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The world's greatest democracy, built by immigrants and refugees of all stripes; President Bush has now signed a bill to build a wall to keep them out!!

    "Mexico has pledged to challenge the fence at the United Nations and on Wednesday presented a declaration against the policy to the Organisation of American States, supported by 27 other Latin American and Caribbean nations but opposed by the US." BBC News

This Republican initiative is, to say the least, "OFF THE WALL." Of course, the easy answer is that Hispanics achieving citizenship end up voting Democratic more often than not. There is more to this than that. We have become smug and fat in our riches as a people. We have not taken the pain, yes pain, of looking for what we bring to the party -- and how others see us. This new law will have ominous long-term consequences.

The new law:
  • Authorizes the construction of hundreds of miles of additional fencing along our Southern border;
  • Authorizes more vehicle barriers, checkpoints, and lighting to help prevent people from entering our country illegally;
  • Authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to increase the use of advanced technology like cameras, satellites, and unmanned aerial vehicles to reinforce our infrastructure at the border.

We believe, along with other commentators, that Bush only signed the measure to help Republicans during the mid-term elections. What is less generally known is that the money for the fence is not yet authorized.

While the bill was working its way through Congress, a half million demonstrators, mostly Hispanic, peacefully protested the proposal across the nation. At the same time, several opinion polls of the American electorate show various degrees of support for controlling immigration.

Bill Richardson, at a Town Hall meeting, made an humorous but true observation: "A 12 foot fence will create a market for 13 foot ladders."

This issue would not be in the RoadtoPeace purview if it were not for the facts that:

  • Restricting immigration too much limits the very source of industrious people who made this country great and who are still needed.
  • Hispanic immigrants in particular fill jobs on farms, in restaurants and other minimum-wage sectors of the US economy that few American citizens will take.
  • Limiting immigration too much could be inflationary through reducing national productivity by forcing higher pay.
  • Hispanic immigrants have found things better north of the border; closing all immigration would be a human disaster for such future immigrants.
  • Our very economic well being may well depend upon continued immigration.

Of course immigration is not quite that simple. Nor is it possible to list all pros and cons, give each its proper weight, and come to a logical and objective opinion. However, what we can do is look for compromises instead of arguing endlessly.

With all due respect to democratic rule, from the perspective of lasting peace, it does not seem wise to erect barricades between societies, especially one's neighbors -- in this case a valued democracy and trading partner. We cannot see how history will judge this one as a wise move. Having said that, immigration has become a hot political subject, one that may change history as not only the US has this problem. Many developed nations do.

The earlier requirement that would make felons out of illegal immigrants and their employers was dropped from the final version. We concur with that change.

What about the American public? Polls have shown they want some combination of tougher enforcement and earned citizenship for the 12,000,000 or so illegal immigrants now in the US. The demographics are against controls that are too strict. Between now and 2015, the US work force is projected to need 15,000,000 new workers, most of whom would need only a high-school education. But the domestic labor force fitting that category is projected to grow by only 10,000,000. The restaurant industry sector would be hit hardest.

The irony is that most illegal immigrants come here to work. And once here, they are less likely to be unemployed than are native-born Americans of similar skills. There must be some wise solutions to this problem. How about some of the following for the long term?

  • Help Mexico generate jobs for their own people. Friendly neighbors provide more security than an iron wall ever can.
  • Increase trade and cultural exchanges with neighbors in dialogue rather than confrontation.
  • Help all nations to limit their populations to the levels their shares of land-mass can support.
  • Enable and facilitate assimilation in host country.

For the short term can we not try:

  • Setting immigration quotas that reflect expected growth in labor markets. [Meet needs of restaurant and hotel industries for example.]
  • Educating native-born Americans as to our history and the very real benefits of our immigration heritage. [Reduce misunderstanding by improving perspectives.]
  • Facilitating entry and give fast-tracks to citizenship for established entrepreneurs with links to the Third World. [Exports from and by the grass-roots.]

Thinking more globally, the cause of peace would be greatly enhanced if immigration could flow freely with minimal constraints among all nations as part of a vital ethno-economic integration process that by itself would go far toward establishing a basis for world peace, with freedom, liberty, and equality of opportunity among all.

A private comment raised the issue of Mexican corruption with a view that we should not allow immigration or help Mexico create jobs as long as corruption is rampant. This is a complexity for sure, especially since we and many other nations have our own problems with corruption. Improving the plight of the typical Mexican is most important; creative solutions must be sought to create jobs at home for a good neighbor. Our commentator is basically right; however the problem is more complex than any single issue. Corruption needs to be controlled before Mexico can join the ranks of free nations with unoppressed people. The same is true of many other nations, especially in the Third World. Corruption is an expression of extremism (self interest) and must be dealt with before peace can reign.

The border fence has another drawback: Third-world countries are using the US example to close their borders as well. One of their motives of course is to reduce refugee flows from genocide or persecution. That only dooms the victims. In Africa especially, border tightening is one serious response to over-crowding.

The November/December 2006 issue of Foreign Affairs deals with these explosive immigration questions extensively and reasonably. We condense their basic suggestions here.

  • Flexible Annual Quotas: Control the influx of skilled immigrants to the current demand for labor.
  • Admission Procedure: Be flexible but firm. Flexibility allows for temporaries, of which there are many, permanents, also of which there are many, and those that change their minds.
  • Reset Quotas: Supplies and demand change with time. At this writing, supplies of labor in the agriculture, restaurant, and hotel businesses are tight for both unskilled and semi-skilled personnel. Annual quotas need to be consistent with demand in each category.
  • Provide for Effective Enforcement: "...A national, mandatory, electronic employment-verification system that informs employers in a timely way whether the job applicants standing before them are authorized to work in the United States or not. Such a system need not be Orwellian: the basic elements are biometric identity cards and a computer data base. And the process should operate much like ordinary credit card verifications but backed up by significantly stepped-up sanctions against employers who fail to use the system or who abuse it."
  • Legalize Those Already Here: The basic danger to be avoided is the creation of second-class citizenship as this undermines American values. That requires fair but firm treatment. Neither deportation nor allowing them to remain in limbo meets the need for fairness. A compromise that "...signals the nation's seriousness about enforcing its laws but does not preclude long-term residents from earning citizenship" should be found.

The bill just signed does not adequately meet all the foregoing criteria. We endorse the positions taken by Foreign Affairs on immigration. They further suggest that training in English should be part of the process of assimilation. Assimilation is a problem in itself, and we suggest an educational program for the US public about these issues. They are emotionally charged for sure and are also burdened with special interests. These features should not be allowed to stand in the way of moving forward with wisdom.

However there is no short-term permanent cure on the horizon. What needs to be done is to address the root problems: social and economic inequality. Fix these and immigration will go down to its natural two-way level that is beneficial to both sides. True permanence requires population levels are stable.


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