Monday, April 10, 2006

Mexico's elections

Given that immigration has become a huge topic in the U.S., you would expect that it would also be a leading issue in Mexico's presidential election, which will take place in July.

You would be wrong. Just take a look at the candidates' official web sites.

Front-runner Andrés Manuel López Obrador doesn't mention migrants in his "50 pledges". Well, except for his bizarre plan to grow lumber on one million hectares in Mexico's souther states to provide income for that region's rural population, where supposedly emmigration to the U.S. has grown the most (not true, by the way).

As for Roberto Madrazo, of the PRI, you have to burrow deeply to find anything on this topic. Actually, it's only mentioned in a book he "wrote" (look at the "Soberanía" chapter), where he includes meaningless platitudes such as expanding existing programs for agricultural workers (we only have one with Canada) and encouraging greater labor mobility across borders.

Only Felipe Calderón, of the ruling PAN party, actually mentions the possibility of reaching a migratory accord with the U.S., mainly in the context of defending the human rights of immigrants.

This is not really surprising. Vicente Fox staked a lot by promoting a far-reaching migratory accord with the U.S., only to see this initiative fall victim to 9/11 and Mexico's opposition to the Irak war. Although George W. Bush did in the end submit an acceptable proposal (at least by Mexico's standards), Mexico had little voice or input on it or on the current process in Congress. Thus, no candidate will raise his voice on an issue whose outcome is so uncertain and, besides, the political influence of migrants on Mexican elections is limited.

While this silence is understandable, it still is a shame. Mexico needs to insist that it have a voice in this debate. Of course, that involves risks and the need to contemplate difficult and unpopular comitments, starting with a recognition that the U.S. can and must gain control of its borders.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Another brick in the Wall

Charles Krauthammer has just come out with an op-ed in favor of building a wall on the Mexican border, while favoring blanket legalization for illegal immigrants already here.

So the insanity continues. Once again, Mexico is not even an afterthought. Krauthammer says the following:

Forget employer sanctions. Build a barrier. It is simply ridiculous to say it cannot be done. If one fence won't do it, then build a second 100 yards behind it. And then build a road for patrols in between. Put in cameras. Put in sensors. Put out lots of patrols.

Can't be done? Israel's border fence has been extraordinarily successful in keeping out potential infiltrators who are far more determined than mere immigrants. Nor have very many North Koreans crossed into South Korea in the past 50 years.

Of course it will be ugly. So are the concrete barriers to keep truck bombs from driving into the White House. But sometimes necessity trumps aesthetics. And don't tell me that this is our Berlin Wall. When you build a wall to keep people in, that's a prison. When you build a wall to keep people out, that's an expression of sovereignty. The fence around your house is a perfectly legitimate expression of your desire to control who comes into your house to eat, sleep and use the facilities. It imprisons no one.

Of course, no barrier will be foolproof. But it doesn't have to be. It simply has to reduce the river of illegals to a manageable trickle. Once we can do that, everything becomes possible -- most especially, humanizing the situation of our 11 million illegals.

Yes, the U.S. can do this as a sovereign act and, yes, it's different from the Berlin Wall. But it won't be seen that way by the rest of the world, not least Mexico and the rest of Latin America.

But leave aside the symbolism. What about practicalities? How will you do this without seriously disrupting life on the border? What about family reunification? What about the cost?

It horrifies me that the immigration debate is being reduced to either accepting the Wall or letting hordes of immigrants come at will. I can't repeat enough times that there are other, much better options. They have to recognize that this is a multilateral issue that requires the involvment of, and negotiations with, Mexico and Central America.

Still stuck

Turns out that the compromise bill in the Senate couldn't muster enough support. It'll be tacken up in a couple of weeks.

My guess? Given how things stand and the current political climate, even if the Senate comes up with something, it'll flounder when it has to be reconciled with the House's version.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Waiting for the Senate...and other news

Today the Senate is supposed to come up with an immigration bill (see the lates here).

Will it be any good? Probably not. Jacob Weisberg dissects the options and concludes that none of them are any good.

I agree with that. In fact, he comes close to the main problem by simply mentioning Mexico!! Yes, thousands of articles have been written lately on immigration and all but a handful don't even mention the country where 70%+ of illegal immigrants come from. You know, the one with a population of 105 million and a 3,000 mile borker with the U.S. But Weisberg doesn't go beyond that.

That, my friends, is why any unilateral measure approved by Congress will end up being bad policy. If Mexico and Central America are not brought on board any immigration reform initiative, it will cause a foreign policy catastrophe, it will not be effective and it will not deal with the supply-side isues.

So you want to get tough on employers?

Everyone agrees that the only effective way of reducing illegal immigration is by making employers reluctant to hire undocumented workers. To do this, you have to give employers a simple, low-cost way of checking a worker's legal status and threaten stiff sanctions to those who won't.

Sounds simple, right? It isn't. Read this.

In fact, the cure may be worse, mucho worse, than the problem.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

What the U.S. does right

Sorry for the absence, but a heavy work schedule has distracted me precisely at the worst possible moment.

To get on with it, there has been a huge amount published about immigration lately. One of the bes op-eds I've read has been by Fareed Zakaria, who convincingly argues that immigration is something the U.S. has gotten right compared to Europe. A must read. Key graphs:

Compared with every other country in the world, America does immigration superbly. Do we really want to junk that for the French approach?

The United States has a real problem with flows of illegal immigrants, largely from Mexico (70 percent of illegal immigrants are from that one country). But let us understand the forces at work here. "The income gap between the United States and Mexico is the largest between any two contiguous countries in the world," writes Stanford historian David Kennedy. That huge disparity is producing massive demand in the United States and massive supply from Mexico and Central America. Whenever governments try to come between these two forces -- think of drugs -- simply increasing enforcement does not work. Tighter border control is an excellent idea, but to work, it will have to be coupled with some recognition of the laws of supply and demand -- that is, it will have to include expansion of the legal immigrant pool.

Beyond the purely economic issue, however, there is the much deeper one that defines America -- to itself, to its immigrants and to the world. How do we want to treat those who are already in this country, working and living with us? How do we want to treat those who come in on visas or guest permits? These people must have some hope, some reasonable path to becoming Americans. Otherwise we are sending a signal that there are groups of people who are somehow unfit to be Americans, that these newcomers are not really welcome and that what we want are workers, not potential citizens. And we will end up with immigrants who have similarly cold feelings about America.

Monday, March 27, 2006

White smoke from the Senate

The Judiciary Committee has approved a proposal. It includes a guest-worker program plus more enforcement. Details are still sketchy.

This game is not over by any means. The full Senate has to weigh-in and it must be reconcilled with the harsh House proposal.

Reynolds on immigration

Glenn Reynolds, to his credit, has a worthwhile piece on immigration out today.

Rivers of people....rivers of backlash?

The L.A. march was truly impressive. One does not see 500,000 people on the streets (peacefully) very often, anywhere. One wonders what will happen with this "people power" if Congress passes a harsh, enforcement-only immigration bill.

Will the Average Joe be offended after seeing so many immigrants, legal or not, waving Mexican (and U.S.) flags? Mickey Kaus certainly thinks so.

Certainly, it is hard for me to gage the antipathy of U.S. natives to Latinos, although I'm increasingly pessimistic. It seems shocking, for instance, that most white Americans believe that Mexicans do not and will bother to learn English (something that is true only of the most recent arrivals).

What seems fairly certain is that the huge gulf between both populations will lead to a very suboptimal result if indeed some sort of immigration reform comes to pass.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Crunch time

It seems that next week the Senate will determine the shape of its immigration reform proposal. The politics are rather complex, as this article starkly shows.

The sticking point: Republicans are split. These paragraphs summ it up quite nicely:

For Republican presidential candidates, immigration offers up a difficult choice: Appeal to conservatives eager to clamp down on illegal immigration who could buoy your position in the primaries, or take a moderate stand to win independents and the growing Latino vote, which could be vital to winning the general election.

"The short-term politics of this are pretty clear. The long-term politics are pretty clear. And they're both at odds," said Mike Buttry, a spokesman for Sen. Chuck Hagel (Neb.), another potential GOP presidential candidate.

In other words, Republicans are tempted to use immigration as their new "Southern strategy", which paid handsome dividends for them over the last three decades. However, demographics argue that over the long-run turning Latinos into yellow dog Democrats is suicide for the GOP.

This situation explains why GOP extremists, like Tom Tancredo, are pushing for massive deportations. They know that this is their last chance: if they can't push the 12 million illegals out of the country, the political weight of Latinos will grow very quickly in the future, making it very unlikely that harsh reprisals will be taken against them.

Needless to say, I believe their efforts are doomed. The U.S. would lose its soul if it undertook massive deportations. Even in these troubled times, I don't believe most citizens, even conservatives, would be willing to make that sacrifice for illusory security

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Senate debate

The Senate has been debating on immigration this month. I'm on holiday and haven't had time keep up, but I did run into this piece, which examines the efforts of the Republican right, namely Bill Frist, to reduce the whole issue into enforcement.