One thing the anti-illegal immigrant crowd gets right is that those who are here in violation of the law are de facto criminals. This isn’t a good way to start off a relationship with what many of these people hope will become their new homeland. Much needs to change in US law with regard to immigration and this short essay is a small attempt to foster some discussion and other ideas toward a better solution to this problem. It seems the rest of the American people better get on the ball instead of those in Arizona or talk radio if we’re to get anywhere on the issue.
Between 1942 and 1964, the US and Mexico operated a Bracero Program that imported needed Mexican labor into the US, mainly to work in agriculture. It was a guest worker program that offered relatively high wages to Mexican campesinos who hoped to work in El Norte for awhile and go home with money in their pockets for a better life at home. While the program was a good idea, it was riddled with corruption that cheated Mexican laborers out of their pay. That notwithstanding, a revitalization of some kind of guest worker program is long overdue here. Agriculture jobs aren’t done by Americans and even in a depression, poor people aren’t going to move from cities to pick peaches for the pittances paid to farm workers.
Another element in need of re-thinking is status of illegal migrants already here. The extreme of amnesty and legalization is troubling since these folk have gotten off on a bad foot by violating our laws by showing up here, while the current non-documented status is a continuing disaster. A better approach would be to deport those who have committed any crime whatsoever. Those left could be given a new kind of status—a green card with probation that allows them to live and work, with the caveat that if they violate a lifetime probation, they’re gone. They should also pay a fee which should be treated as a security to keep the peace. If convicted of a crime, the fee is forfeit. If they don’t, it’s to be paid back with interest to their heirs or designates here or abroad. This should be mandatory for all “long-term migrants” intending to marry in the US and every state marriage license should be granted only on payment of this fee. A fee could be made in installments but would have an iron-clad deadline.
Beyond that, immigrants who show that they are directly contributing to the economy of the US should get bumped up a notch in the citizenship line. If they start a business, teach a trade, earn letters of recommendation from employers grateful for their skill and attention, they should be rewarded. America is a nation that respects sweat equity and if these folks are willing to roll up their sleeves and go to work—especially in jobs that aren’t done by Yankees anymore, they—and especially their American-born children should benefit.
As for children, American born or not, their immigrant parent’s status could ride to some extent on how well the young-’uns do in school. Some families without a tradition of education in their crowd don’t value education enough and this needs to change for many people, including immigrants and their kids. They need to be taught about the promise of America and reminded that to have a shot at achieving the American dream takes brains, not just muscles or a pretty face.
Beyond that, if we were smarter, we’d breathe life into American labor unions again and more Americans would belong to them. Membership in an American labor union should be limited to citizens or those with legal status intending to become American citizens. This would do much to screen out illegal workers from industry—without the intrusive hand of Uncle giving permission for a job as now occurs with E-verify. Unions might give American workers better bargaining rights and a greater say over their economic futures, too.
The feds must lean on Mexico’s government to limit migration from their side. This may take the form of an annual quota, or by levying fines against the families of those found to be in the US illegally, but since it’s obvious that we can’t solve the problem alone, it makes sense to ask the neighbors for help. The incentive for Mexico would be to save face—it does nothing for the Mexican government to have to swallow the insult Arizona recently threw at it and perhaps they would be willing to do something more progressive in the future. Ultimately, loosening the strictures against Americans’ living, working and owning property in Mexico need to be re-thought, too.
We could just lock the border, of course— put soldiers on the line with barbed wire and guns. This would make our hardcases happy. But fool moves like this would only make Mexico a pressure cooker of repression and poverty that would soon explode into some version of a Red revolution with Cuba, Venezuela and China lending support and munitions. That’s a scenario that no American wants to see, but it could become likely if the kind of imbecility we have in high places keeps on keeping on. In the end, our neighbor’s troubles are our own and solving them won’t be done by hate-filled hotheads or craven bureaucrats. Surely, we’re better than that.