The immigration debate has belatedly taken center stage in the United States. Bills in both the House and the Senate have surfaced an issue that has long mattered to the majority of Americans but has largely remained under the radar in the media and ignored by elected officials. A serious dialogue is now taking place and many sides are raising legitimate points. However, far too many view this problem through a lens focusing on the short-term. As a consequence, Mexico, the source of the migratory invasion, has largely been ignored resulting in a debate centering on only one half of the issue.
Ronald Reagan helped win the Cold War because he focused on long-term goals and understood that the United States not only had to remain superior to the Soviet Union economically and militarily, but had to change the Evil Empire from within. Similarly, after the United States awoke to the fact that Islamist terrorists pose a vital threat to the security of Americans, the Bush administration tightened security measures at home and went on the offensive abroad in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.
Securing the border is absolutely necessary, and creating an effective way to deal with illegal immigrants already in the United States is vital, but these are essentially defensive strategies and must be complimented with a strategy that is offensive in nature. This entails improving the Mexican economy by fixing the education system, changing the culture that encourages immigration, and ensuring effective and responsible leadership in Mexico.
An Educated Workforce
By world standards the Mexican economy is relatively healthy. A top fifteen economy with a GDP of about one trillion dollars and a per-capita GDP of approximately $10,000, Mexico’s perceived low economic standing is simply a result of its northern neighbor’s economic might. However, serious problems persist that contribute to the mass appeal of seeking to illegally enter the United States. Underemployment is pervasive with an estimated number of 25 percent not working to their desired capacity. This greatly affects the low-skilled workers in the service sector who have little opportunity to increase their hours worked.
The greatest drain on the Mexican economy, however, has been the lack of an educated workforce. The numbers are staggering. In 1992 it was mandated that compulsory education be raised to nine years, yet only 68 percent of all Mexican children complete this requirement. After this point – still the equivalent to grades ten through twelve – a mere 51 percent are enrolled and 35 percent actually graduate from upper secondary school. As one could infer, those with a college degree are in the extreme minority: only eight percent of Mexicans aged 18 or older have a bachelor’s degree. This means that there are more Mexicans living illegally in the United States than have graduated from college.
Mexican president Vicente Fox and his successor must pursue a policy that seeks to enforce the compulsory education requirements if they have any desire of making Mexicans actually want to live and work in Mexico. This demands a correction of the virtually nonexistent enforcement of compulsory education in rural areas and the implementation of greater expectations and standards towards completing the equivalent of a high school degree. Currently, President Fox and his populous suffer from diminutive expectations and rely on the demand for low-skill labor in the United States to absorb a substantial portion of those who would otherwise be unemployed.
After noting that Mexico spends just over 5 percent of its GDP on education, Investor’s Business Daily expressed that that number is “not enough to create a world-class work force and a big reason people who might be doctors, lawyers or scientists in Mexico instead end up picking strawberries in the U.S.” However, Mexico’s spending on education is not all that low when compared to world standards. Additionally, studies continue to show that it is not necessarily the amount of money that is spent on education, but how that money is used – Washington D.C. is case in point. The solution is not to throw more money at the problem, but to put a far greater emphasis on the importance of education.
American Laws Do Not Matter
There is a culture in Mexico that not only provides the conception that fleeing one’s country is not unusual, but also condones the violation of American laws. The only analogous example in the United States would be how the average American views exceeding the speed limit. The law is rarely enforced, and if one is unfortunate enough to be caught, the punishment is minimal. This is precisely how many in Mexico view the issue of illegal immigration to the United States. A 2002 Zogby poll found that 58 percent of Mexicans believe that the American Southwest “rightfully belongs to Mexico,” and 57 percent felt that “Mexicans should have the right to enter the U.S. without U.S. permission.”
According to a March, 2006 Zogby poll, the majority of Mexicans surveyed expressed their beliefs that Americans are dishonest, racist, and exploit others to achieve economic gains. Certainly, a portion of illegals entering the United States come for the American dream and will appreciate their new home more so than many Americans. However, as these polls display, chances are the average person beginning their experience in the United States by breaking its laws shares little of the American values that make this country what it is.
The perceptions of Americans among our southern neighbors must change and the overwhelming belief that American laws are flawed needs to be vastly transformed to a respect for Uniteds States' institutions. Mexicans have every right not to agree with American laws and policies, but if they don’t want to abide by our rules, they have no right to seek the privilege of immigrating to the United States.
Leadership in Mexico
For a Latin American leader, Mexican president Vicente Fox is actually a moderate; his recent public disagreements with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez are a prime example. Nevertheless, the Mexican president and his government do little to curb the flow of illegal immigration to the United States. In fact, the government in Mexico has famously provided its citizens with instruction manuals on how to enter the United States illegally.
J. Michael Waller of the Center for Security Policy has written on Mexico's inconsistency in what it demands of the United States and what it practices domestically with regards to immigration issues. Waller notes that the Mexican Constitution states that “Mexicans shall have priority over foreigners under equality of circumstances for all classes of concessions and for all employment, positions, or commissions of the government in which the status of citizenship is not indispensable.”
Thus, while the Mexican Congress Standing Committee has called United States reform measures “racist, xenophobe and in violation of human rights,” even legal immigrants in Mexico are not provided with equal rights under the country’s constitution.
Nonetheless, the fervent opposition of Vicente Fox to the proposed construction of a wall protecting America’s southern border makes evident his hypocrisy as he claims: "If they always have been on the side of democracy and the tearing down of walls, why are they building them? I don't understand it, I can't explain it to myself. It seems to me to be a disgrace." Clearly the institutions and the current leadership of Mexico act as a hindrance to any affective and lasting immigration reform.
Unfortunately, it appears as if it will remain this way for some time. Far left candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is leading all of the early polls for the presidential election scheduled for July 2. The former Mexico City mayor has apparently received campaign support from Hugo Chavez and has set up meetings with Mexicans living in the United States in an effort to attract their votes. Lopez Obrador, who Latin American Economy & Business claims “only assassination can stop … from winning the presidency,” will only contribute to the mass appeal of migrating north.
Years from now we will look back at the immigration debate and realize that the solutions were well intended, but, unfortunately, short sighted. Just as Ronald Reagan made the mistake of providing amnesty in the 1980’s without developing a long-term strategy to deal with the immigration issue, the Bush administration and much of Congress seems to be looking solely at the 2006 congressional elections and the immediate dilemmas that face any domestic oriented reform efforts.
While some bills – the James Sensenbrenner and Peter King sponsored Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act for example – reduce the incentive of illegals to come to the United States, no proposal seriously deals with the incentives provided in Mexico to seek employment elsewhere. Until Mexico is able to develop an educated workforce, change their culture of immigration and dismissal of American laws, and to elect a responsible leadership, the issue of illegal immigration will remain. Thus, whichever bill eventually becomes law will act as a good start, but without a focus on the source of the problem in Mexico, that is all it will remain.
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