economy. The same can be said (and was said) about the Irish who came here in the 19th Century and the Italians and Cubans who came here in the 20th. Since their status was legal, they were able to live and work here, raising children who went to college and made contributions to society and our GDP.

  4. Michael Mullikin • I believe that one of the key principles of diplomacy is reciprocity. The only REAL way to show fairness to immigrants, especially the illegal ones, is to adopt the exact SAME laws and policies that countries like Mexico have. What? Mexican immigration laws and policies are very strict and they put "illegals" in jail? Hmmmm, if they have strict laws and are demanding that we have virtually no immigration laws that effect their citizens that can mean one only thing (as Chickenman used to say) — they think we are the biggest chumps in this hemisphere.

  5. I understand the logic of your position. However, I am counseling that we look at the bigger picture. Illegal immigration across the Mexican border is driven by economic forces that are inexorable. Making taxpayers out of those who simply have come here to work harms no one. And, it would put us in a position to focus on the larger problems that I described in my post.

  6. Jason G. Ramage, MS, MBA, RBP • We don't need immigration reform; we need enforcement.

    Why people who come into this country illegally feel they have the right to demand reform so they can acheive legal status is a mystery to me.

  7. Andrew Phillips • Agreed - there are very few, if any, countries that do not protect their own borders, and it's not inhumane for us to protect ours.

    "Higher fences and wider gates" - it should be much, much more difficult to get here illegally and much easier to get here legally.

  8. Tom Jeanette, MEM, PMP • The immigration issue probably will never be settled to everyone's satisfaction because of physical, economic and moral issues.

    Physically, walls and fences don't work. Build a 17 foot tall fence and someone will bring an 18 foot ladder. Add razor wire and someone will bring wire cutters. Consider the Berlin Wall: Even with reinforced concrete walls, topped with barbed wire, protected by land mines and turrets staffed with guards armed with machine guns, people still crossed the border.

    Economically we have American businesses benefitting from illegal immigrant labor. Very low wages, poor or no benefits, and the constant state of fear that the workers must endure all mean higher profits for employers. Add to that the laughable state and federal enforcement actions taken against employers, and you get a system that rewards violators.

    Then we have the moral issues. Can we honestly say that America supports human rights when we tell people that they are lesser beings because they were born on the wrong side of a line that exists only on a piece of paper? Can we say, without a conscience, that our government, our freedoms, our liberties and our way of life is the greatest in the history of the world but you can't participate in it if you are merely trying to avoid starvation? Can we have a statue in New York harbor that proclaims "Give me your tired, your poor,Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" Maybe we need to add a disclaimer ... "* Not including Hispanics."

    The other moral issue is our own sordid history. America was founded by illegal immigrants who used deadly force to expand across the continent.

    I'm proud of our national accomplishments but disgusted at how we treat the rest of the world. It will surely lead to our eventual downfall.

  9. Jason G. Ramage, MS, MBA, RBP • Nobody is telling people they are lesser; we are simply saying you do not have the right to enter this country illegally and take advantage of all this country has to offer. There are people around the world waiting in line to come here legally. You don't deserve any special advantage because you simply decided to walk on in.

    Every other country on earth protects its borders. Mexico does not welcome illegal immigrants yet demands that we accommodate when they illegally enter the US?

    16 trillion in debt and rising, high unemployment, overburdened social services. No, I don't think we need to absorb Mexico's poverty and other ills. We have quite enough to deal with.

  10. Tom Jeanette, MEM, PMP • When someone is born in Nogales, Sonora State, Mexico, 6 feet from Nogales, Arizona, United States of America and is denied the same benefits as someone born just a few feet away, that is the very definition of being treated as a lesser person.

    High unemployment isn't due to illegal immigration, and neither is our $16 trillion debt. I'll be happy to go over the numbers with you in a different forum.

    This is a particulary sensitive issue for me since I recently discovered that the families of both of my maternal grandparents were never naturalized and never held so much as a visitor visa in the U.S.. We have plenty of land and resources here, and we can definitely benefit more from people who are willing to risk their lives to be American than we can from those who as spoiled brats thinking that assault weapon magazine size limits are justification for civil war.

  11. Jason G. Ramage, MS, MBA, RBP • No, it means that person is not a US citizen and is therefore Mexico's concern, not the US' concern. It means that someone born in Windsor is Canada's concern, not America's, and vice versa. Borders are a political reality; they're not going away no matter how many "luck of the draw" arguments anyone makes.

    This is an important matter to me too, seeing as I'm a LEGAL immigrant myself, and I view any kind of amnesty or appeasement for illegals as a giant "bleep" you to all those who came here the right way, and those who continue to wait in line to do so.

    And I don't see what the gun issue has to do with this, although I suspect you and I are closer to agreement on that issue than on this one.

  12. Tom Jeanette, MEM, PMP • The tie-in to the gun argument is that the gun nuts are willing to throw everything away based on the capacity of a magazine in an assault weapon, and yet there are others who risk everything they have, even their lives, for the freedoms and liberties that we too often take for granted.

  13. Jason G. Ramage, MS, MBA, RBP • That's rather spurious; I could draw a similar parallel to people who are willing to throw away their lives or the lives of others based on the need to read a text while driving, and that would be just as silly and irrelevant to the issue of immigration.

    Nor would I agree that there's anything noble or admirable about those willing to break the law and cut in front of others standing in line.

  14. Ralph Michalske, MBA • John, when you visited the Southwestern US and you were referred to as "Anglo" it was probably done while you were close at hand. Actually, they refer to you in other, not so nice terms, when you are not around. The point is that Mexicans are our neighbors and we should give them special respect. Mexico is not temporary. It will always border us to the South. More importantly, the same is true the other way around.

    Mexico City is also responsible for the border we share mutually. They need to communicate to their people that illegal migration from one side of the border IS ILLEGAL on both sides of the border. The Mexican Government in Mexico City must understand that both countries share this illegal migration problem. The same would be true if Canadians started illegally populating Buffalo, NY.

    In your blog you stated, "No other industrialized country has such a long land border with a third world nation". Do you think those in Mexico City would agree with you that they are a 3rd world nation? The answer is no. They view themselves with great respect which pre-dates Columbus and 1492. They see you and other Americans in a not so flattering light.

    Whatever we do to solve the problems of immigration that you have mentioned so articulately in your blog, must not just include the border States and our Federal government, but also the Mexican government. We are not the only ones responsible for the welfare of Mexican nationals here. As a 1st world nation, they must be concerned for their people who travel here, even if it means tracking their return to Mexico. Until this and other things are done, any solution will only be temporary while the border remains permanent.

  15. @Ralph. Our views are somewhat misaligned but I like the way you think about the subject. To reiterate, I think that workers who have come here (who are mostly hard working, law abiding people) are not our greatest concern. The larger concern is the army of drug lords and their minions who threaten to de-stablize Mexico. That would have a much larger effect on us than the people who come here to work. Legalize their status, make them into taxpayers and give them an opportunity to succeed.

  16. Ralph Michalske, MBA • John, I have some personal experience in immigration as I emigrated to Canada at one time. The process is long, comprehensive, and costly. However, you must go through the process to gain Landed Immigrant status in Canada. It's computerized, so you need no introduction at any government checkpoint. Except on a tourist visa, no American is allowed to walk around Canada freely. Canada takes immigration dead seriously. It is seldom a matter of discussion there, as it is here.

    First, America should only accept immigrants who are proven to be hard working, law abiding, and healthy. If this can not be demonstrated by the applicant through proper examination, then the applicant should be rejected for immigration. You'll have to trust me here, but this is how it works in Canada. There really aren't any illegal aliens in Canada. There's no way to get work, credit, hospitalization, or even rent something in Canada without legal status. Even after I got my legal status, I was still a second class citizen.

    The army of drug lords and their minions who threaten Mexico and the US are a different problem. This problem will only go away if the US and Mexico combine forces to snuff out the root cause. An example of this working would be in Columbia, thanks to US and European assistance.

    Over time, the US has allowed approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants to live here. This is also another problem. What to do with them? Frankly, I don't know. Eventually, they will need to be documented. I definitely think we need to stop adding to this large number permanently. This will take separate US and Mexican collaboration. Personally, I think the US should take a more "Love thy neighbor" approach with the government in Mexico City.

  17. @Ralph. I agree with everything you have said.

  18. James Byers • Take a look at Critical Considerations for Immigration Reform, . The USA immgration numbers exceeds all other countries combined. What should be the basis for our allowing someone to immigrate? For me to immigrate to all other countries I have examined, including Canada, I must be young, educated, and skilled in an area that country values. Last time I looked, Canada did not even want medical doctors. But our policy? It's almost all family patriation and illegal immigration, both of which have proved to be unworkable and burdensome.

  19. @James. And yet, it's a fait accompli. The current circumstance leaves resident illegal immigrants in permanent lower class status. They must always operate in the shadow economy. If we make them into taxpayers and provide them with the same opportunity as all Americans, they will thrive and help grow the economy. The same can be said (and was said) about the Irish who came here in the 19th Century and the Italians and Cubans who came here in the 20th. Since their status was legal, they were able to live and work here, raising children who went to college and made contributions to society and our GDP.

  20. Jason Gagnon, PMP • No, John, they will join the growing class of non-taxpaying low income workers who will just become a legal burden on our society. As James was pointing out, it's not like we're screening these people for useful skills in any way, shape, or form. Many of them are hard workers, I agree, and some of them fill positions that we have bred our children into thinking are beneath them (see also, "Fall of Rome").

    I do, however, completely agree with your initial title: It IS time to reform immigration policy. We need to make it easy for the doctors and lawyers and even the productive laborers to immigrate so that illegal immigration isn't a necessary evil. And we need to enforce our existing laws, get the illegals back out of the country, eliminate the 'anchor baby' loophole, stop treating illegals to welfare, education, etc. which they do not rate as non-citizens, and streamline the deportation process (especially for criminals).

    'Opening the border' does nothing except show that the US is not really a nation of laws... and provide Democrats with a huge voting bloc that they no longer have to commit fraud to get voting.

  21. Ralph Michalske, MBA • Hi Jason, you'll probably fall out of your chair if I tell you that I agree with much of what you said, if I strip out the emotional aspects of your comments. Immigration into the US is a legal process. If you don't meet the requirements for immigration, then you're not admitted. Of course, there are exceptions to this on humanitarian grounds. You're right that at a minimum we should enforce our immigration laws to stop the flow of illegal immigrants into the US. We have too many undocumented aliens here already (this is a separate sticky issue).

    Federal policies regarding immigration must get tougher for both the illegal alien and US citizens that give them work, education, medical care, credit, or rent something to them. Our policies must require proper documentation for these things. Without it, then deportation is immediate. Of course, the system must be computerized so documented legal immigrants can be found easily in a database.

    It's important that US citizens take immigration seriously as well. Banks need to demand proof of immigration status before issuing a credit or debit account (the Patriot Act demands these things of banks). Hiring domestic workers without documents should be prohibited (this will be a big lifestyle change for most Americans). Providing education or medical service should NOT be performed without proper documents. These things will make life miserable and impractical in the US for illegal aliens.

    There's more to the immigration problem besides the above. We need to deal with shutting down the flow of illegal aliens coming across the border. We also need to deal with the 11 million undocumented immigrants already here (this is really the toughest problem for which there is no easy answer).

    One thing I'm really firm about in immigration, is that this is not America's problem alone. Most of these illegal aliens are subjects of the Mexican government. It's their responsibility for the welfare of their people. America must make Mexico take ownership of this immigration problem we have. We need their help to enforce our legal immigration process on their people. How we do all this is really a huge discussion.

  22. Ray Wach • Immigration is a difficult issue to discuss; there are no clearly right or wrong answers on the big issues so we concentrate on the smaller questions, or we try to come up with answers for the big questions based on personal principles with little practicality. For example, it's easy to say that it would be more practical to issue driver's licenses to illegals who are going to drive in the US, but it's also clearly wrong to tell a DMV worker that a license applicant needs to show proof of insurance but not proof of legal status -- but this is a small question and discussing it ignores the bigger issues. As an analogy, this whole issue is like worrying what to do when your poor cousin crashes a party; we'd all feel guilty if we simply kicked him out, but we certainly don't want to give him the same dinner buffet everyone else is getting. It's hard to justify telling him to "go away, we don't want you," because we're all part of the same family, but still he didn't help set up the party and he wasn't invited. There is no good answer.

    So let me jump to the biggest issue: Why do people want to come into the US so desperately? If the economies of our southern neighbors improve, there won't be an immigration issue -- that should be our long-term goal. Frankly, there is no other long-term solution: higher walls and stricter enforcement will never prevent hungry people from crashing our party, just make our party less fun (meaning, drain our resources and waste our efforts).

  23. I've been in a business conference for the last two days so I haven't been able to participate in my own discussion. I certainly like the respectful debate I have managed to kick off.

    I would like to reiterate a few key points from my blog post:

    1. The economic forces that drive illegal immigration will not go away any time soon.
    2. The geography of the American SW does not support a secure border. The only way to secure it would be to use the US military to treat illegal immigration as an act of war (no, I didn't say that in the blog. I merely implied it.)
    3. Making illegal immigrants legal would allow us to focus on the greater threat to our security -- the Mexican drug gangs who populate the border territory.
    4. The real strategic focus should be to develop a new joint US/Mexico institutional construct to deal with the drug gangs.

  24. I used to agree with the hardcore comments made here. It's true that other countries make America look foolish regarding this subject. While I don't like the idea of surrendering to a problem that has metastasized, on a personal level, it is hard to be so firm regarding policy. Worthwhile illegal immigrants who have created value here shouldn't be deported. A recommendation process involving those who can prove or back the achievements of such people should be implemented.

    For nearly 10 years, I worked with foreign-born Asians and Latinos. They enriched my life in ways that surprised me; ask me for details. What I learned was how courageous they are. Many Americans wouldn't make a sacrifice familiarity and relocate without knowing the language or securing employment.

    There is definitely a lesson in it for us. They sometimes start businesses without licenses, permits, or authorization. The thing is that they eventually get it together and succeed somewhere along the way. Procrastination and persistence don't seem to exist in their culture. I've seen deportees return with different or the same names. Americans wouldn't be that brave twice. Talk about looking a lion in the mouth...

    I maintain my stance despite being victimized by having my car totaled two years ago by an undocumented illegal without anything required to drive legally. He wasn't even arrested and was probably driving again in two days. I live in Southern California.