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US Immigration Policy Stuck on a Merry-Go-Round of No Long-Term Solutions

LatinaLista — What debate, strike that, bad word. What arguing on immigration reform has shown is that no one really cares about treating the cause of the exodus from Mexico and other Latin American countries but would rather talk only about the symptoms.
The symptoms being mass migration from south of the border with little regard for immigration law, borders, or personal safety.
Because this country has always only dealt with the symptoms of the problem, it’s not surprising that we are faced yet again with what to do with a massive population that legally does not belong here but is emotionally rooted here.

It’s time to realistically look at the cause and apply a collective effort to remedy it, or there will be no getting off the Immigration Merry-Go-Round.

In an excellent article at the Americas Program, Center for International Policy (CIP), the author sums up the reason for our immigration debacle: The North American Free Trade Agreement, otherwise known as NAFTA.

In the early 90s, when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was still but a gleam in the eye of Presidents Carlos Salinas de Gortari and George Bush Sr., the atmosphere in Mexican political and business circles was positively euphoric. It was a time of major structural reforms in Mexico, and NAFTA was to be the crowning glory of Mexico’s modernization, its ticket into the First World. Proponents predicted that the agreement would be a win-win deal—consumers would get cheaper food, producers would become more efficient, and immigration would decrease as the developing economy of Mexico converged with the world’s economic superpower to the North.
Fourteen years later, we see nearly the opposite. As trade between the two countries has grown, so have the huge gaps in how people live. Following NAFTA the Mexican economy went into the tailspin now known as the “tequila crisis” when its currency devalued as a result of capital flight. Years later, growth has still been much lower than expected, averaging around 2% and only 1% per capita.
Even according to NAFTA apologist the World Bank, this growth “has been insufficiently high for per capita income levels in the Mexican economy to converge with those of its NAFTA partners … From this relative perspective, there has been no real progress over the last 15 years.

We have only to see evidence of this in the faces of the undocumented immigrants who come here. The majority come from rural areas that depended on farming for their livelihoods. Others are professionals like doctors and teachers who didn’t get the jobs they expected after graduating from school because of the fierce competition for too few of those highly coveted jobs, or if they did get them, found that their salaries could never come close to paying off the loans and debt they incurred while training for those positions.
So, they all come to the United States not ashamed to wash dishes, mop floors, lay asphalt, do whatever to earn the money that they would like to earn back home but can’t.

Since NAFTA, the Mexican economy rests on four pillars: the informal economy, non-renewable resources (oil and gas), remittances from migrants in the United States, and drug trafficking. To call that a shaky foundation would be an understatement.

So what is to be done?
To say it’s Mexico’s and Latin America’s problems conveniently ignores the United States’ role in all this.

Today, the United States has to share some responsibility for the poverty, unemployment, and out-migration in Mexico. Consider the following:
* When NAFTA was applied, the United States offered no compensation or sector transition funds despite the huge gap between the two economies.
* The U.S. government has given Mexico an average of only $40 million dollars in aid annually over recent years, while U.S. companies have reaped record profits, partly from their new Mexico operations and cheap illegal Mexican migrant labor in the United States.
* Mechanisms to assure that U.S. companies pay living wages and provide decent working conditions are practically non-existent, and NAFTA prohibits performance requirements that would assure more links between foreign companies’ operations and the Mexican economy.

Whether it’s US companies, US exports or US labor force, the bottom line is that the trail for today’s mass migration doesn’t just lead to our front door — it’s entered our homes.
It’s time to devise a new plan that creates greater economic equality among neighbor countries or we’ll be stuck on the merry-go-round, too dizzy to see clearly anymore.

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  • Frank
    November 8, 2007 at 9:52 pm

    Until Mexico cleans up its corruption there is no real solution for Mexicans except to rise up and demand their country be fixed. It doesn’t appear that they have the will. So we need to protect our own citizens and our own borders. And we need to enforce our immigration laws.

  • Horace
    November 10, 2007 at 3:09 pm

    Oklahoma plans to turn the merry-go-round off>
    Thu November 8, 2007
    Legislator plans new reform
    Michaell McNutt
    Capitol Bureau
    The author of the state’s immigration bill said Wednesday he will file legislation seeking to make English the official language in Oklahoma and to give law officers the right to seize assets, such as a vehicle or a home, when used to transport or house illegal immigrants.
    Rep. Randy Terrill said the measure, which he dubbed ‘son of 1804 bill” in reference to his House Bill 1804 that won overwhelming approval in both chambers of the Legislature this year, also would require school districts to provide a more accurate accounting of how many children who are here illegally attend their schools. Estimates are children who are here illegally cost the state’s schools about $160 million a year, he said. He thinks the cost is much higher.
    Charging ahead
    Terrill, R-Moore, said he wants to crack down on so-called anchor babies, children whose mothers come to the United States to give birth. The U.S. Constitution states children born in this country are U.S. citizens.
    About 30 states have passed legislation making English the official language, and the timing is right in Oklahoma, he said.
    ‘That is some unfinished business that we need to take care of here with regard to an overall real meaningful immigration reform package,” Terrill said as he announced his ideas to members of the Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee.
    ‘You have my commitment on this,” Terrill said. ‘I’m never going to give up on this issue. We’re going to continue to charge ahead.”
    His idea to deal with babies born to illegal immigrants would be for Oklahoma to refuse to issue a birth certificate, he said. Instead, the state would send an acknowledgement of birth to the U.S. embassy or consulate of the parents’ nation of origin requesting a birth certificate.
    ‘That would set up the legal challenge because you would have unlawfully present, foreign national parents who would be suing the state of Oklahoma to try to get a birth certificate for a child who they would be claiming is a U.S. citizen,” he said.
    Law enforcement changes
    Terrill’s legislation also calls for providing financial incentives to local police and sheriff departments to send officers to get federal training on immigration issues, he said. Tulsa County is the only county in the state that has a partnership with the U.S. Immigration, Customs and Enforcement to track the immigration status of people arrested for crimes.
    That office ‘is the model for how our other state and local law enforcement agencies in Oklahoma ought to be enforcing federal immigration law,” he said.
    Terrill said he has received calls from legislators in about 12 states interested in writing similar legislation to HB 1804, which makes it criminal to transport, hire, harbor, house or conceal illegal immigrants. It also requires local law enforcement agencies to check immigration status. The law, which went into effect last week, effectively ends state-sponsored benefits for those who cannot prove they are legally in the United States.
    He predicted as many as 30 states will consider similar legislation during the next few months.
    Terrill said he also wants to introduce legislation to reverse a policy that allows illegal immigrant mothers to receive state and federally subsidized prenatal care in Oklahoma.
    ‘I’m a conservative pro-life Republican, I believe that life begins in conceptions,” Terrill said. ‘And I believe that there are certain basic human rights that come in with personhood, the biggest one being the protection of your right to life. But that is a much different concept than being a legal U.S. citizen.”

  • Marisa Treviño
    November 10, 2007 at 4:17 pm

    Okay, Frank and Horace, I know that everything is black and white to you guys and that definitely makes dealing with life easier. The only thing is – it’s not reality.
    The manner Oklahoma, and other states like it, are trying to “fix” their immigration woes does a lot more harm to a lot more people than creating any longlasting solutions. In fact, it doesn’t solve anything.
    Re-read the post. Walling off our border and expelling millions of people aren’t the answer – cooperation with Mexico and other South American countries regarding NAFTA is the responsible course of action. Our greed is what has bitten this country’s ass.

  • Frank
    November 10, 2007 at 5:07 pm

    Marisa, it is the answer for American citizens and their country. We should not care what the answer is for illegal aliens. The only people Oklahoma’s laws will affect negatively are the illegal aliens and those who profit from them and that is precisely what we want. We want to make life difficult for illegals here so they will go back to their home countries voluntarily. That along with securing our borders and sanctioning employers will go a long ways in solving our illegal immigration problem.
    Yes, our government created this mess in many ways, perhaps NAFTA is one of them but we regular Americans don’t want to pay for their dumb decisions anymore and we don’t intend too. The greed you speak of is on the part of some dishonest employers and our government for looking the other way, not of regular Americans. We are taking our country back from the traitors in congress and their greedy corporate buddies. We are no longer going to pay for their greed, their disrespect for our laws and their bad policies.

  • BastaYa
    November 10, 2007 at 5:56 pm

    Yes, we need to change NAFTA, CAFTA and stop the SPP.
    NAFTA benefits the rich in both countries. It hurts the middle and lower classes in both countries. It was put in place by the governments of both countries.
    What better way to effect a real change in Mexico than to repatriate several million of their citizens that used the USA to develop their political awareness and activism. They can also take along with them the extensive network of ethnic / racial / nationalistic / religious organizations supporting them. The change needs to happen in their native countries.
    Si, se puede!

  • Crock
    November 10, 2007 at 10:17 pm

    “Throughout American history, the government has said we’re in an
    unprecedented crisis and that we must live without civil
    liberties until the crisis is over. It’s a hoax.”
    — Yale Kamisar, 1990

  • Horace
    November 16, 2007 at 7:19 pm

    25 states are considering emulating Oklahoma’s new laws against illegal aliens. And yave, don’t bother to correct me with regard to the use of the term IA, as I don’t give a damn what you believe.
    Others may copy state’s bill
    By Devona Walker
    Staff Writer
    In 12 states across the country, legislators are working on proposals identical to or that closely resemble Oklahoma’s House Bill 1804, which took effect Nov. 1.
    Some expect that number to exceed 25 by early next year.
    “Oklahoma has always been at the forefront of the immigration reform movement,” said state Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore. “HB 1804 is a model bill for immigration enforcement through attrition. It’s a model, not just for Oklahoma, but for other states.”
    Terrill’s first try at immigration enforcement, HB 3119, was defeated in Oklahoma. Large chunks of it were later used in Georgia, the first to pass state legislation. Then Arizona became first to do so by voter referendum. Oklahoma then revisited immigration reform, borrowing passages from Colorado and Arizona. It added a few more — including a provision that equates firing an American worker while retaining an illegal immigrant worker with economic discrimination.
    The Oklahoma Citizens and Taxpayer Act, the toughest immigration enforcement measure in the nation, is apparently being repackaged and duplicated in many states. Oklahoma’s landmark “tough on aliens” enforcement measure is reshaping the debate and reinvigorating the ranks of the reform movement.
    Mimicking HB 1804
    Barbara Nichols of Emporia, Kan., is founder of the Kansas Immigration Reform Effort. Nichols says Kansans might tweak HB 1804 “to better fit Kansas”, but something akin to HB 1804 will be introduced at the next legislative session.
    “Oklahoma’s done all the groundwork as far as getting a bill passed,” Nichols said. “And so far, the challenges against 1804 have been thrown out. And that’s an advantage to any other state trying to do this.”
    Nichols’ group has expanded into all four quadrants of the state, largely through Internet networks.
    Grassroots activism
    There are more than 300 anti-illegal immigration groups in the country.
    “With the success in Oklahoma, there’s been just a fallout of people calling and e-mailing and wanting to know how we did it in Oklahoma,” said Carol Helm, founder of Immigration Reform for Oklahoma Now.
    In recent months, Helm has advised citizen groups from Kansas, Nebraska, Montana, California, Alabama and New Jersey about immigration enforcement campaigns.
    Just last week she was in Florida meeting with a congressional delegation. In South Carolina, North Carolina, Utah, Missouri and Tennessee, she knows there are efforts under way. Recently she was informed that Arkansas is also considering immigration reform.
    But before IRON, Helm was a low-key Tulsa housewife.
    “When I went into this, I basically was of the opinion that those poor folks were just trying to come here to get a better life. But the more I learned, I realized there were no controls,” Helm said. “That’s why I have this mindset, it because of the statistics and the facts.”
    A social uprising?
    “When the federal government basically abandoned comprehensive immigration reform, it created an opening for activists in states and localities to see how they might address it,” said Migration Policy Institute President Demetrios Papademetriou. “When this happens, clearly the people who are most motivated, if you will, the people who are most angry about it, they basically shape the debate.”
    HB 1804 could be found unconstitutional. No one knows what ramifications there might be: How it will be enforced and to what degree are still relative mysteries.
    “Think of this as a period of chaos,” Papademetriou said.
    Some actions will likely prove to be wrong-headed. Others will have unanticipated and adverse effects. Though hypocritical, the immigration reform movement is nothing less than a social uprising, he added.
    “This is not just a bunch of activists that are doing this. It does represent the broader opinions of the populous. The activists are literally tapping into something broader,” Papademetriou said
    Dan Nyagol of Kenya is an international student at the University of Central Oklahoma. Before coming here he heard nothing about immigration enforcement. Since he arrived, it’s difficult to dismiss.
    “Every country has a right to protect its borders,” Nyagol said. “But in my country, we view the U.S. as the land of opportunity. That’s what most immigrants think. That’s why we come here.”
    Ultimately, he says the immigration debate does not affect him. He came here with the correct papers to study and will likely leave soon after graduation. But as a foreign national, the debate still leaves him feeling a bit cold.
    “To be honest, it makes me feel a little like I’m not wanted,” he said.

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