Immigration Policy & Mexico

27 Jan

I don’t think that the illegal immigrants from Mexico are a serious problem, save in that they represent a ‘grey’ subculture in which worse things can hide. That is a problem to be solved by rationalizing our immigration laws, which I expect will happen shortly after Lucifer orders several million pairs of ice skates. Amnesty won’t solve it, because it will leave the bad laws in place. Closing the border wouldn’t solve it either; the border is some 1900 plus miles long, and fortifying it would cost the flipping earth. The Hispanics I meet from day to day strike me as hard working, polite, cheerful, and generally at least as good an addition to our nation as the Irish were.

But there is an aspect to the Mexican immigration problem that nobody apparently wants to talk about, and I doubt that anything useful can be decided without at least alluding to it.
The Mexican government, never much good at the best of times, has reached a pinnacle of ostentatious incompetence and Byzantine corruption that stands out, even in the miserable history of Central and South American governance. It is exactly the kind of festering sore that, before the 20th century, would have invited invasion and annexation. If only to put a stop to the spilling of chaos across the shared border.
A large part of the problem is the long stretch when the Mexican government was, effectively, Socialist. As an opposition candidate said near the end of that six decade period, “If the government was put in charge of a desert, in ten years they would be announcing a shortage of sand”. Things got so bad that even the State owned monopoly on Mexican oil production was losing money. The economy of Mexico is so poor that, for some time now, the second or third (depending on who is reporting) largest source of money in the economy is Mexicans in the United States sending money home.
I think that is what kept President Bush from heeding the calls to close the border more securely; the near certainty that doing so could only accelerate the Mexican economy’s decent into oblivion. By now that descent is well along, and we have regular reports of drug gangs operating across the border.
What to do about this mess is far from clear. Unless our own economy begins a surge, we are in a poor position to try to export economic vigor. Ending the ‘War on Drugs’ (a good idea on its own merits) might help, but the Mexican drug gangs are hard to figure. They might not transition to legality well. And, of course, there are all kinds of vested interests and one-cause Crusaders here in the U.S. who would hate the idea. The invade and conquer idea is seriously unfashionable; so much so that it probably wouldn’t be allowed to work, even if it might have absent other considerations. And the usual solution – offering foreign aid – has already been tried extensively in Mexico, with results that can be described as mediocre at best.
What ails Mexico, at base, is a social structure that treats the common people like farm animals. Important, perhaps, but not to be trusted to look after themselves. And this is hardly new; it pretty much describes every form of government/social structure that has afflicted Mexico for all of recorded history. The common folk of Mexico are accustomed to working around this, and if reports I read by American expats in the country are to be trusted they do reasonably well, under the circumstances. But it has never been easy for somebody without connections to claim ownership of anything in Mexico, which makes generating wealth through capital investment hard. Just when an enterprise is beginning to generate real money, it is likely to be descended on by officials, semi-officials, and local Big Men with their hands out. And fixing that would involve, again, going in and changing things by force.
I have written else where that I fear the United States is headed for true Imperialism. I suspect one of the first signs is going to be that we send the military into Mexico to ‘maintain the peace’. As I’ve said here, I doubt that will work well, but it may work well enough to constitute an improvement. And that will prove to be a quagmire far stickier than anything President Bush got us into in Iraq.
Other than invasion, it may well be that the very best we can do is to try to rationalize our immigration laws, and so bring the current illegal immigrant population out of the shadows, which ought (but beware of “ought” in politics) to make their economic position better. That, in turn, might give them the clout to affect changes back home. We can hope.
But it might be wise to put up signs on the border saying “Will the last productive person to leave Mexico please make sure the windows are closed, and the gas has been turned off.”

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