Immigration’s Neglected Roots


Politicians too often speak of immigration in terms designed to inflame prejudices or propose policies that only kick the problem down the road for a few years. In 1986, the Reagan amnesty resulted in new citizens, but also the current political crisis. The policy failed to address the causes of immigration, and as the effects of NAFTA began to spread through the Mexican economy, an explosion of rural poverty set off the current wave of economic immigration. The currently favored policies of a ‘path to citizenship’ and a ‘guest worker program’ are positive, but do not really address the issue of immigration so much as place another political band-aid on the issue. In a few years, as our continued failure to address lack of equitable economic development in Mexico sends millions more north seeking a living, we will come to realize that we have failed again to address the real issue.

As a wave of immigration protests engulfs our nation, with millions of people in the streets, comparisons to a second Civil Rights movement are not unwarranted. These protests are not just immigrants demanding rights, they are a reaction to the underlying issues of human rights, economic justice, labor solidarity and a mighty shout of awakening from a long-dormant Latino voice proclaiming NAFTA’s failure to raise all boats in Mexico, and its scuttling of far too many in America. The protests highlight a major disconnect between the daily reality of immigrant workers and low-wage American workers and the solutions offered by either party.

The politics of both parties, to a greater or lesser extent, emphasize a need for enhanced border security to stop the flow of undocumented workers. The irony is that so many of those who want to militarize and crack down on the border are thereby advocating spending billions more on enforcement and deportations, while also advocating massive tax cuts. Both (most) Democrats and moderate Republicans recognize the need to deal with the estimated 12 million undocumented workers already here through legalization and a ‘guest worker’ program. The problem with this prescription is it only deals with current symptoms, not the underlying cause. The compromises that were considered and rejected in the Senate last week would have left millions of undocumented workers without a path to citizenship and facing the complete disruption of their lives. The ‘guest worker’ policy, which enjoys bi-partisan support in principle, fails to provide enough visas to eliminate incentives to come to the United States by extra-legal means and does not reduce the financial incentives for employers to hire undocumented workers rather than documented ‘guest workers’. In addition, we have to consider whether France is the best model to follow for our immigration policy. Do we want a population of second-class citizens who do not assimilate? Perhaps it is wiser for every person who comes the United States to be given a stake in America’s future?

It is a rare politician that diagnoses the underlying malady of illegal immigrations as our trade policy and development assistance to Mexico, let alone intelligently proposes solutions. The neglected roots of the immigration issue is the NAFTA framework’s failure to create a Mexican middle class. Instead, NAFTA has only increased income inequality in both Mexico and here at home. Handing corporations in both countries the ability to arbitrage labor costs across a highly porous border between the two countries with the greatest income disparity of any contiguous countries on earth has had predicable results on both sides. Rural agronomists in Mexico and low wage laborers in America have taken the brunt of the blow, while the wealthiest in both nations benefited disproportionately. For Mexicans, it was heavily subsidized and industrialized American agriculture which was the direct cause of their misery. For Americans, it was desperate and pliable undocumented Mexican workers lowering wages at the bottom of the wage scale by between 5 and 10%.

What does a real solution to this issue look like? It will involve moves to lessen the ability of corporation to engage in such border labor arbitrage. Some states have already passed laws to make a worker’s immigration status irrelevant in workers compensation and other labor rights disputes. By reducing the legal advantages over undocumented workers that employer enjoy, States hope to reduce the incentives to hire undocumented workers. Such moves to ensure full labor rights to all workers in America are headed the right direction. The solution will also involve negotiating a binding codicil to NAFTA to provide for labor union, environmental, safety, and living wage standards in both countries, again reducing the incentives to engage in labor arbitrage.

A real solution will also address development issues in Mexico. There is a widely-recognized and well-documented causal relationship between economic development and corruption. Mexico is rampant with corruption and it should become a major national security priority to assist Mexico in eliminating official corruption. A major source of official corruption in Mexico is, of course, the illegal drug trade. Anyone serious about Mexican development should be for the de-criminalization of the drug trade and use. The open-ended ‘war on drugs’ fuels corruption and places inordinate burdens on the criminal justice system on both sides of the border. In addition, Mexico is our 3rd largest trade partner, yet it is 16th in terms of economic development assistance. We need to make a serious and tangible commitment to development in Mexico to secure our national interest in a stable and prosperous Mexico.

There are surely hundreds of innovative and smart policies that can reduce labor arbitrage and enhance the equitable development of Mexico’s economy. Voters have to demand that politicians address those issues, however. If they do not, we will just get more jingoism and more stop gap policies that leaves low-income and undocumented workers in the lurch, and a terrible security issue on our southern border.


  1. I urge everyone to call Governor Rounds office in South Dakota and tell the person who answers, that until the South Dakota legislature repeals the abortion ban you will not go see Mount Rushmore, nor will you do business with any company in South Dakota.

    Then join the campaign for progressive legislation.

    The Republican Party appears vulnerable and weak at the cash registers of the companies that give money to them. Make legislative demands of these companies that give money to the Republican party and boycott them until the CEO of the company gets the Republican party to pass a progressive agenda.

    I also urge people in South Dakota to call their local Dominos Pizza restaurant and tell the manager that they will not patronize their business until they get their CEO to call upon the SD legislature and get the legislature to repeal the abortion ban.

    Join the campaign for progressive legislation

    I seek activist volunteers to pass this letter around for a project that will force the speaker of the House Dennis Hastert to enact progressive legislation. I also seek volunteer activists to do this project to force Senator Frist to enact progressive legislation.

    If you want to send me email please place the word PRIVATE in the subject or it will not reach me. Thank you.

    Send the following letter to Speaker Hastert and Senator Frist. After you send them email or US mail drop me an email that you sent them email so I can keep track of how many emails and letters they receive, thank you.

    Pass this progressive agenda or face a mass boycott of Republican contributors.

    I demand that you get the Republican Party to hold a press conference and accede to these demands. Until such a press conference happens and the legislation and/or actions gets passed I will boycott products from Republican contributors Walmart, Wendy’s, Outback Steak House, Dominos Pizza, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Eckerd, CVS and Walgreens, Curves for women health clubs, GE and Exxon/Mobil.

    I demand that congress pass legislation ending the war in Iraq and withdraw the troops and arrange with the United Nations to replace US troops with UN troops to defend Iraq until The Iraqi army can defend Iraq.

    I demand that the Republican party end their aggressive and hateful action to end a woman’s right to choose abortion or not.

    I demand that the Congress of the United states and the president of the United States enact a law to increase the minimum wage to TEN dollars an hour and also to extend unemployment benefits to a year or more for all people whose unemployment benefits expired after 6 months even though they still seek work.

    I demand that the Congress of the United States to not privatize social security benefits in any form including taking a percentage of the social security tax and placing it in private accounts. People can already create their own pensions with money after taxes in the private sector.

    I demand that the congress make all of a person’s earned income taxable for social security FICA tax purposes and remove the 88,000 dollar taxable income limit. This will make social security solvent for many years to come.

    I demand the congress increase the payroll tax in order to make social security solvent as well.

    I demand congress and the president enact a prescription drug benefit under Medicare Part B which covers 80 percent of medication cost, with no extra premium, no extra deductibles, no means test and no coverage gaps, and no penalties for signing up in a succeeding year.

    I demand congress repeal the faulty Medicare law HR 1 / S 1 passed by congress in Nov 2003.

    I demand congress enact single payer universal health insurance for every citizen as minimum coverage.

    I demand that congress and the president enact universal vote by mail throughout the 50 states of the United States of America with paper ballots easy to fill out and difficult to change or invalidate by Republican Party officials. This will prevent Republicans from vote suppression by skin color and political party which happened electronically and in person in the 2000 and 2004 elections.

    I demand that congress and the president enact that civil servants on every state payroll keep track of voter registrations and vote counting of mail in votes in each precinct and not companies such as Choicepoint. We need to take the Republican Party out of the business of keeping track of voter registration and counting votes.

    I demand that congress and the president ban the secretary of state in each of the 50 states from engaging in politics especially acting as a campaign official for a presidential campaign.

    I demand congress enact legislation protecting private pensions from corporations deliberately declaring bankruptcy or ending pensions outright.

    I do this in the spirit of peaceful resistance to a congress that refuses to enact this legislation.


    Then call your local franchise or store that sells products of companies mentioned for boycott and tell them unless the Republican Party enacts the above demands, you will no longer do business with them, so get the CEO of the parent company to get the GOP to accede to these demands. No company wants thousands of people boycotting them espcially getting thousands of phone calls from citizens demanding a progressive agenda enacted or they lose our business.

    Tell others to send this mail and to call these companies local franchises. In the case of General Electric call your local store that sells General Electric products.

  2. I would like to take everyone on this blog to see the Pima County Jail ; The State Prison and Federal Prision on Wilmot with the guard towers that are very similar to our Military Bases now being built in Iraq;built in the middle of a dusty desert setting and look whom is inside. Lawyers on this blog have been there many times, but some havn’t a clue.

  3. Mike ; Iam very intersted in your opinion,as stated, about legalizing drugs that are now written by prescriptions by Doctors whom are held accountable , as Drug Stores can not fill them on a regular basis; I.E. morphine ; oxycontin; ms contin and cocaine.

    Please elaborate.

  4. Cool. You don’t often get to see someone actually having an epiphany, even such a minor one, on a blog. It’s a nice feeling to know that someone had a new thought as a result of an exchange of views.

  5. I agree that the enterprise elites represent the direct ties to government corruption, but the prior strategies we have used with drug cartels like Medellin and Cali – lopping off the head of the beast – has really only resulted in a more decentralized infrastructure of trafficking.

    Huh. I didn’t see the similarity until just now. Kinda harkens back to the decentralized structure of a certain catch-all Islamic fundamentalist terror organization. Could it be that the solution to both issues is a function of hearts, minds and wallets of their respective power bases? Actually, how can it be anything else?

  6. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, jal.

    Actually, I do mean all drugs, including cocaine and opiates, not just weed. I suppose it is really a whole different debate as to the impact this would have on both countries, but it would certainly tend to elminate black markets, which are a major source of official corruption and a major source of revenues which organized criminals use for corruption. It is not the wealth of street dealers I’m concerned with, it is the agglomeration of vast wealth by criminal enterprises that is troubling.

  7. “The point is, the solution is disrupting the food chain – not in attacking the animal.”

    Well said!!!!

  8. Jingoism. I have not heard that word used correctly in many years. Good on ya, mate. For those who need a refresher, Jingoism is essentially hyper-patriotism, usually accompanied by a tendency toward isolationism and intolerance for other nations or cultures.

    Your article does a fantastic job of tracing the roots of the current immigration situation succinctly. However, I don’t think you have provided alternatives or outlined a vision – which is perfectly understandable. There may be no perfect little package of a solution, and I don’t expect one man and a blog to come up with one.

    I do take issue with the idea that legalizing drug usage and trade will reduce corruption. Firstly, I am supposing that you mean legalization of marijuana use and trade, not cocaine of heroin – all of which are flowing over the border. Marijuana seems like the ‘less dangerous’ drug (but even marijuana trafficking has driven the same level of corruption and violence in Mexico). So that still leaves you with cocaine and heroin in the underground, causing Mexico to become the Columbia of the North.

    I do agree that the solution lies on the demand side of the equation, though. The demand is spread out among US citizens and Mexican citizens, in cross sections of dealer and user. In both countries, you have to simulaneously help the end user (not only through drug prevention, but by giving tools for them to raise their standard of living), and the dealer, by providing other job opportunities.

    As detailed in “Freakonomics” (Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner) most dealers don’t actually make all that much money. Foot soldiers typically make minium wage. Only as you progress up the pyramid do you start to see drug lords making more than McDonald’s employees. So if you make opportunities other than drug usage and dealing more profitable, you simultaneously deprive the drug enterprise of its demand and its workforce.

    There is a simple way to eliminate rats in your basement – vacuum up the dust. When the dust is eliminated, dust mites that feed on it will leave. When the dust mites leave, the spiders that feed on the mites will leave. When the spiders leave, the rats have no food and will not come back.

    The point is, the solution is disrupting the food chain – not in attacking the animal.