Our Faulty Fascination with Partial Solutions


By Karl Reiner

Brewer-obama-border-warning-signThe bill introduced in the Arizona legislature to establish a 62 mile deep warning zone along the Arizona- Mexico border was eventually withdrawn by its sponsor.  The objective of the bill was to alert residents and visitors to the dangers posed by illegal immigrants and drug traffickers in the zone, an area so large that it included Tucson.  There were a number of problems with how the warning information could be distributed. The groups that viewed the measure as another unnecessary blow to an already testy Arizona-Mexico relationship also worked hard to get the bill pulled.

The arguments surrounding SB1070, the bill that made Arizona famous, have now been heard by the United States Supreme Court.  A ruling is expected later this summer that could help clarify federal and local enforcement responsibilities.  It could also make the situation murkier, complicating things even more for local police.    

Down the Mexican coast on the Sea of Cortez, the port of Guaymas is undergoing a major expansion.  Although located in Mexico, it should be considered by Arizona’s leaders as the state’s seaport.  The good railroad connections and access to Interstate 10 give it excellent transportation links. The expansion of the U.S. Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales, which will be completed by 2014, will also help speed up the flow of trade goods.

Unfortunately, the benefits of international trade are not appreciated by many in Arizona. Some in the state legislature are adamantly against linking the markets of Canada and Mexico by road through Arizona.  They casually ignore the fact that increased trade flows would help boost the number of jobs in the state.

As an adjoining country, the U.S. has a long-term strategic interest in Mexico. Neither culture nor geography can explain the gap in living standards between Mexican and American cities along the border.  It is an indication of something being out of kilter, a sign that the Mexican government has often gotten it wrong, tolerating corruption, discouraging investment, innovation, education and stifling economic development.

Mexico’s school system which serves 35 million students, trails in academic performance. It is a sad example of how not to prepare young people for the 21st century. Mexico’s students ranked last in math, reading and science tests conducted in 34 countries by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.  

Security, illegal immigration, drug trafficking and weapons smuggling are important border policy considerations.  At the same time, the U.S. should also be encouraging the fixing of institutional weaknesses that impede economic progress.  Along with the other factors, the U.S. must push a policy that sows the seeds of economic growth in Mexico.  

Although transfers are 12% lower than before the pre-crash peak, Mexico received over $22 billion in remittances from the U.S. in 2011. It is the country’s third-largest source of foreign income. Our national and state leaders need to remember that remittances are a valuable development tool. Their significance to developing countries is enormous.  Remittances often have a greater impact than government aid because they don’t get entangled with corrupt local officials.  

The public considers illegal migration to be a major problem in Arizona.  Of the 10 states with the largest number of illegal immigrants, Arizona ranks 9th. California ranks first, followed by Texas, Florida and Illinois.  The number of illegal migrants living in Arizona has dropped by 200,000, from a high of 560,000 to 360,000.  The plunge in construction and tourism jobs triggered by the recession was a factor in causing many to leave.

Improved security has made the border harder to cross and the state has become a less attractive destination for those seeking economic betterment. As the recovery creeps forward, we need to get beyond the policing/enforcement mindset that rules our political thinking.  We need to make economic development in Mexico an equally important component of our national policy.  An improving economy in Mexico will reduce illegal immigration and benefit Arizona’s businesses and workers. Being a border state could turn out to be a real asset instead of a problematical liability.


  1. It has always been my opinion that the only way to stop the influx of people from Mexico, is to try and make the same opportunities available on both sides of the border. Human ingenuity is such that people always find away around obstacles, especially when desperate. The Berlin wall was proof enough of that.

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