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Friday, July 02, 2004

The Sun News | 07/02/2004 | To fix immigration, start at source

The Sun News | 07/02/2004 | To fix immigration, start at source
Posted on Fri, Jul. 02, 2004
MEXICO'S ECONOMY
To fix immigration, start at source
STEVE LOPEZ

While I was kicking around Mexico to learn more about who comes north and why, I missed a big story back home. The U.S. Border Patrol was rounding up illegal immigrants in Southern California's Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Critics screamed in protest because the Border Patrol had previously kept its posse closer to the border. Defenders shot back that illegal means illegal.

Both sides had a point, but no one was converted. The nation's hypocritical immigration enforcement remained unchanged, and as goofy as ever.

Now we've got Congress demanding an investigation of the arrests because they weren't approved by the Department of Homeland Security.

"It's maddening," said David Ayon, a Loyola Marymount researcher. "We just don't know what to do about this border."

Truer words do not exist. It's 2,000 miles of conflicting sentiment and special interests, gold on one side, dirt on the other. Throw in election-year grandstanding, and you end up with Congress demanding to know why a federal agency was doing its job. Inconsistency reigns.

In the United States, we've decided an illegal immigrant can legally attend public schools and use county hospitals, and in California, he may soon have a driver's license. But he can still be arrested for walking down the street.

We'll chase immigrants to their death in the scorching deserts of California and Arizona, but we don't enforce sanctions against employers who hire illegals.

We're sinking billions into Iraq but tossing peanuts at our amigos down south.

If I learned anything while exploring Mexico, it's that cat-and-mouse games are useless without an overhaul of policies on both sides of the border.

In the half-abandoned Mexican farm town of San Juan Atenco, I learned that a farmer can't get bank credit, can't get government assistance for basic supplies and can't survive. So local campesinos risk their lives, and spend a year's wages, to go north in search of work.

Ayon notes that U.S. aid to Mexico is $30 million a year, which isn't enough to shovel out the barn each day. But Mexico shares the blame for that paltry amount, Ayon said. It's too proud to ask for more, and it doesn't want money that comes with obligations.

The Mexican government doesn't seem to have a problem, however, with the estimated $12 billion that migrants send home each year from the United States.

But Bob Pastor, professor of international relations at American University, says the so-called remittances are empty calories for a starved patient.

Pastor, national security adviser for Latin America during the Carter administration, sees only one solution.

Mexico, the United States and Canada share a continent, and they share a fate. What they need, he argues, is a relationship that better serves each, improving on the North American Free Trade Agreement and stealing the best aspects of the European Union.

People don't come north from Mexico for work, Pastor says. They come north because of the wage gap, which is so huge there's no fence high enough to stop people from trading $6 a day for $6 an hour.

You want to turn back illegal immigration? Pastor asks. Develop the Mexican economy.

Under his proposal, the United States would contribute $9 billion annually to a development fund for Mexico - chicken feed when compared with the tab in Iraq - and Canada would kick in another $1 billion.

But this doesn't mean Christmas comes early. If Mexico wants our tax dollars, it will have to add $10 billion to the development kitty. Raising that kind of money would mean taking an honest run at corruption, cracking down on murderous drug lords and collecting taxes for a change.

"There are several reasons why we should do this," Pastor says. "First and most important is that Mexico's development is in our economic interest. It's also in our humanitarian interest. And over the long term, it's the only way to deal with immigration."

Contact Lopez, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, at Steve.Lopez@latimes.com.

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