By Karl Reiner
It is approximately 360 miles from the New Mexico state line across Arizona to the border with California. On the south side of the line is the Mexican state of Sonora, part of the territory of a foreign country. Arizona is one of four U.S. states sharing the international border with Mexico. Unfortunately, this geographic reality is seen as curse by many in Arizona.
Arizona is represented in the U.S. Congress by eight members in the House of Representatives and two senators in the U.S. Senate. Although the state shares a border with a foreign country, no member of Arizona’s congressional delegation serves on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs or the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. In the Senate, New Mexico and California are represented on the committee. California and Texas have representatives on the House committee.
This unusual situation may be due to quirks in the committee assignment system. Or it could be another symptom of the widely believed political myth that nothing worthwhile exists on the other side of the Arizona-Mexico border.
In the United States, free speech is a hotly defended right. Regrettably, conspiracy theories also abound when unfettered speech exists. Many people tend to gravitate to easy, comfortable explanations of unpleasant happenings. The idea that some sinister group is taking undue advantage becomes a consolation. It allows for the easy dismissal of alternate explanations, the ones involving incompetence that may be too painful to face.
Mexico’s protracted economic problems and their impact on immigration have been long known to state and national policymakers. They also know that Mexico has become the base for the trafficking organizations supplying the big U.S. illegal drug market.
Among its problems, Mexico suffers from an epidemic of corrupt municipal police forces. Police and prosecutors are open to bribery. Because residents don’t trust their local police officers, much crime goes unreported. The U.S. has sent police trainers to Iraq and Afghanistan; perhaps it should consider sending a few to Mexico.
Immigration is an ostracized topic in the U.S. because many people over estimate the costs and underestimate the benefits it brings. Although it is denied in Arizona’s political circles, migration is the most effective tool yet devised for fighting poverty. It is an effective type of foreign aid. The money and skills flowing back to Mexico from workers in the U.S. are helping to shape the country’s economic future.
The immigration situation is not unique to the U.S. The number of economic migrants has climbed to 200 million worldwide during the last 25 years. Countries suffering from stagnant or declining populations will have to look to immigrants to sustain their work forces. As Europe and America age, they will have to fill a labor void. Like it or not, immigration is a factor in our future.
Mexico’s internal problems are hampering the growth of a civil society. The aversion to competition has allowed monopolies to continue to dominate large parts of the economy. Participation in the North American Free Trade Agreement has not resulted in the expected leap in living standards. The government’s crackdown on the drug-traffickers has brought about a massive surge in killings. To date, it has done little to slow the flow of drugs into the United States. Violence continues to engulf many of Mexico’s cities.
In keeping with Arizona’s narrow view, the governor is hiring former U.S. solicitor general to take the SB 1070 legal battle to the U.S. Supreme Court. While the economy of the state sags, the leaders in the legislature glory in the fact that 100,000 aliens have departed the state.
The state could focus less attention on investigating ethnic studies programs in Tucson’s schools. Instead, it should develop a report showing that border control, immigration problems, economic reform in Mexico and illegal drug policy are all factors combining to affect Arizona’s border security. It might help our officials understand why these issues should be handled as a U.S. foreign relations matter.