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As Long as We Remember...

May 31, 2006

The Great Mexican Maginot Line

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Last Thursday, the United States Senate passed the "Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006" by a vote of 62 to 36. The legislation has sparked rigorous and rancorous debate as it supports a bi-partisan, multi-disciplinary approach to the challenges of immigration reform embraced by President George W. Bush.

The Senate legislation connects the necessary security of the border with Mexico with a "guest-worker" program, which will enable immigrant laborers to work in our country. It also creates a procedure for current undocumented workers to pay back taxes, pay a fine, learn English and apply for citizenship.

It has set up a showdown between the president, the Senate, many conservatives and the House of Representatives.

All indications are that House members are digging in their heels. Moreover, Speaker Dennis Hastert (R., IL) is convinced that the majority of the American people are aligned with him and the majority in the House.

The House version of immigration reform, "The Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005" passed last December by a vote of 239 to 182. It is totally pre-occupied with sealing the border with Mexico and essentially ignores the other existing challenges with our country's addiction to foreign labor pools.

There is no doubt that the border with Mexico must be secured. One of the basic definitions of a nation-state is definable and defensible borders and right now the border with Mexico looks more like the Kashmir region between India and Pakistan.

Nevertheless, overlooked in the great immigration debate is the critical need for immigration reforms that will secure a legal and stable workforce - especially in agriculture. The House "enforcement only" legislation ignores agriculture's labor needs and will have a huge negative effect on our food supplies, on American farms and the economy.

The Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall, the Maginot Line between France and Germany, and the Great Mexican Wall will all share a common history - a failed attempt by a boorish and arrogant government to change reality by virtue of its collective political will and a total ignorance of market economics.

Government cannot physically override the will and industry of humans to overcome an artificial barrier. As long as there are jobs and a perception of a better way of life in this country, folks will make the Great Mexican Wall look silly by siege and stealth.

Writing in The Washington Post recently, Richard Rodriguez explained the obvious this way: ".a recent poll taken twice (over several months) by the Pew Hispanic Center found that more than 40 percent of Mexicans would emigrate to the United States if given the opportunity. Twenty percent would be willing to emigrate illegally."

One of the biggest dynamics in immigration reform that is out of our control will happen on July 2 - the day of the presidential elections in Mexico. Mexican President Vicente Fox cannot run for re-election as the Mexican constitution denies him another term.

Syndicated Bloomberg columnist Amity Shlaes said it best: "If Mexican voters choose the market-oriented Felipe Calderon as president, he may lead Mexico's congress to change laws so that more Mexicans want to build careers at home. If they opt for Andres Obrador, who is left-leaning, then more Mexican citizens will head north, whether we build a wall or not."

Miss Shlaes hammered home the point that instead of American reactionaries "shouting 'Mexican, go home,' they could shout 'Mexico, Grow!'"

It isn't an unsecured Mexican border that's the problem; it's the Mexican economy - and our lack of an orderly and streamlined process to regulate a legal immigrant labor force to which out country has grown dependent. It might be said that the United States and Mexican governments are enabling a co-dependence on illegal immigration.

Until that co-dependence is meaningfully addressed, the Great Mexican Wall is best described as the world's next Maginot Line.

The bulk of the construction of the Maginot Line took place between 1930 and 1935 and cost about three billion French francs. The strategy of building "the wall" was based on the static trench warfare of World War I, which had been eclipsed by technology years before 1935. This was obvious to everyone except the French.

It took Germany approximately five days to circumvent it in May 1940, sealing the fate of France in World War II and relegating the term Maginot Line to history as meaning a government initiative formulated at a huge expense - to give a country and its citizens a false sense of security.

Ultimately, the Great Mexican Maginot Line is an equally foolish endeavor that ignores reality.

Our nation's agriculture labor issues alone will defeat a wall. Forty per cent of all hired agricultural workers in the United States are immigrants - legal or illegal.

Until there is an orderly and reality-based guest-worker program that facilitates legal and practical management of our country's labor needs, do not complain about immigrant workers with your mouth full.

The French Maginot Line is now a great tourist attraction. The last thing our country needs is billions spent on a future generation's tourist attraction along the Mexican border.

Money spent on concrete and wire would be better spent on border patrol personnel and equipment, enforcement of immigration laws in the heartland of America, and a streamlined sensible and practical - and enforceable - guest-worker program.

If illegal immigration bothers you, the best thing you could do about it is send a campaign contribution to Felipe Calderon in Mexico, start buying Mexican products, and support the Bush administration backed Senate version of immigration reform.

As long as the Mexican economy flounders, the Great Mexican Wall will protect us as well as the Maginot Line defended France. Only a broad sweeping, multi-disciplinary approach to immigration reform will secure our border with Mexico.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster: E-mail him at:

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