By Karl Reiner
Geography and road systems influence economic and military events. In the summer of 1863, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee made the decision to consolidate his army in a small southern Pennsylvania town where roads intersected. His decision had major consequences. It resulted in a battle that changed the course of the Civil War and made Gettysburg into a national landmark.
Infrastructure development played an important role as China became the world's second largest economy. Its massive road building program is on track to complete over 52,000 miles of expressways by 2020. Another 167,000 miles of rural roads will have been newly constructed or rebuilt. The road building program is government managed and financed. The program is years ahead of schedule, stressing domestic supplies. China produces about 16 million tons of asphalt a year while it uses 20 million tons. Imports have to make up the shortfall.
The lack of roads can serve sinister purposes. The rolling desert country southwest of Tucson is sparsely populated. Down Rt. 286, about 70 miles from Tucson, is the border port of entry at Sasabe. The small town of El Sasabe, Sonora sits across the border. Approximately 60 miles farther south is Altar with a population of about 8,000.
As U.S. border enforcement tightened to the east and west of Arizona, Altar developed into a staging area for illegal migrants moving through the Sasabe region. With few roads, the rough desert terrain was difficult to traverse, offered cover and was hard to patrol.
The combination of U.S. recession, an improving Mexican economy, a falling Mexican birth rate and better border surveillance has reduced the flow of illegal border crossers to its lowest level in many years. While the rate is dropping, the numbers remain substantial. In a 12 month period, the Border Patrol catches over 325,000 illegal crossers along the Mexican border.
The United States is troubled with an aging population, a large federal debt and much of its infrastructure needs replacement. As the political leaders in Washington argue over the gloomy alternatives, they need to face the fact that immigrants will have to fill the future shortage in the labor force. The economy has to be sustained if the pension and health care bills are to be paid.
The slow pace of the economic recovery and high unemployment rate currently masks the long-term labor problem. As the country continues to dig out of the recession, the unemployment problem will slowly fade. How to handle the 11.5 million undocumented immigrants in the country is a touchy political matter. The solution may involve giving them legal status and allowing them to continue to work.
It also wouldn't hurt if the politicians paid more attention to Mexico and the shaky economies of Central America. Since the majority of the illegal migrants hail from the countries on the other side of the southern border, the debate should expand beyond its present narrow focus on border security. It's over 2,000 miles from the U.S.-Mexican border to Central America. The realities of geography dictate that the economic conditions in those lands will continue to affect the United States.
Border security and immigration policy are issues governments deal with worldwide. In the U.S. immigration enforcement costs about $18 billion per year. Over 400,000 undocumented individuals are deported annually. At the present time, over $34 billion a year is sent back to Mexico and Central America by workers mostly employed in the U.S. We should consider these remittances a benefit; it is money that is taking the place of foreign aid.