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  • Lloyd Richardson

Mexico and US Immigration

Let’s talk about Mexico. And instead of having a screaming match, let’s see if we can’t do this by the numbers, compliments of the CIA’s World Factbook. All data shown are for 2014 unless otherwise indicated.

It seems like a good time to discuss Mexico, given the recent efforts by the Obama Media to shout down a Republican candidate for the presidency. I refer of course to Donald Trump. Mr. Trump made the mistake of trying to talk intelligently about immigration policy, but you are not allowed to do that in Obama’s America. Obama long ago suspended the First Amendment, along with the Second. So, we will talk today not about people, but countries and their self-interest—specifically Canada, Mexico and the US—using this chart.


Focusing on Canada and Mexico just as economies, the first thing you will notice is how similar these two countries are in many respects. The size of the two economies is roughly similar—with baselines over a trillion dollars annually, and only after you convert to a purchasing power parity basis does Mexico surge ahead in terms of raw size, from about $1.3 trillion to $2.1 trillion. (The PPP adjustment merely reflects the lower cost of consumer goods inside Mexico, so a dollar goes further there than in Canada, so to speak.) Both economies are growing at about the same rate, somewhere around 2.3 or 2.4% per year. Somewhat against expectations, the distribution of the work force by sector is also very similar, about two percent engaged in agriculture in Canada and four percent in Mexico. Not really a significant difference. In traditional economies, virtually everyone works in agriculture, and the rule of thumb is that you are a “developing country” until the percentage of your population so engaged falls below 50 percent. Mexico by that standard is clearly a modern economy. Even the difference in education levels for the two populations is not as outrageous as one might have expected from watching Mexico on TV.


So how come Mexico is a huge immigration issue in the news, while no one ever even mentions Canada? If our borders with these two countries are about equally porous, why do people so rarely mention Canada as a transit point for terrorists on their way to the US? Could it be that the Left is correct? This is really about whitey hating his little brown brothers to the south, but not caring one wit if all those Anglos come over the border from Canada? (We can give the French descendants in Canada honorary “Anglo” status for the purposes of analyzing this vast, white-wing conspiracy.)


There are at least two reasonable responses to this question: The first is that we damn well should be worried about terrorists transiting Canada on their way to the US. The ugly truth is that we have been very lucky. Canadian intelligence has long recognized that that most of the principal terrorist groups—Islamic and otherwise—are active within its borders. (Canada has banned 34 such groups.) And just last year, in celebration of 9-11, James O’Keefe demonstrated how easy it is for a terrorist cell working from Canada to infiltrate the US, in a feat that rather embarrassed law enforcement in both countries.


A second response however is that, while it is prudent of us as Americans to be concerned about terrorist infiltration through Canada, most American would feel with some justification that, with respect to Canada, we are dealing with a law enforcement establishment equivalent in training and commitment to our own, while in Mexico…? Well, not so much. Fast and Furious leaps to mind. You also may want to refer to Transparency International’s global corruption index, which ranks Mexico 103rd out of the 175 countries in the world that TI follows. If you want to scare yourself to death with a fictional account of government corruption in Mexico, read Ted Bell’s book, Spy.


It is also critical to understand that this legitimate national security issue goes largely to whether or not we should be securing our own borders in the first instance. That is an entirely different question logically than immigration policy, which is about who we want to be now as Americans—and who we want to be the future of this country. The two issues are related, but only in the sense that, as the Right has been pointing out for years, until you secure the borders, no immigration policy can be enforceable.


As a starting point, does anyone doubt that Mexico represents a unique challenge to our immigration policy, whatever that policy may be from time to time? We have people coming from other parts of the world every day who get off an airplane, ignore their visas, get jobs, and stay for years in America illegally. We all know that, and I suspect most Americans would agree that that is just wrong, and we should be doing a better job at policing these folks and ensuring that most of them end up getting sent home. But we don’t live in a police state. We don’t require, as do most European countries, that a foreigner register with the local police once he moves out of transient housing such as a hotel and rents something long-term. And lots of people from other parts of the world have relatives here in the US. So while I think we can agree that we should be spending enough on enforcement to keep most people honest when they come visit the US, the system is never going to be perfect. That is part of living in an open society.


But it is important to recognize that an important aspect of our immigration enforcement system is that what most foreigners fear about over-staying their visas is not being thrown in jail here in the US. The real threat—and our real enforcement leverage—comes from the fact that most people who have hopes of staying in the US and becoming citizens someday know that, if they do over-stay their visas, they are jeopardizing their hopes of getting another visa in the future, and ultimately their long-term prospects to become a citizen. The Left does not understand this because they are so disdainful of being American in the first place (what American exceptionalism?), it does not occur to them that there are many people in distant lands who actually still aspire to become US citizens someday—and would be proud of their adopted nation. This is how self-loathing destroys your perspective.


Which brings us back to Mexico, like Canada, only one of two contiguous US neighbors. The first step in understanding the American sentiment concerning Mexico relates to the very first number in the table above: Mexico’s population. At 120 million people, Mexico is huge. By contrast, if every single Canadian walked across our borders tomorrow, we would be unlikely to notice. All of Canada is barely 10 percent of the US population. What’s more, Canadians are an awful lot like us: they have similar job skills, similar educations, and even share a very similar cultural heritage (except for those pesky Quebecers!) Plus, Canadians don’t in fact cross the border in droves every day because they don’t want to come to the US! They have the best of both worlds now: we subsidize their healthcare system (which doesn’t work); we take all the heat in foreign policy matters, so they can look like the good guys and pretend they are faux Euro-trash; they don’t have to spend much on national defense because we do; they are sitting one of the world’s largest untapped reserves of energy and a bunch of beaver pelts; and they have NAFTA. Why would they want to come here? And if you look at the net migration numbers in the table above, you’ll see they don’t.


Speaking of cultural heritage—again something the Left is tone-deaf to—Mexico historically comes out of that Spanish camp. Any of you who were paying attention during your European history course may have noticed that there is not much of a tradition in Spain of liberal democracy—or any democracy for that matter. You may also recall—if you were paying attention during your American history course—that England was basically alone in developing the ideas that evolved into modern political theory. That includes stuff like the concept of the natural rights of man, no kings or emperors, all men are created equal, and the notion that that government is best, that governs least. You know, all those ideas the Left can’t stand. The Left has also forgotten the year 1588 when Spain tried to invade England to eliminate Queen Elizabeth and all these dangerous English political ideas. Mexico on the other hand was ruled by Emperor Maximilian not so many years ago, remember? In fact until 1867. You may also recall that 1867 is precisely two years after the end of the bloodiest war in our history, which was designed in large part to get rid of slavery and prove once and for all that all men were created equal. Then there is the fact that the US actually fought a war with Mexico (1848) and even more recently with its big brother, Spain (1898). You see how there is a trend here?


Hey, but no worries! Bring those Mexicans on in here! If they can’t beat us on the battlefield, they can bankrupt us in the halls of Congress. In all seriousness, one of the odd questions to me about the Mexican phenomenon is whether most Mexican arrivals really want to become US citizens at all. Some current immigrants clearly do. And I don’t mean to cast aspersions on the many proud Mexican-Americans who have lived in this country for hundreds of years and are as much a part of America as any of us. But no one can doubt that there is a sentiment among some portion of the Mexican population living in the US that they are engaging in irredentism – restoring northern lands that should have been part of Mexico all along. If you doubt this, just do a google search on Aztlan, or La Raza, or the MEChA (Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan)—“For the Race everything. Outside the Race, nothing.” Snappy slogan, eh? A fringe perhaps, but unnerving when they can walk all the weapons and drugs they want across our open border with Mexico.


A final note on the social aspects of Mexico and its people. One very positive thing it seems to me is that Mexicans are predominantly Catholic. As a conservative, I admit I like that, since these folks are more likely to be conservative and have strong family values, so that’s a good thing. The Left might want to consider that when they are out in front leading the marches for Hispanic citizenry. My goodness! What if they are unwittingly encouraging the immigration of millions of conservatives?


Then there is the economic aspect of Mexican migration. One of the things I totally disagree with George Bush (and Jeb?) about is his idea—echoed by many—that Mexicans only take jobs Americans don’t want. A statement like that really shows how out of touch you are. Americans, especially our poor, desperately want to work. But at some wage, no job is worth it. What do I mean by that? Even our poor in the US are unwilling to live a dozen people to a house just to earn a few pesos to send home to the motherland. We are just weird that way as Americans—we like to have a place with a little privacy to live with our family, even if we are poor. You are naive if you have not seen Mexicans move into neighborhoods in US cities and suburbs and trash them overnight by living like they were in the Third World (whence they come), 15 and 20 people to a house.


And you know whose jobs the Mexicans take? The jobs of our poorest and most disadvantaged—black Americans and those from other ethnic groups who are trying to survive at the bottom rung of the ladder—who by the way are here legally! This is the double-talk of the Left—the same people who constantly whine about the minimum wage being too low and the need for more unions, while they seek to force real wages down by permitting illegal immigration and dumping cheap Mexican labor into the market. In South Carolina, where I recently moved to escape DC, it was remarkable to see what happened to the local landscaping companies when the state started enforcing employee identification laws with employers. In no time at all, you noticed that there were suddenly white and black employees working outside around your house for the landscaping companies—employees who only weeks before had been Mexican to a man. You know, those jobs no American wanted. And what rock have you been hiding under since 2008 if you have not noticed that under Obama “youth unemployment,” especially among minorities but among whites as well, is the highest it has ever been, and that we have the lowest percentage of Americans in the work force ever, excepting only the Great Depression. (Another Leftie fiasco!)


Speaking of unions and dumping cheap labor on the market, have you ever wondered how the Left has managed to make common cause with the US Chamber of Commerce—which represents America’s largest businesses—in immigration policy? Talk about strange bed fellows!


Oh, but I hear you say, the poor peoples from Mexico need jobs. Well, for decades we had a perfectly sensible system to issue work permits to migrant workers from Mexico. It was called the bracero program, and it was started during World War II to help address the labor shortages caused by the deployment of so many American men overseas during the war. (Mexico was too busy playing footsie with the Nazis.) The program was abandoned by Congress in 1964 because the hand-wringing Lefties thought the poor Mexicans were being exploited by vicious American capitalists. These are the same people today who think it is just fine for Mexicans to be dying in the desert and being exploited by organized crime to come across our border in the dead of night to take jobs which are sometimes no better than indentured servitude, and often worse. So if there are still industries where we are short on workers, let the Labor Department certify those industries, and let ICE issue permits for these folks to work. The Mexicans get to come and make money they can send home to their families, but they don’t get to vote for Democrats while they are here in the US masquerading as US citizens. This should make the bleeding hearts and the US Chamber happy. Seems like a simple enough system to implement, especially where we have done it before to some success. Does the Left think it is too shameful for Mexicans to do these jobs? So much for the Left’s respect for the “working man.”


The final straw: Am I the only one who looks at the numbers in the chart above and suspects that, as a country, we are being had by our Mexican friends? If you look at our chart, you will see I have left one “mystery” metric in the last line of the table. Whatever this mystery metric is, every year, Canada is spending 10.9% of its GDP for it, while Mexico spends only 6.2%. And, yes you’re right: it is healthcare. (Just in case you were wondering what the numbers in brackets in the first column are, where the line item is described? That’s the US value for the metric.) Think about it. It must be nice to have an overall tax rate of only 23% of GDP and government debt that is only 41% of GDP; compare those same numbers in Canada where they at 38% and 93%(!), respectively. At the same time, Mexico is spending only 6.2% of GDP on healthcare for its citizens. Now that is what I call externalizing your expenses! Really a brilliant budget tactic by the Mexican Government. Why be like Canada and tax your citizens at outrageous rates to pay for a second rate healthcare system, when you can send all your poor citizens to the US for what was—at least until Obamacare—the best healthcare in the world? And the Left is always wringing its hands over why the US is spending over 17% of its GDP on healthcare—and growing every year?


You might think that a country like Mexico, with a trillion dollar economy and the 18th largest proven oil reserves in the world, might be able to pull its own weight a little better, if it wants to provide healthcare to its citizens, but maybe it is wrong-headed to think that. Just saying.


Once you remove the demagoguery from the equation, here’s how this could work—and I have always faulted George Bush for not getting this done with Vincente Fox when there was an excellent opportunity for two conservatives to do the statesmanlike thing for the long-term good of their countries. So we have in effect a carrot and a stick. Mexico agrees to a new US guest worker law, pursuant to which Mexican citizens can come to the US to work in jobs that have been identified as suffering a labor shortage, with limited US job-seekers. With 50% of its population living at or below poverty level, Mexico is still short a lot of jobs. In turn, the US agrees to implement a special NAFTA focused exclusively on the Mexican energy industry. Now a decade ago that might have been difficult to impossible to implement. The Mexican Government has long been nervous about the intentions of its giant neighbor to the north, especially where the oil industry is concerned. However, in the past couple of years, the Mexican Government, recognizing that petroleum sitting idle in the ground is a wasted national resource, has made serious efforts to out-source and diversify its oil industry. This policy also might jump-start Mexico’s lagging foreign direct investment numbers, which you can see from the chart are only about a third of Canada’s.


Bottom line? Through this kind of quid pro quo, we can help Mexico with its over-supply of unskilled labor as it works through its transition to a stronger, fully-developed economy, at the same time accelerating that growth rate through US investment. In return, we get a wealthier, more stable neighbor; get rid of a politically contentious immigration problem; and earn a nice return on investment in the Mexican energy sector, improving our own economy in the bargain. Are there possible roadblocks here? Of course. But no harm in trying.


So there are sensible ways to manage immigration—even in the case of Mexico—that respect not only the needs of our rapidly-developing neighbor to the south but US interests as well. But of course, the Left is not interested in resolving this issue because they want to be able to scream “Racism!” at every turn and exploit the resulting political tensions—the good of the country be damned!


More next time. Til then, may God see fit to bless us—and Mexico too!

A diplomat during the Reagan years, Lloyd Richardson brings three decades of experience in international matters to his work.

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