"POOR MEXICO! SO FAR FROM GOD, AND SO CLOSE to the United States,” famously said Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz, whose corruption degraded and impoverished his nation a century ago.
Today the Mexican Department of Tourism reaches out to Americans with this slogan: “Mexico: Closer Than Ever.” Indeed, one might say that the line separating the United States from Mexico is vanishing.
American Hispanics, 58 percent of whom are of Mexican ancestry, a year ago surpassed African-Americans as the largest minority (unless one counts males. a minority which comprises 47 percent of the population) in the United States.
(Hispanics are more an ethnic minority defined by culture and language than they are a racial minority. Millions of Hispanics are also African-Americans, and many other Hispanics have the blue eyes and blond hair of their Roman and Vandal – after whom was named the Spanish province Andalusia – ancestors.)
In our largest state, Latinos make up about 30 percent of California’s population but now account for more than half of all births in the Golden State. If present trends continue, the majority of young adults eligible to vote in California will be Latino by 2019.
The United States is virtually the only advanced Western nation replenishing its population with an average birthrate of 2.1 children per couple (compared to demographically doomed Italy with 1.2, Sweden with 1.5, France with 1.7, and so forth). But we achieve this sustainability only because of the high birthrate of our growing, mostly Latino immigrant population.
America’s fast-growing Hispanic population, already 37 million strong nationwide, has riveted the attention of businesses, advertisers and both major political parties. For some it will be a rising tide that lifts their boats. For others it could become a tidal wave that washes away their once-dominant positions forever.
Most politicians would rather swallow their tongues than talk about illegal immigration, according to former Bill Clinton political strategist Dick Morris. Both major political parties, he says, “especially the Republicans, have to know they’re running out of white people to split up. Any major politician is facing dodo bird extinction if he or she fails to reach out to Hispanics. It scares them.”
Politicians have seen what happened in California when then-Governor Pete Wilson (a Republican) backed Proposition 187, which would have cut illegal aliens off from taxpayer-funded programs and other benefits.
The ballot measure passed overwhelmingly, but was prevented from taking effect by a Democrat-appointed federal judge whose chief declared reason for her action was that “it would hurt people.”(Advocates of Proposition 187 argued that taxpayers were hurt because, by one estimate, the average illegal immigrant family in California consumes about $7,000 more each year in government benefits than it pays in taxes.)
“Power is not given to you. You have to take it,” said veteran Mexican-American politician Esteban “Art” Torres (who today is Chairman of California’s Democratic Party) at a January 1995 Hispanic gathering to discuss non-compliance with Proposition 187 at the University of California Riverside. (For audio of Torres’ statement, check out this website.) “Remember,” Torres told the gathering, “187 is the last gasp of White America in California!”
California voters thereafter swept Republicans out of every statewide office, until Arnold Schwarzenegger 2003 ascent to the governor’s office in a recall election. One of the biggest issues driving voter fury in this recall was that Democratic Governor Gray Davis signed into law a bill giving driver licenses (and therefore through the Motor-Voter Law an unchallengeable way to register to vote) to illegal aliens.
Spurred by Governor Schwarzenegger, the Democrat-dominated California legislature rushed to repeal this license law. If Mexicans wish to drive after coming into the United States in violation of American law, said critics, then let them bring their Mexican driver licenses; it is wrong to give legal documentation and approval to illegal aliens.
Perhaps 30 percent of California’s Latino voters cast ballots for Proposition 187. But as one famed Mexican-American journalist explained on my radio show, “Lowell, I remember being at a Mexican-American gathering where Governor Wilson spoke for (Proposition) 187. He did not understand that even though we were conservatives, every one of us had at least one friend or co-worker or family member who came across the border illegally.”
The U.S.-Mexican border – at today’s 1,951 miles, the longest border on the planet between a wealthy First World country (average family income above $54,000 per year) and a poor Third World country (income averages $5 per day) – has been in legal and cultural flux for most of two centuries.
With the opportunity to get rich by their own country’s standards, immigrants swarmed across the border in far larger numbers than the law allowed. They brought with them their own culture and language, and quickly began thumbing their noses at their new nation’s laws and customs. These immigrants, many of them illegal, soon outnumbered those who let them come. They began to look and act like a conquering army of invaders.
No, I am not writing about the United States in 2004. I am describing the Spanish Mexican colony of Tejas, which in 1821 invited Moses Austin and, after his death, his son Stephen F. Austin to bring 300 families of American settlers. The only conditions required were that these families be moral, be or become Roman Catholics and agree to abide by Mexican laws.
“What followed was an enormous influx into Texas,” writes Carlos Freymann. “The land was almost free—10 cents per acre. By comparison, in the then-expanding U.S. territories, an acre of land of lesser quality sold for $1.25 per acre. Furthermore, each male over 21 years of age could acquire 640 acres for himself in Texas and, additionally, half of that amount for his wife, plus 160 acres for each child, and 80 for each slave of his household. In addition, the U.S. colonists received what today would be a truly unique inducement: they did not have to pay taxes to Mexico for seven years!”
These ingrate “Americano Texians,” as they called themselves, quickly became the majority, continued to speak English and refused to assimilate into Mexican culture. When Mexico outlawed slavery, many of the American immigrants, who came mostly from the South, refused to free their slaves.
What followed was a war in which Mexico lost Texas to the immigrants it had invited in. Then came a decade of Texas as its own independent nation recognized by Belgium and other powers, then annexation of Texas to the United States. Texas then became one of the Confederate States of America, and then was re-annexed as one of the United States.
One recent Texas governor grew up amid dusty panhandle oilfields speaking English, Spanish and that hybrid of the two called Spanglish. His brother Jeb would marry a lovely Mexican girl, convert to Roman Catholicism, and be elected Governor of Florida.
George W. Bush, now President of the United States, won strong Mexican-American voter support as Governor of a state where some Texas border towns conduct government in Spanish and where history’s double-edged legacy of immigration cuts both ways on land that once was Mexico.
A decade after losing Tejas, Mexico in a war with the U.S. lost California and the rest of what today is the Southwestern United States, including today’s states of Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.
President Bush early in 2004 is expected to propose ways to resolve problems associated with the influx of undocumented immigrants, as FrontPageMagazine has reported. His head of Homeland Security Tom Ridge has indicated that this will not be another “amnesty,” like that of 1986, that simply makes illegal aliens into citizens. This “one time” amnesty prompted more immigrants to come illegally in the expectation that future amnesties would follow.
What President Bush proposes will likely be more like the “Bracero Program” that from 1942 until 1964 allowed Mexican “guest workers” to enter the U.S. legally for a limited time to do work such as harvesting crops. I remember as a child riding through the forests of orange trees in my neighborhood on the ladder carts of braceros, a word for laborers that in Spanish means “arms” or “ones who swing their arms.”
(This original Bracero Program, wrote Fred Dickey in the Los Angeles Times, was based on “the folly of inviting a poor laborer into a comparative worker’s paradise, and then expecting him to run along home when the job is finished.” It proved, according to one scholar, the truth of the old saying that “there’s nothing more permanent than temporary workers.”)
President Bush’s proposal will be accused by some of being de facto “camouflaged amnesty,” and by others of creating second-class immigrant workers who can be taxed and regulated but who will not be given citizenship or the right to vote. His compromise plan will probably include ways that such guest workers can over years of honest work “earn” full citizenship.
Arizona Republican Congressman Jim Kolbe and Jeff Flake have proposed a new visa for previously undocumented workers that would allow them to live legally in the United States for three years and then apply for more and more permanent status.
Democratic presidential candidates are offering their own solutions. Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-MO, calls his idea the “Earned Legalization and Family Reunification Program.” Senator Joseph Lieberman’s plan would allow “guest workers” and make eligible for citizenship those illegal immigrants who have been in the country for at least five years, paid taxes and passed a background check. Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean told Arizona Republic editors that he favors earned legalization for undocumented workers who have been in the country “for some time,” however long that unspecified quantity may be, and have committed no crimes.
Complications and unintended consequences have come from our existing immigration policies. To note just a few out of hundreds, “Operation Gatekeeper” has made border-crossing harder. Because of this, a larger share of what could be 10 million or more illegal aliens already in the United States who used to return to home nations such as Mexico now, instead, stay in the U.S. rather than risk being prevented from returning.
Tightening the border may therefore have increased the burden on social services in the United States. It has put more workers into a twilight illegal labor subculture, getting low wages and no rights but also paying little or no taxes to pay for government services. It has also turned what had been largely seasonal agricultural workers into a year-round illegal pool of unskilled, cheap labor that drives down wages, especially for African-Americans and other minorities.
Even United Farm Worker Union founder Cesar Chavez, writes Dickey, “advocated limited immigration to protect the wage levels of the Chicano workers he struggled to unionize.”
But while many illegal aliens have stopped going home, their paychecks still make the trip. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, the second-largest source of foreign income for Mexico, after oil, is the money sent back home by Mexicans working in the United States. This windfall is estimated to be from $14.5 billion to $17 billion to the Mexican economy each year.
No wonder the Mexican Government has little incentive to stop emigration. It brings in tons of cash. It also relieves political pressure as those most determined to better their situation do this by going north instead of staying home and taking out their frustration on Mexican politicians. Pundits surmise that if this pressure release valve were closed, Mexico would explode into violent revolution within five years.
The amount of American dollars flowing to Mexico could soon skyrocket. The Bush Administration is reportedly negotiating a “totalization” agreement with Mexico that would allow Mexicans who retire to their native land to get monthly Social Security checks south of the border. While this would put an added drain on Social Security just as Baby Boomers are starting to retire, advocates argue that to do any less than this would rob immigrants. A cynic might observe that this could persuade millions of aging Mexican retirees to return to Mexico to become a burden on its healthcare system instead of ours.
The North American Free Trade Agreement signed into law by President Bill Clinton implies that not only goods but also labor should be allowed to move across the fading U.S.-Mexican border. By such reasoning, why not let Social Security checks cross the border, even if this flow makes the U.S. poorer and Mexico richer? It is the osmotic pressure of Mexico’s poverty that propels so much of its population through our porous border in search of a better life.
Some Mexican nationalists see the rising Hispanic tide as a new Reconquista, as Roman Catholic Spaniards called their retaking of Spain after 800 years of occupation by Muslim Moors from North Africa. Such politics were discussed in great detail by this column here and here and here during the California recall.
This de facto retrocession of U.S. territory to Mexico is already being encouraged by the Mexican government. It could be achieved through the bedroom and then the ballot box – making love and not war to expand Mexican-American population and then taking control of the government peacefully through elections.
Joaquin Avila of the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center in Los Angeles in December 2003 proposed that America’s growing population of non-citizens should be allowed to vote, at least in local elections. In California today, he notes, 12 cities including Santa Ana (named for the Mexican general who slaughtered “Texians” in the Alamo?) have a majority of residents who are non-citizens. At least 85 California cities and towns have populations that are at least 25 percent non-citizen. It is “political apartheid,” writes Avila in what the wire services wrongly called a “study,” to deny these people a vote in how their communities are run.
“The distinction between citizens and non-citizens has been seriously eroded over the past generations, and the only difference left is the ability to vote,” riposted Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C. “A person who isn’t a citizen yet is essentially shacking up with America. It’s important to the health of the body politic that that difference be preserved.”
Other activists such as Dr. Charles Truxillo at the University of New Mexico want to create their own “Republica del Norte,” a new Hispanic nation on what today is the soil of the United States. This would be achieved, he proposes, by secession from the U.S.
But from Mexico’s point of view, such possibilities are a two-way street. While Mexicans stream north seeking work, Americans are now pouring south into Baja California to retire where winters are warm, living is cheap, delicious fish tacos and Dos Equis or Corona beer are the staple foods, problems are put off until manana, and a luxury beach house can cost as little as $20,000.
This “Baja Land Rush” has already lured 100,000 or more Americans South of the Border. It began in 1997, when Mexico changed its law requiring all land within 100 kilometers of the coast to be owned by Mexican citizens. Such land may now be owned by foreigners through locally administered land trusts in which a Mexican bank acts as trustee and a foreigner is its beneficiary.
Baja is one of the strongholds of the conservative PAN party, the pro-capitalist Mexican equivalent of the Republican Party to which Mexico’s current President Vicente Fox belongs.
During the Mexican-American War more than 150 years ago, American troops occupied parts of Baja California and could have kept this then-barren, arid peninsula as they did Alta California to the north. It was among the bargaining chips Mexico received for agreeing to relinquish greener lands to the north.
But now, say some Mexican critics, Americans are annexing Baja California with dollars. (The road system makes it easier to travel across Baja from San Diego than from inland Mexico.) These gringo immigrants are again moving in and taking over a big hunk of Mexico, just as they did in Tejas long ago.
Or maybe, whether the border completely vanishes or not, Americans and Mexicans may be in the process of trading places. And will either side complain? As Porfirio Diaz used to say, “A dog with a bone neither barks nor bites.”