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As Long as We Remember...

April 13, 2006

Here's One Possible Solution...

Tony Soltero

One of the many memorable scenes in the Coen brothers' classic movie "Fargo" features the conniving car salesman, played by William H. Macy, "negotiating" a deal with a potential customer. After a few minutes of back-and-forth, hemming and hawing, Macy's character tells the prospective buyer that he's got a rock-bottom offer for him, but that he has to clear it with his manager first.

The salesman retires to the manager's office, whereupon they trade small talk about a football game on TV. No car ever gets mentioned. He then returns and announces to the customer that it's his lucky day - the manager has signed off on this once-in-a-lifetime deal!

After watching the immigration spectacle unfold on Capitol Hill last week, I must conclude that we have a Congress full of characters like Macy's. Not often have we observed so much rhetoric, so much posturing, and so much phony dealing in our legislative body for the purposes of providing the illusion that Congress and the White House really want to "reform" immigration.

The current immigration situation is extremely lucrative for many American employers, who get a cheap, docile, benefits-free labor pool out of it, and their designated representatives will not do anything substantial to upset such a convenient little arrangement.

But congressmen also know the value of making it look like they're trying to do something, just to mollify the increasingly-irrelevant voting public, so they put on a little show. And what was the result? We're back where we started.

Any "immigration reform" legislation that doesn't take employers into account isn't worth taking seriously. The antics of Congress last week didn't disappoint, focusing on punitive measures toward immigrants that might make certain reactionary elements of the voting base feel better about themselves, but won't do diddly to improve the lot of either immigrants or American citizens.

Hardly ever were the employers of illegal immigrants - the reason they come here - mentioned. Most of the "solutions" were oriented toward creating a new class of "guest workers" (read: indentured servants) that would institutionalize the ability of employers to ignore the labor laws that protect American citizens.

Such quick fixes don't solve anything; they simply punt the issue to a different level. It's hard to deny, too, the undercurrents of racism that fuel public perception of this "crisis." It's doubtful that the rhetoric from talk radio would be so shrill if we were talking about, say, Irish immigrants. But what would be the single best long-term strategy toward decreasing, if not eliminating, the illegal immigrant flow into America?

Well, there aren't any quick and easy answers. The single best thing we can do is to encourage economic development and improved living standards in the countries that export the most immigrants to us.

Look at the faces in the marches. Did you notice any Swedes or Australians? There might have been a couple, but generally people don't emigrate from those countries. They have strong economies, good wages and salaries, and high standards of living. There's no incentive to leave.

Meanwhile, Mexico, Guatemala, and many other countries continue to feature weak economies, high unemployment, and debilitating poverty. People can and do stream out of those nations, often risking their lives, because they need to feed their families.

Instead of focusing on the costly, symptom-oriented approach of forcibly turning them back (only to have them come in again), why don't we undertake the long-term solution of fortifying their home countries' economies so that they don't feel the pull to leave to begin with?

And isn't it time we started re-examining NAFTA? The agreement has been in place for over a decade, and the lot of the average Mexican (not to mention the average American) has gotten worse, not better. If this trade agreement was supposed to increase continental prosperity, isn't it about time we started seeing some results?

But the flow of economic refugees from Mexico gets larger, not smaller, every year. Maybe it's time to vote in a new Congress that will perform an honest re-evaluation of the trade pact. Something's obviously not working.

Mexico is a country endowed with enormous natural resources (including the most lucrative one of all, oil). It has a pretty solid educational system. There's every reason it can make the leap into first-world status - just like South Korea did, from a much lower base.

And yet many Mexican citizens continue to lead lives of extreme deprivation, resulting in the kind of desperation that drives them to seek a better life north of the border. Rather than treat these struggling people as criminals, maybe our efforts would be better oriented toward helping Mexico get on its feet economically. It would certainly be a vastly more productive endeavor than launching another middle-eastern war.

It's time for our government to pursue a real, substantive resolution to the immigration issue, and resist cheap, quick, and ultimately ineffectual brute-force measures. You don't solve a problem by proclaiming it illegal - that's a lesson we've stubbornly refused to learn from the never-ending war-on-selected-drugs.

It is pretty obvious that we're going to need a different government than the one we have now. Then maybe we can consider feeding NAFTA (and CAFTA) into the wood chipper if they continue to fail to deliver.

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