The Immigration Issue in Arizona


A Blog For Arizona Exclusive

Ed. – I’m pleased to present readers with a guest essay from Karl Reiner. Karl recently published a great guest opinion in the Arizona Daily Star about the issue of immigration. I thought it was insightful and well-reasoned, but far too short. I asked Mr. Reiner if he would be interested in presenting a fuller account of his thinking on the issue at BfAZ. The following essay is the result.

Karl Reiner managed international trade and economic policy analysis at the U.S. Department of Commerce in Washington, DC. He served as an acting deputy assistant secretary during the first Bush and Clinton administrations. A Vietnam veteran, he is a graduate of the Ohio State University and holds a MS degree from the Garvin School of International Management. After retiring from government service in 1994, he did consulting and authored a novel, Sgt. Bellnapp’s Secret, published in 2001.

He and his wife, Martha, moved from Northern Virginia to Tucson in May 2005. A compilation of his Civil War articles titled: Remembering Fairfax County, Virginia, will be published by the History Press later this year.

The issues of illegal immigration and border control are emotional subjects in Arizona. Many residents believe the situation is out of control and drastic measures must be taken.  Politicians are playing on people’s fears and are proposing an endless assortment of legislative solutions to appease the voters. Business has been accused of blocking effective immigration control because the flow of migrants allegedly holds down wages.  Because the constantly shifting U.S. economy has created a fear of job loss among many American workers, immigrants are seen as a threat. A heady combination of churches, international conspiracies, the Mexican government, and the global economy have all been at least partly blamed for allowing the torrent of illegal migrants to pour across the border into Arizona. About the only thing frustrated residents of the state can agree on is that current federal programs don’t seem to work.   

The problem is compounded by deep divisions in public opinion. There is a divisive political split between pro-enforcement, anti-immigration groups and those supporting humane borders and more economically sound regulation changes. Although few politicians will admit it, we have no one to blame but ourselves for the current immigration predicament. For years, the White House and Congress have let the matter slide. Mexico’s economic development was never an important foreign policy consideration despite the country’s close proximity to the United States. The development of effective border controls and a feasible guest worker program were low priority items even though the U.S. labor market was rapidly changing and Mexico’s economy was faltering. The current chaos surrounding the heated immigration debate only means we have begun to belatedly deal with some of the consequences of neglecting Mexico for so long. 

Congress is now in the process of considering legislative remedies for the thorny problem of illegal immigration. It must seriously consider a wide variety of conflicting interests as it makes its way through the growing tangle of proposed immigration alternatives. Churning in the Senate and the House are a vast array of bills that include visa regulation changes, guest worker programs, enforced deportation and border security improvements. About the only option not under active consideration is a contract to hire retired East German border guards to build a wall and man guard towers along the border.

Many of the bills ignore the fact that our relationship with Mexico is vital.  The citizens of Tucson should be worried. If Congress doesn’t come up with a workable solution, the cure could turn out to be as damaging as the problem. And as history shows, Congress makes a mistake every so often. Back in 1930, as the Great Depression was getting underway, Congress passed the Hawley-Smoot tariff bill that raised American tariffs to record high levels in an attempt to protect existing jobs and allow the unemployed to find work producing goods previously imported. It boomeranged. As other countries retaliated, U.S. exports plunged and unemployment climbed. Hawley-Smoot made the depression worse.

The consequences of an ineffective immigration reform program could hit the economy of the Old Pueblo hard. Although it is hardly ever mentioned, Mexico is our second largest export market and our third largest supplier. In 2005, combined U.S.-Mexican trade totaled $290 billion, more than $23 billion higher than in 2004.  Arizona did nearly $15 billion in export business with Mexico, and visitors from south of the border spend approximately $300 million annually in Pima County.

In his November 28, 2005 speech at Davis-Monthan, President Bush stressed the need to improve border security and establish a national guest worker program. Back in the 1990s, the now defunct U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform looked into the issue and made a number of similar recommendations. Unfortunately, neither successive Presidents nor Congress deemed it necessary to act. It is now time to face the fact that, although the U.S. has embraced the concept of the global marketplace, it has woefully failed to make provisions for the orderly movement of labor.

With the U.S. economy running at nearly full employment, it should be obvious that provisions have to be made to permit and control the movement of foreign workers. Like it or not, Americans must get used to the idea of having foreign workers if they expect the economy to keep running. For the first half of fiscal year 2006, the H-2B visa program was filled by December 15, 2005. This indicates that the regulations are not in sync with market conditions. The H-2B visa program allows employers to fill peak load or seasonal needs by augmenting their existing labor force. It is heavily used by the construction and landscape industries.

With homeland security spending now topping $30 billion yearly, we ought to have a border security program befitting our status as an industrialized nation. The U.S. government, not the states, has an obligation to control the international borders. Since the government, as authorized by Congress, joyfully manages to spend a total of approximately $2.7 trillion a year, it ought to be able reallocate funds to do the job.

Because the immigration laws were never updated and poorly administered in the past, the U.S. is now home to nearly 12 million undocumented aliens. No industrialized nation can, for national security and economic reasons, lose control of such a large number of people. These individuals will have to be registered, provided legal identification and either allowed to continue working or be deported. The impact of removing such a large number of people (the majority being gainfully employed) from the U.S. economy would be prohibitively expensive and invite enormous economic disruption. This being said, in the spirit of the Hawley-Smoot fiasco, many of the bills pending in Congress propose deportation as the solution. Hopefully, our Senators and Representatives will be able to set rabid ideology aside and consider the economic self-interest of the United States as they struggle with the matter. The most practical legislative measure introduced so far has been sponsored by the by two elder statesmen from opposite ends of the political spectrum. The measure sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. (S-1033 and its House companion H.R. 2330), appears to be the most workable and comprehensive solution. The measure has attracted a sizable number of co-sponsors in the Senate and is supported by many members of the House. McCain-Kennedy has provisions to legalize the undocumented, reform the family preference system and addresses the matter of temporary workers. Perhaps most important of all, it calls for policies which attack the root causes of migration.      

Although both the benefits and disadvantages of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) were overstated at the time of the treaty’s inception in 1994, combined U.S.-Mexican trade has tripled. The feared specter of U.S. job loss never materialized; instead employment grew by 20 million. One of the underlying premises of NAFTA was that Mexico’s prosperity would increase when the economies were linked. The Mexican government, however, did not make any provisions for the known short-term dislocations always associated with opening an inefficient economy to the rigors of competition and free trade. While some sectors immediately profited from the move, others, such as small-scale agriculture, became highly uncompetitive and triggered job losses.   

Unfortunately for Mexico, there are also a number of other underlying causes pushing migrants onto the roads leading north. Mexico’s economy has suffered a series of mismanagement-caused setbacks over the years and has failed to keep pace with population growth. The migrants are on the move because the country is belatedly struggling to adapt to the pressures of economic globalization. Mexico’s inconsistent regulatory environment and the poor state of its infrastructure discourage job-creating investment.

Corruption and public safety problems debilitate a sizeable part of Mexican society, costing the nation an estimated $60 billion per year. A substantial portion of Mexico’s population, estimated as high as 45 million, has an income of less than $1,000 per year. At a time when labor market entrants number well over a million a year, the country is having trouble holding onto jobs, having lost over 800,000 to China. As the economy roils, job seekers head to where work is available. Mexicans working in the U.S. send home an estimated $17-$20 billion a year, supporting a substantial part of the population in many regions.

Mexico is struggling to reach the 7 percent economic growth rate that many economists believe is needed to eradicate the country’s widespread poverty and close the gap between rich and poor. In recent years, the government has been unable to achieve anything more than a 3 to 4 percent growth rate. Lack of reforms in the energy sector, tax system and labor regulations are thought to be hindering economic growth. Problems in the educational system are also a drag on the economy. Much of the workforce lacks the skills needed to fill jobs and factories are having problems attracting qualified workers.   

American economic policy has long touted the benefits of free enterprise, open markets and the rule of law. As such, we must put emphasis on helping our southern neighbor get its economic house in order. Of the $8 billion spent on foreign economic assistance annually, only $30 million currently goes to projects in Mexico. We need to change that policy to ensure Mexico becomes an economic success. There is no reason why it can’t become an example for other developing nations. As Congress debates the illegal immigration issue, it should also review the old programs that rebuilt Europe and Japan after World War II and consider doing some of the same for Mexico. A booming Mexican economy would do a lot ease the pressure on workers to migrate. An economically successful Mexico would also be a larger market for U.S. goods and services in the future.   

The Mexican government is striving to change things.  Last year, the country generated 750,000 new jobs. While this was admittedly inadequate to meet needs, it was a substantial improvement over previous years. The American economy ranks #1 in the world. It is linked to Canada (#8) and Mexico (#10) by the North American Free Trade Agreement. As such, Mexico should be treated as a major U.S. partner and rapidly developing country with a number of problems. Promoting a prosperous and stable Mexico should be our No. 1 foreign policy priority. Mexico’s economic development and our immigration crisis are linked. One can’t be resolved without addressing the other.

There will be seven presidential elections in Latin America this year, including a very important one in Mexico. How we handle the illegal immigration issue will have a big impact on improving or worsening U.S. relations with many of the countries in the Western Hemisphere. It is no longer an issue with only domestic political ramifications; it has also become a foreign policy matter. Since many in Latin America perceive the U.S. as an imperialist bully, an exploiter of natural resources and an unabashed supporter of right-wing dictatorships, we can’t afford to botch this matter. We need to make it clear that we understand the entire problem of economic development and are willing to push social reform programs along with the free trade agenda.


  1. I believe that it is true, illegal immigrants should not have the right to vote but why is europe in this matter? you said , ” You dont see them going to europe and pulling that…” What?! why would hispanics go all the way, across the atlantic ocean, to a european country when the US is closer? Its very sad to see that people come to the US for a better life, for help from a better government and sometimes even for political asylum, only to meet racism and resentment. I can guarantee that most people that strongly oppose immigrants of any kind have never lived in a country that has a corrupt government. I lived in Mexico and when i was there i felt like there was a limit on what i could become. I lived in a small farming community just west of Mexico City and when i told them that i wanted to become a mechanical engineer they only laughed. “Your only a farmer” “Not here you cant” “The government won’t help you” So i came to the US and I am now studying at UC Irvine trying to get my major in mechanical engineering. I was fortunate enough to encounter a US that helped and didnt resent me. I want all immigrants, illegal and legal, to have the same chance at reaching their dreams. I want them to face the same America I faced, not a racist america. I believe that there should be a process of allowing illegal immigrants to acquire residency. Let them all experience experience the liberty and freedom that this great nation has to offer.

  2. illegal immigrants should not have a voice in america… only true immigrants… why are citizen of arizona letting illigal register to vote.. dont you have to be a citizen of the united states to vote.. this illegal immigration is getting out of control.. I would love to go to a foreign country and vote on their politics, work, and get medical for free. Why wouldnt anyone come to america.. you dont see them going to europe and pulling that… Because the europeans have a strict and enforce law on non-citizen taking their citizen job and using their social service.. my colleagues from england and germany laugh at how american let illegals run their country down to the dollar.

  3. I an Arizona emergency physician. I am not a politician. But I am used to giving people bad news. While politicians debate the pros and cons of enforcing laws already on the books, and while our nation’s leadership turns its back on the border while supposedly concerned about Homeland security, Arizona’s healthcare is on the brink of breakdown.

    As a private citizen, I want law and order. I want safety. My wife wants safety for my family. We don’t like seeing groups of illegals strolling through our neighborhoods at night.

    Frankly, Mr. Reiner, Mexico’s problems are like a cancer. A cancer of corruption. If we let that system affect us, then the cancer spreads, it metastasizes to us. We have to wall off the spread of corruption. We cannot meaningfully negotiate or plan with corrupt countries any more than terrorists. Corruption is just a different type of terror.

    My friends and acquaintances of both parties want illegals out, out, out of the country. If that doesn’t happen, then I think many incumbents of both parties, across the nation, will find themselves out, out, out of office.

  4. Of course, I mean thank you, Mr. Reiner!

    I’d just been reading a 2004 article on Bush’s immigration reform plan by Marc Levin of the Hudson Institute. My apologies for the confusion.

  5. Thank you, Mr. Levin, for your excellent consideration of the nature of the challenges related to Immigration. And thank you, BfA, for inviting Mr. Levin to share his expertise and insight with us.

    It is certainly a sobering thought to reflect on the idea that a simple law here or there is not going to be adequate to address the lapses in planning and proactivity that have resulted in the situation in which we find ourselves today. I believe Mr. Levin is correct when he says that the solution is complex, but that the McCain-Kennedy Bill is probably the best option ont he table right now.

    The longer term matter of cultivating prosperity south of tbe border also seems key. Given the amount of foreign economic assistance as Mr. Levin mentioned, it seems simply outrageous that less than FOUR percent of it goes to one of our two closest neighbors and the one actually needing it the most.

    If enlightened self-interest should be guiding our policy, this seems like a fairly major guidepost.

    Thank you again for this enlightening essay, Mr. Levin.


    And goodness, Dwight, it seems you’ve found a forum, here. Three gentle suggestions, if I may, as a regular participant in online discussion forums:

    1. You might consider make one well-crafted comment and then take a rest before posting others. Several comments back-to-back make it appear that you’re just soapbox preaching and not really interested in engaging in dialogue.

    2. Use of CAPITAL LETTERS in a comment is, on the Internet, considered to be shouting at your readers. It’s best used sparingly, for emphasis, generally. Frequent use makes the user appear somewhat unhinged.

    3. Proofreading your comments before you post them would probably help you convey a more polished image of competence and attention to detail.


  6. I’m gratified that people are responding to Karl’s analysis. What we need on this subject is more dialogue and less gotcha. I think his suggestion of a Marshall Plan for Mexico is an interesting suggestion: it highlights just how important Mexican economic well-being is for our security in the 21st century.

  7. I want everyone on this blog to know what my job was a Food Giant Stores when I started in 1960 as a carry-out. I CLEANED TOILETS AND BATHROOMS! Guess what? I took pride in cleaning those toilets and bathrooms so that no one wanted anyone else to do it! They would not use the toilets and bathrooms unless they knew I had cleaned them, I used a special cleaner that did the job. The problem was since I did such a good job I stayed at it for two years! I moved up to “Head Carry-out” paid 65 cents an hour managing 20 other carry-outs but kept on cleaning the toilets!

    From that day forward Grocery Chains would come to me in the future to clean up their messes, now advanced to Corporate levels the messes continued as I had charge of 300 Circle K Food Stores in Tucson with over 20,000 employees that I was given with “Dirty Stores,Low sales, High turnover in help and with-in three months turned the whole district around! I had shocked everyone and they asked me how I did it, I found it simple I put the employees concerns first,raised their pay and cleaned up the stores! Everyone felt better about their job and everything from help turn-over to inventory losses stopped!

    Those of us in the “Service Industry'” know the public that includes Francine because she was directly involved with people!

    That is a key to the success of any0one in anything they undertake;”ITS ALL ABOUT THE PEOPLE!

  8. Francine has shown what we in the AFL-CIO have been fighting for- for decades and explained it with eloquence.

    She reflects The Democratic Party that I knew and loved and fought for,before we got all tied up in things that The States should have addressed, that drove wedges between us and the lower and middle class Americans.

    Ethics and Moral Values to me always meant those very things Francine has been talking about and The Democratic Party forgot about.

    Francine will learn whom among us in Arizona still carry those values,we are still here but you may have to look a little harder to find us.

  9. My goodness! Dwight, I do believe we are of one mind on this issue: the reason business is proclaiming that the immigrants are willing to work at jobs Americans are not willing to do has to do with the pay!! Immigrants will work for less than the minimum wage, therefore depressing wages at the bottom end of the scale. I’m so pleased not to be the only candidate with that opinion.

    “A full-time worker earning the minimum wage back in 1968,”when Congress raised the minimum wage more regularly to keep pace with inflation, would have made the equivalent of $15,431 today – 44% more than today’s full-time minimum wage worker.” (May 11, 2004, EPI Briefing Paper #151,”No Longer Getting By: An Increase in the Minimum Wage Is Long Overdue” by Amy Chasanov.)
    This article goes on to point out that those earning the minimum wage today are living in poverty.

    Low wage workers spend all of their money on the necessities of life. All of their earnings are pumped into the economy. For this reason, if not for the simple humane one that a person working full time should be able to live above the poverty level, increasing the minimum wage helps the economy. They teach that simple fact in Econ 101 – too bad our politicians didn’t take that course!

    More interesting data: Since 1990, worker pay is up 32% and the level of inflation is up 27.5%, leaving workers with a 4.5% effective increase. Executive pay, on the other hand, is up 535% and the stock market is up 297%. Whew!!!

  10. Where was Karl Reiner when we passed CAFTA?

    Vincente Fox now wants CANADA to takes his CITIZENS!

    If someone can’t SMELL A RAT and what the MEXICAN GOVERNMENT is really up to,we as a Nation better be ready TO FOOT THE BILL FOR THE MEXICAN PEOPLE as they flood our Social Programs and we have created a “FIGHT TO THE BOTTOM,” for jobs.


    There are only 45 million people in Mexico, we have 20 million of them now that just came here in the last 8 years, in 16 years this country can not deal with that many people that draw heavily from our Social Services.

    Illegals may pay taxes,but the taxes they pay are from low wage jobs,that contribute around 10,000 to 15,000 Dolars in taxes per preson,they use an average of 28,000 Dollars in just social services and are coming here to take your part of Social Security,so they can move back to Mexico after becoming Citizens and have US PAY THE BILL!

    When we exported American jobs to China and India where was the Plight of The American Worker?


  11. Awesome, I just read a Reuters article that hits on this issue of economic development, glad to see it mirror in the commentary by Mr. Reiner.

  12. On my web-site http://www.committee-to-elect,or, I have posted “In Pursuit of Pancho Villa,” an Historical breakdown of “The Plight of The Mexican underclass,” and what followed as our Government lead by President Wilson let him down as to being President of Mexico!

    General John J. Pershing is my brother-in-laws great grandfather,as many of you know,and this has been a subject we have talked about with some credibility.

  13. The Mexican Government beyond being Corrupt; is engaged in one of the most dispickable ethnic cleansing movements and should be a front and center topic for Amnesty International, The ACLU and Humane Borders; “The Ruling Class” in Mexico are White Skinned Mexicans who are chasing the Brown Skinned Mexicans North! Vincente Fox could stop the explotation of his own people but blames The United States for HIS FAILURE, and PLANNED AND KNOWN ACTION of The Mexican Government!

    The Mexican People find it easier to Motivate The Congress Of The United States , than to Motivate their OWN GOVERNMENT; then have the gaul to wave MEXICAN FLAGS in our faces in the United States?