On Monday night, President George W. Bush gave a speech detailing his stance on illegal immigrants. I have to admit that I was stunned to see a lengthy, detailed speech from this president that recognized gray areas and complexity; one that addressed a pressing, domestic issue without one mention of the word “evil” or “terrorist.” But I digress.
In his speech, Bush described the perceived need and has subsequent plans to gain better control of the U.S.-Mexico border by adding about 6,000 INS officers, which will initially be supplemented by National Guard troops. He also pointed out his belief that more technology, such as more infrared and motion sensors, should be added to augment border security. He outlined a guest worker program that would entail a new method of tracking migrants who are here to work, a method to help businesses determine who is here legally and who is not, and thus avoid hiring those who are here illegally.
In this speech, it was clear that Bush recognizes people from south of the border are going to come here to work.What he does not deal with, however, is that the real and permanent answer to this problem does not involve turning our border with Mexico into a virtual dam to stop the human flow.
Has anyone ever stopped to wonder why we don’t have Minute Men or huge walls built up at the U.S.-Canada border? Or people complaining that because of the influx of Canadian workers, Americans can no longer find work picking strawberries or mopping McDonald’s restrooms? Or why we don’t see a large number of Americans demanding that Canadians immediately learn U.S. English and stop saying “eh” while here on U.S. soil?
The answer, obviously, is no. This seems to be a ridiculous scenario. But why does this appear to be so ridiculous? Because we all know that Canadians are in no rush to migrate to the U.S.. We all know there is nothing here that they don’t have at home in Canada, and we don’t really have anything here that they want. So they are content. They stay in Canada. We don’t have hoards of folks desperately rafting across the Great Lakes. In fact, we have busloads of elderly Americans clammoring across to Canada to purchase affordable prescroption drugs, which they can’t get here, but again, I digress.
This may be the precedent that Bush should take his cue from. The only real, permanent answer to illegal immigration is to ensure that people are more or less happy where they live, that they can find opportunities and work in their home countries.
This means that instead of investing in shoring up border security, Bush may do better to re-evaluate our continental economic policies, and take some time to honestly reflect on how such policies as NAFTA and FTAA (North American Free Trade Agreement and Free Trade Area of the Americas, respectively) are damaging economies south of our border with Mexico, impoverishing millions of Latin Americans.
I don’t think Bush is genuinely interested in making life better for what he called our “Mexican neighbors.” It should be no secret that U.S. businesses benefit from the flow of cheap labor. The guest worker program only ensures that migrants are allowed to be here to work the most grueling, undesirable types of jobs, but then get kicked out before they get a chance to truly better themselves or create a future for their children. Meanwhile, U.S. companies are given the opportunity to exploit their cheap labor with no real obligation to them.
Likewise, implementing truly fair international trade policies with Central and Latin American countries would entail losses for U.S. corporations, and this is the last thing they (or Bush) would want. It would mean that U.S.-based transnational corporations like Chiquita and Coca Cola would have to play fair and stop exploiting Latino workers and resources. Imagine that.
It would be nice to see President Bush address this issue, but then again, consider the fact that he deals with terrorists from Middle Eastern countries by declaring war on Middle Eastern nations and civilians, rather than dealing with the dynamics that are the source of terrorism in the first place.
I guess I can’t really expect much better. But it would be nice to see the source of a problem addressed for once, rather than reacting to its symptoms.
Unfortunately, however, Bush’s approach to immigration is that of a doctor who treats cancer patients by overdosing them on Tylenol; it eases the pain temporarily and minimally, and in the long run it will backfire.
Bethania Palma can be reached at email@example.com.