Saturday, May 29, 2004

Ruben Navarette - Eliminating the causes of illegal immigration

The Salt Lake Tribune -- Utah's Statewide Newspaper

Navarrette: Eliminating the underlying causes of illegal immigration

By Ruben Navarrette
Dallas Morning News

DALLAS -- Americans are never going to stand a chance of controlling illegal immigration until they're honest with themselves about what really causes it.
It used to be that anti-immigrant groups were content to limit the blame to the immigrants themselves for entering the country illegally.
Then, they blamed Third World countries such as Mexico. If these countries offered more opportunity, they said, the people who live there wouldn't feel as though they had no choice but to leave.
Then, the anti-immigration lobby turned its sights on Latino advocacy organizations, claiming these groups were formulating policies to encourage as much immigration as possible to increase their own political influence.
Now there's a new foil: President Bush, who has put forward a plan to reform the country's immigration system. It would, among other things, grant temporary work visas to millions of illegal immigrants now living in the United States and allow for new batches of immigrants to come in and take, as Bush puts it, "jobs that Americans don't want."
The plan is stalled in Congress, and it probably won't shake loose until after the November election.
No matter, say the anti-immigration folks. In their minds, even the prospect of some sort of legalization provides enough of an incentive for huge numbers of people to try to cross the border. They point to estimates by the Border Patrol that apprehensions along the U.S.-Mexican border are up 30 percent over last year. That, they say, is the result of people from Mexico and Latin America making a conscious decision to brave the dangers -- from dying of heat exhaustion in the desert to being killed or left for dead by smugglers -- because they want a shot at amnesty.
"We've created an incentive to take foolish risks," Mark Krikorian of the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies told The New York Times. "In effect, we're saying if you run this gauntlet and can get over here, you're home free."
It's funny. Over the years, I've interviewed dozens of immigrants waiting for work on street corners who, I'd wager, wouldn't offer such a rosy assessment of their situation. Once people get here, they still have to find work, and they often end up with jobs that are considered at the bottom of the barrel. Once they're employed, they still have to collect their wages.
Americans take that sort of thing for granted. You work. You get paid. Nothing to it.
Unfortunately, that's often not the case for immigrants, especially if they're in the country illegally. In fact, Univision, the nation's largest Spanish-language television network, recently put together a chilling report on "Latino slaves in the United States." Anchor Jorge Ramos talked to Mexican immigrants who were imported into the United States and then held against their will until they paid off their passage. Some young women thought they were coming to the United States to work in factories, but instead were forced into prostitution. Some men worked to pay what they owed, only to learn that their debts had been paid off long ago and the employer hadn't told them. Clearly for some Americans, hiring illegal immigrants is a really good deal.
Which brings us back to the question of who or what is to blame for illegal immigration. I don't care what the anti-immigration lobby says. I'm not buying the argument that it's President Bush and his plan, and neither should you.
After all, people were emigrating to the United States long before Bush took office. They've come for generations -- many of them illegally. They're determined and courageous and sometimes ingenious. They're also nonpartisan. They come whether the White House is controlled by Republicans or Democrats.
They come because they are students of economics: They know about supply and demand, and they know they can earn in a day in the United States what it would take a month to earn in an underdeveloped country such as Mexico.
Most of all, they come because they are virtually assured of finding a job -- perhaps a dangerous, low-paying, highly exploitative job, but a job nonetheless. And why, despite all their bluster, are so many Americans still willing to hire immigrants -- even the illegal kind? Scratch that -- especially the illegal kind.
It's because hiring these people is the next best thing to having free labor. Although, the folks at Univision have another name for the term.


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