Monday, June 11, 2007

Immigration: Solving the Wrong Problem

This week Congress’ attempt at passing a comprehensive immigration bill went down the tubes. The bill was an attempt to find a compromise on an issue that has deeply divided the Congress and the nation. The debate on immigration has focused on two questions: (1) How are we going to stop the flow of undocumented immigrants? And (2) What are we going to do with 12 million undocumented immigrants already here? And yet, even if it had somehow passed, the bill would only have been a short term band-aid at best.

Why? We are not solving the correct problem, or to paraphrase Stephen Covey, the author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “The way we see the problem is the problem.” To date the debate in Congress has characterized the immigration issue as a national issue, but in fact the issue is a regional issue. Until our leaders are willing to engage the business community and the other governments involved in seeking a transnational and just agreement, no reasonable or effective solution can be found.

Nearly a year ago(9/4/2006), David Sirota of the San Francisco Chronicle (among others) asked the pertinent question:

"Why do so many Mexicans come to America in the first place? The answers to this question revolve around the concept of supply and demand – and they tell us about how to address illegal immigration and overcome the core economic challenges facing middle class America.”

Fact: Many Mexican are willing to risk their lives to enter the United States illegally because they are desperate to find a better life. In supply and demand terms, the supply of jobs in Mexico that one can subsist on is far less than the demand for such jobs."

The President, the Congress, and we the American people are failing to address this real issue of why people are coming here: incredible suffering and injustice propagated by NAFTA and opportunistic corporations.

In 1992 the Congress led by Pres. Bill Clinton, passed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was designed to allow for the free flow of capital and goods/services across the Canadian, Mexican and U.S. borders. However, the agreement did not allow for was the free flow of labor. In short NAFTA gave the corporations the ability to flow freely across borders without allowing workers to do the same.

NAFTA enabled unscrupulous companies to move their operations from the U.S. to Mexico, thereby avoiding environmental regulations and bypassing workplace safety rules. Moreover, these same companies were able to escape paying U.S. workers living wage and exploit cheap Mexican labor where people would work for $5-7 a day. At the same time U.S. farmers and retailers like Wal-Mart were able to flood Mexican markets with American goods that put local Mexican workers and farmers out of business. Since NAFTA was passed, nearly 800,000 jobs have been lost in Mexico and 1 million jobs in the United States. The winners in this deal have not been the workers, but rather large transnational corporations, large retailers, a well-entrenched Mexican elite and U.S. employers who now exploiting undocumented workers in the U.S. with “under the table” sub-minimum wages. No wonder the U.S. business community likes President Bush’s bill – it serves their interests even as it continues to exploit the working class folks on both sides of the border. (See New York Times 2/18/2007)

The sad truth is that without significant pressure from citizen and labor groups, most leaders in the U.S. and Mexico will not address the real issue. The current situation serves the business community quite fine, thank you. The media and the Congress (who are controlled by business interests) conveniently divert us with the meaningless debates about a 700 mile long border fence and the hiring of more border agents. Vigilante groups spout words of hate in the name of patriotism. Conservative groups and labor unions fight the bill seeking to preserve their special interests and miss the larger picture. And all the time, some very powerful people are profiting handsomely..

Richard Alba, sociology professor from the University of Albany (NY) has pointed out that the U.S. could learn a great deal from the European Union (EU). When the EU countries opened their borders to free trade, they also opened up their borders for workers to travel freely as well. Instead of destroying national economies, it strengthened them, because the EU leaders recognized their challenges were regional rather than national. Unfortunately, the U.S. government has either unconsciously or deliberately failed to learn from the Europeans. (See http://borderbattles/

Instead migrants are characterized as “lawbreakers” and accused of “taking jobs away from Americans,” when the real criminals sit in government buildings and corporate offices. Until we are willing to address the real “illegals” and address the root of the problem, nothing will get accomplished.

Sadly, what I am saying here is neither new nor novel. A simple Google search with the key words “Immigration” and “NAFTA” led me to numerous reputable sources from commentators far more knowledgeable than me. I am reminded of a saying from Harry Nilsson’s classic story “The Point”: “We see what we want to see, and hear what we want to hear.” Until we want to address the real problem, we will only see mirages and tilt at windmills.


Anonymous said...

Drick, You are right on target!
I agree with everything that you have had to say in this blog. I don't read all of your blogs but this one is very valuable. Unfortunately, I am afraid, both parties are in cahoots with the agricultural and industrial conglomerates and I see little chance of a sensible solution. From now on I will try to check all of your blogs.Thanks, Uncle Bumpy

Dr. Bob Muse said...

Off the top of my head--

Thanks, Drick, for your ongoing thoughts and opinions. Well done!

I agree that the major problem is regional and should be dealt with by regional authorities, with the assistance of the federal gov't, i.e. financial and physical resources. I'm not sure that would solve the problem.
Compounding the issue is this: Security experts tell us that at least 10-15% of those who cross Mexican and Canadian borders are not completely interested in becoming good, hard-working family-oriented citizens. These are the criminals, the free-loaders, and the militants (who would love to promote violence and terror here in our cities). These people, whether we like to admit it or not, come to rape and plunder the U.S.A. Is this surprising? Not really. A quick review of migration patterns around the world, especially among the nations where aggressive "religious" groups and movements have politico-religious expansion philosophies.
And this is not surprising for another reason. The Hebrew Scriptures have informed us for millenia regarding the nature and destiny of man/womankind. It's all spelled out in Genesis 3. Apparently there is just something about "Us" (not only U.S.A., but "Us") genetically that always inclines toward self-centeredness and ego-mania, or exerting power over others to take for ourselves in order to get that "better life." The idea of the "better life" is not bad in itself; it's just the way some people go about it that causes problems.
Knowing people, I just cannot attribute complete honesty and good will to everyone who is coming into our country as immigrants. Further, when I recognize the world in which we live, and the potential dangers out there--including the danger from those who question our right to exist as a nation--I honestly believe that "national securty" is the first step to take with respect to the immigration issue. Let's just begin to deal with the issue by first securing the borders. (If we choose to open them later on--if it be the will of the people--then so be it.) But for now, with all the chaos and stupidity running rampant in D.C. (among both Democrats and Republican leaders), let's just shut off the tap until we can get a handle on things. "Freebies" have their place in life, but some contexts do not lend themselves to such graceful gifts. (We're not talking theology here.)
One final thing. I grew up in a small community in western PA where perhaps 50% of the people had been immigrants. There were Polish and Italian and Hungarian and German and Russian and Slavs, and God knows how many other varities. They were the hardest working, authority respecting, most family-oriented people I had ever met in my life. Also, they were proud--yes, proud--to be in this country, having earned the right to be here. They often talked about life in the "old" coutry as they played bocce and drank their wine and beer. But they proudly waved American flags on the 4th of July, and many of them flew the American flag from their porch all year long. They were often critical of the government, because, as they said, they "earned the right" to criticize Roosevelt, Eisenhower, et al.
My point is this, and I offer it as a pastor, parent and educator. When I give away "free" stuff to people, regardless of their situations, be they members of my church, my children, or my students, I rarely do any of them a favors. In fact, the results are often opposite to my basic expectations. (Our whole welfare system was established on this misguided principle.) The biblical record is replete with stories about people who used and abused the free gifts of God. We Christians are perhaps the most guilty here. Thus, unconditional amnesty to immigrants, which didn't work years ago, certainly will not work again--unless we are prepared to go behyond our permissive legislators by flooding the regions most effected with workers (local, state, federal) who are committed to interacting with each immigrant family--including the potential militants--for the purpose of assisting them to work toward becoming assimilated as good, sincere American citizens. What role do you think the Church could play there? And what about the other social agencies?
When I was pastoring in Trenton, we always had an influx of transcients and minority people coming to and going from our downtown church. We gave them all kinds of "stuff" and many of them also took advantage of our gifts. I gave away literally hundreds of dollars from my own pocket (don't tell my wife!) unconditionally. You know what? We never saw 95% of them again in that context. To be sure, I often ran into them as I walked through town and many of them were still trying to hit me up for $20.00 for a cup of coffee. The 5% that stayed with us were the people we befriended and cared for and loved. They were assimilated and their lives (and ours) were much richer for the experience.
Immigration (illegal or otherwise) without loving care and purposeful assimilation will only lead to perpetual alienation and lawlessness.
For myself, I'll probably be dead long before any great changes take place in this country due to the influx of new cultures and the placement of new socio-politico-religious systems. But I worry about my grand children and their children. Inspite of all the damnation and caustic remarks directed against our country--especially by ideology-gone-wild radicals and so-called "free/liberal" thinkers (who are neither liberated nor thoughtful), the U.S.A. has been pretty good to me and to my family. (My overseas friends from Europe, India, and Africa also remind me from time to time that they would trade places with me in a heart-beat--but they say they would do it "legally".) I like to think (and hope) that the future for my little ones would be equally friendly and home-like.
I love change--my whole life has been dominated by the embrace of things new and unknown. God is good at helping all of us to cope with the daily shifts and challenges of newness. But what I'm seeing now in our country is really not something that the majority of us can embrace with joy and hope. If the polls are right (as far as we can trust them) the large majority of Americans are fearful of the way life is changing in this country, esp. in the south, west, and southwest. It's a real and honest fear. Let's hope that somebody in authority can soon address that fear, because if it isn't address properly, we might see amother civil war in our midst. It would not surprie me. That would be fatal, esp. since we have no Lincoln among us. Pray for wisdom and peace.