Karl Reiner is a friend of this site and an active voice for a
fact-based approach to the issue of immigration from Mexico. He recently published a guest commentary in the AZ Daily Star, an updated and expanded version of which is presented here. BlogForArizona published an exclusive essay by Karl
in April of last year on the topic of immigration policy.
Karl managed international trade and economic policy analysis at the U.S. Department of Commerce in Washington, DC. He served as an acting deputy assistant secretary during the first Bush and Clinton administrations. A Vietnam veteran, he is a graduate of the Ohio State University and holds a MS degree from the Garvin School of International Management. After retiring from government service in 1994, he did consulting and authored a novel, Sgt. Bellnapp’s Secret, published in 2001.
The U.S. Senate took a look at possible fixes to the vexing immigration question and basically decided it didn’t need to act. Due to the unwillingness to compromise, agreement could not be reached on proposals for a guest-worker program, new border enforcement measures and practical and humane ways for resolving the status of the 12 million undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. The unyielding positions of the political factions made it difficult for the senators to cobble together a bill with enough votes to ensure passage. In response to the pressure, the members of the great deliberative body abdicated their responsibility for making a tough legislative decision, the kind of work the Senate is supposed to handle. The senators found themselves unable to rise above partisan rhetoric and resolve a weighty matter affecting national security and the functioning of the United States economy.
By abandoning its role, the Senate displayed a lack of political leadership. By not producing workable piece legislation, the Senate let the House of Representatives off the hook. The House would have had to reluctantly take up the subject after the Senate passed a bill. Unfortunately for the residents of Arizona, the problems related to immigration are not going to disappear due to the inactivity of Congress. Immigration is a federal responsibility, and because Congress failed to act, state and local governments will jump into the vacuum with a mass of new laws. The result will be a costly and disruptive regulatory hodgepodge which will most likely do nothing to make the present situation any better.
Although it was mostly ignored in the debates, one of the underlying causes of the current immigration problem is Mexico’s chronic sluggish economic performance. Mexico has long been beset by a host of internal problems and also has to deal with aggressive international competition. The Bank of Mexico predicts the country’s economic growth rate will be in the 3.5% range in 2007. This is just half of the 7% rate most analysts believe is needed to sustain growth, create jobs and begin to reduce the country’s staggering poverty level.
Unfortunately, for most of the past 25 years, Mexico’s economic growth has fallen short of the vital 7% mark. One of the clearly predictable results of the shortfall has been the steady increase in the movement of workers to the United States, the place where jobs are available. As we continue to argue about immigration remedies, we now have to take into consideration the fact that Mexico’s protracted uninspiring economic performance has become our problem.
To be successful, the solution to the immigration issue has to include a program to get the Mexican economy moving. The U.S. and Mexico share a 2,000 mile border. The U.S. takes 85% of Mexico’s exports and provides more than 50% of the country’s imports. Given the physical proximity and the magnitude of the economic relationship, we the people, Congress and the White House ought to have known for some time that not paying attention to Mexico’s sputtering economy would be a serious mistake.
Investment is a spur to increasing growth rates. Along with the other immigration remedies, Congress has to prod the White House into increasing aid while at the same time pressuring the Mexican government to accept responsibility for its internal failures and get its economic house in order. If Mexico’s economy started growing at the 7% rate, it would be a big boon to business and employment in Arizona. And, as the economy expanded in Mexico, the pressure on workers to migrate would be reduced.
Because our countries are joined, addressing Mexico’s internal economic situation has to be an integral part of our immigration reorganization effort. Continuing to ignore Mexico’s problem while focusing on tightening border security will be akin to screwing down the safety valve on a boiler. Down in Venezuela, the crafty Hugo Chavez is on the move. Tough and dedicated, he has cleverly dusted off a bit of old Leninist philosophy and is pushing his beguiling program as a regional antidote to the real and perceived problems caused by the dominance of an indifferent and exploitive United States. It is in our best long-term interest to go for a big economic win in Mexico. A victory there would set an example for the rest of Central and Latin America to follow. It would also do much to offset the anti-American message being preached by Chavez to a growing number of eager followers.
After stumbling into a botched war in Iraq, the United States needs to demonstrate to a skeptical world that it can at least chew gum and walk at the same time. The government that helped rebuild Europe and Japan after World War II ought to have been able to develop a solution to the festering immigration issue that forcefully addressed the foreign and domestic components of the problem. Unfortunately, the recent affair in the U.S. Senate seems to prove otherwise. The government running the world’s sole surviving super power appears to be losing its ability to function.