Alternative Insight

The Immigration Wars

Unauthorized immigration to the United States has become a political football. Political correctness, catering to the Hispanic vote, and Right vs. Left have replaced an intelligent and objective analysis of a major problem.

Proposals to halt illegal immigration have generated controversy and little legislative progress. The reasons are due to the inadequate consideration to more major factors - globalism and trade agreements - which have affected the labor markets, as well as to the legitimate fears of disease and terrorism crossing U.S. borders. It was predictable that the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would disturb labor markets, but, similar to 9/11, no action was taken until the problem exploded. Delicate social, economic and political conditions in Mexico, for which the immigration of marginal populations acts as a safety valve, complicate the solution to the southern neighbor's export of labor. An immigration problem has become an immigration war of classes and words rather than a coordinated effort to resolve a compelling problem.

What are the facts?
Top spot in the discussion is responsibility.

Shifts in Responsibilities
The most prominent features of uncontrolled Central American immigration to the United States (Note: Mexico will be considered as part of Central America) are that it skews nations from their natural growth and deters them from seeking approaches to resolve significant social and economic problems.

Similar to the Cuban Mariel sealift, most of the illegal immigrants to the United States are the less skilled and highly displaced workers. Not all, but a good part of the Mexican immigrants are impoverished or unemployed, either directly or indirectly, due to trade agreements and labor saving technology advances in the competitive agriculture industry. In Central America the most valuable workers remain and the governments are relieved of the burdens of caring for the marginal workers These occurrences distort the pattern in growth and relieve government agencies from solving problems. "The immigration problem is not one that is born on our border," said Gov. Eduardo Bours Castelo of the Mexican state of Sonora. "What we need is to improve economic opportunities throughout our country."

The United States receives irregular numbers of unauthorized workers that become statistical anomalies. Due to the undocumented entries, the U.S. is faced with unplanned social challenges of health, education and housing, and is deflected from solving the problems that the illegal and unplanned labor temporarily relieve, which are international competition, high labor rates and scarcity of labor for menial jobs. Either the legal workers are taxed more heavily to pay for the social burdens created by the mostly untaxed illegal workers, or social benefits are decreased for all citizens

Central American governments have decreased responsibilities to their populations while the U.S. government is forced to increase responsibilities to persons other than its normal citizens. This phenomena has been true for all previous waves of immigration to the U.S., but to a much lesser extent. Besides, this wave of illegal workers, even if controlled and made legal, can't be entirely characterized as immigrants

The Illegal Workers
Previous waves of immigrants to the U.S. didn't contemplate, except in some rare cases, returning to their birth nations.
They were eager to learn English and assimilate into the U.S. community. The illegal immigration is not entirely from Central American nations, but immigrants from those nations are close to their homes, can easily return to their native countries and have a tendency to culturally remain as Latinos. Many are not prepared to integrate into the U.S. system.

Taken together, unauthorized migrants from Mexico and Latin America represented 78% of the unauthorized population in 2005 (ED: 11 million). There were about 1.5 million unauthorized migrants from the Asian continent in 2005, representing about 13% of the total. Europe and Canada accounted for 600,000, or 6%, and Africa and other countries for about 400,000, or 3%.
The Size and Characteristics of the Unauthorized Migrant Population in the U.S.
Jeffrey S. Passel, Senior Research Associate, Pew Hispanic Center, March, 2006

Much of the Latino immigrants, or more precisely, unregistered aliens, resemble temporary guest or seasonal workers, except they don't come invited as guests and they determine the season. They are not recorded and not easily traced. This is an invitation for a network to create false identities, illegal papers, take advantage of the precarious position of the illegal and for some of immigrants to commit criminal actions.

The effects of the illegal immigration upon the United States are not devastating but they are troubling.

Illegal Immigration Effects on the United States
The most prominent charge against unauthorized immigration is that it takes jobs from U.S. workers and lowers the wage scale.
This seems obvious, but since Illegal workers are only 5% of the working population, their effects on jobs and wages are not excessive. Nevertheless, one study, which includes all immigration, indicates effects, especially on less educated U.S. workers.

By increasing the supply of labor between 1980 and 2000, immigration reduced the average annual earnings of native-born men by an estimated $1,700 or roughly 4 percent. Among natives without a high school education, who roughly correspond to the poorest tenth of the workforce, the estimated impact was even larger, reducing their wages by 7.4 percent. The 10 million native-born workers without a high school degree face the most competition from immigrants, as do the eight million younger natives with only a high school education and 12 million younger college graduates.
Center for Immigration studies, Increasing the Supply of Labor Through Immigration
Measuring the Impact on Native-born Workers
, May 2004, By Dr. George J. Borjas

Behind the scenes is the competition for jobs between ethnic identities, similar to the antagonism between Cuban immigrants and Africa-American citizens that erupted into civil strife in Florida.

The negative effect on native-born black and Hispanic workers is significantly larger than on whites because a much larger share of minorities are in direct competition with immigrants. ibid

A Pew Hispanic Center report concluded that statistics did not reveal "with certainty" that increases in immigration caused increased unemployment for U.S. workers on a national level. However, shifting unemployment at local levels do occur and can cause temporary disruptions to job markets..

Considering that almost 80 percent of the illegal immigration is Hispanic, the Hispanic community is involved in its acceptance and regulation. The Hispanic vote, which is becoming a swing vote, is being courted by vested interests and is modifying the agendas of the major political parties.

A June (2006) poll by the Pew Hispanic Center found that 16 percent of Hispanics support Republicans on immigration, down from 25 percent two years ago. Support for Democrats on the issue fell from 39 percent to 35 percent.

Another obvious result of the increasing illegal immigration is increasing demand of social services. The immigrant families need education, medical career and low cost housing.

In the mid-1980s, there were about 3 million (Ed: Illegal immigrants); today, an estimated 12 million. The number is increasing by about a half million per year.The number of children enrolled in English as a Second Language classes here gives some indication of the rise in illegal immigration and the resulting demands on funds. In 1994, 12.3 percent of students and 7.8 percent of teachers were involved in ESL in the Houston area. Today, 17 percent of students and 9.5 percent of teachers are involved in it.
In addition, the Harris County Hospital District saw a 52.8 percent increase of undocumented outpatients between 2002 and 2005, representing a 96 percent increase in cost for services rendered.
"Local communities spend tens of millions of dollars a year on illegal immigrants," says Robert Eckels, the Harris County chief executive who was one of the witnesses at the hearing. "The public is growing frustrated with it."
Why illegal immigration is one of the hot topics of 2006
By Kris Axtman | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor, August 25, 2006

The U.S. benefits from the undocumented aliens by using them as a work force for menial jobs that cannot be easily filled by the current work force. The benefit only transfers a problem that should be resolved by other means, such as higher wages, to the immigrant problem that apparently defies solution. But, do the U.S. and Central American governments want an immediate solution, or are they sensitive to the delicate social and political situations in Central America which will be intensified by controls on illegal immigration?

Illegal Immigration Effects on Central American
Central American governments receive a dual benefit from the exportation of human capital; in addition to the solution for unemployment, they receive remittances of monetary capital.

MEXICO CITY - Mexicans living abroad sent $11 billion home in the first half of 2006, an increase of 23 percent over the same period last year, the government news agency Notimex reported. Remittances represent Mexico's second-largest source of foreign income after oil.
-From News Service

The combination of a U.S. neglect in curtailing the imported labor and Central American governments' neglects in curtailing the emigration have complicated the solution to the problem. Instead of cooperative programs, competing interests have presented adversarial positions and generated the immigration wars.

The Immigration Wars
The debate on whither go the undocumented workers has become a war of words
. Are they "wetbacks," illegal aliens who cross the Rio Grande river, undocumented workers, unauthorized immigrants or violators of U.S. laws" Are they the latest form of "braceros," the Mexican laborers who came by treaty to harvest U.S. farm crops during World War II? Are they guest workers? Or are they just another group of immigrants? We even hear of the illegal immigration being an extension of the Civil Rights Movement.The proposed arguments and policies depend on the definition each gives to the imported labor, and some give a harsh definition. Events in New Jersey demonstrate the polarizing outlooks at the illegal immigration

Opponents of a local law cracking down on illegal immigrants clashed on Sunday with residents chanting "go home" as both sides proclaimed their loyalty to the United States. An estimated 300 to 400 people gathered outside the town hall to protest a recently passed ordinance that bans hiring or renting to illegal immigrants, who are accused of overburdening local services such as schools and hospitals without paying taxes.

The protesters, representing the largely Brazilian immigrant community of Riverside, were heckled by about 500 counter-demonstrators kept at bay by police on the other side of the town's main intersection.
Courier Post rips Riverside's divisive Immigration Ordinence by: jay lassiter Wed Aug 23, 2006

The (Senate) bill makes a mockery of our legal system and rewards those who have broken our laws. Enforcing our laws is the absolute first step in getting this situation under control.
Jill Hazelbaker, campaign spokesperson for U.S. Senate hopeful, Thomas Kean Jr.

Most disconcerting is the attitude of progressives, who rightfully want a strict legal defense of civil and human tights, but are willing to disregard the laws and legal aspects that govern immigration to the U.S. The U.S. legislative bodies are frozen to inaction due to competing bills in congress and by the executive department.

The legal aspect has precedence. Certainly, if there are laws that presently govern illegal immigration, these laws should be applied until superseding laws are passed. How can any democratic person contradict that argument? Technically, an illegal immigrant is an unregistered alien. This means that illegal immigration is frozen and must be legally challenged until new laws change their current status. These new laws are not happening and don't seem destined to happen in the near future.

Border control is already a severe requirement in the war against terrorism. The considerations for illegal immigration control are less severe and therefore not especially different from what Homeland Security should be enacting. So, what's the fuss about the intended border controls?

Globalism is an essential factor that stimulates illegal immigration and Mexico is the most involved nation in unauthorized immigration to the U.S. Rural unemployment statistics in Mexico are difficult to gather because the government has long considered that even one hour of work qualifies as employment. Nevertheless, it seems that trade agreements, such as NAFTA, have created unemployment and not sufficiently reduced poverty in the agricultural sector in Mexico. Free movement of capital, with investments that provide technology advancements, have enabled agribusiness to replace small farms. This phenomena is not unique; but emerging countries, such as Mexico, cannot find employment for displaced workers as easily as industrialized nations.The immigrants to the U.S. are mostly employed in the U.S. agricultural sector.

About 7.2 million unauthorized migrants were employed in March 2005, accounting for about 4.9% of the civilian labor force. They made up a large share of all workers in a few more detailed occupational categories, including 24% of all workers employed in farming occupations, 17% in cleaning, 14% in construction and 12% in food preparation.
The Size and Characteristics of the Unauthorized Migrant Population in the U.S.
Estimates Based on the March 2005 Current Population Survey

A graph of unauthorized immigration, most of which is from Mexico, demonstrates that the illegal immigration grew rapidly after the 1994 NAFTA, and is not subsiding.

Trend in Unauthorized Migrants Living in the United States:1980–2005
Source: Developed from a variety of previously published estimates.
Jeffrey S. Passel, Senior Research Associate, Pew Hispanic Center, March, 2005

Although NAFTA has increased the average Mexican per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP), poverty has not greatly decreased below pre-NAFTA levels.

Poverty in urban and rural areas, both moderate and extreme, went through a
cycle in the decade of 1992-2004 marked by the 1995 crisis, with a strong increase between 1994 and 1996 and a decreasing trend thereafter. Only in 2002 had extreme poverty in rural areas recovered from the 1994-96 crisis, and only in 2004 there was a net decrease relative to 1992

The loss of small farms, slow recovery from impoverished conditions and labor dislocations since the signing of NAFTA are principal sources of the illegal immigration to the U.S. The graph above seems to validate that conclusion. It shows a monotonic increase in unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. since the 1994 trade agreement. Other investigators have directed the cause of the problem to NAFTA.

The large-scale, long-term migration exploded from the end of the 1980’s and particularly after 1994 with the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The massive expansion of Mexican migration in the 1980’s was a result of the ‘debt crisis’ or more accurately the ‘debt-payment crisis’. The high interest rates in the US forced Mexico’s debt to grow geometrically at a time when the prices of its principal exports (gas and oil) were falling. As a result the IMF imposed harsh debt payment conditions and forced Mexico to liberalize its economy, discarding trade and investment barriers, which had protected peasant farmers and national manufacturers. The result was a sharp rise of bankruptcies and millions of workers and peasants without a future.
Following the Profits and Escaping the Debts , International Immigration and Imperial-Centered Accumulation by James Petras,, August 8, 2006

It has been mentioned that the U.S., Canada and Mexico are becoming one agricultural market. The open economic borders naturally lead to open borders for human traffic. The economic interdependence that adjusts agricultural markets, their production, exports and imports also affects their labor. The lack of preparation for an obvious result of NAFTA is perplexing. The Mexican people provided their own solution - transfer themselves with their lost production to the place that gained their production.

Regardless of immigration reform laws, of a proposed 700 miles of a double-layer fence and additional physical barriers at borders and of angry rhetoric among competing interests, the unauthorized immigration from Central America will try to continue at high levels. The Central American governments will feel more stable if they export their surplus labor and the U.S. authorities will be reluctant to disturb precarious political situations that could produce another nationalist leader such as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. The unauthorized labor will have to be authorized or accommodated in another manner. Those who gained from NAFTA owe consideration to those who lost to NAFTA. If NAFTA is proved to be the problem, then isn't reworking NAFTA the solution?

september, 2006


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