Picking up the paper this past week and avoiding an article about our southern border would have been like picking up a gallon of prune juice and avoiding the toilet: difficult. As chance would have it, during the media blitz brought on by a couple high-profile surveys and two governors’ declarations of states of emergency, I finished reading Peter Laufer‘s Wetback Nation: The Case for Opening the Mexican-American Border. Or, closer to reality: Provacative Titles Sale: A Case for Reporters Stringing Together Books with Loosely Related Past Articles. Still, the supposed case (which was never really made) was enough to keep me reading through because it’s something I’ve been arguing myself for so many years.
The day before traveling back to San Diego, Laura and I were eating comida corrida at one of our favorite hole-in-the-walls in Torreon. My enchiladas en salsa verde were unfortunately colored with too much cilantro rather than tomatillo … a barely permissable deviation that had me a feeling a little uneasy. I remember there was a Televisa feature on American patriotism playing in the background which is probably how we got talking about the border. You might be surprised, but for how many times we crossed it, seldom if ever did we actually talk about that fuzzy physical and cultural crevasse which was, supuestamente, inaugarated by the Treaty of Guadalupe.
When I told Laura that I thought completely erasing the border would have little impact on either Mexico or the US, she almost spat out her horchata. “Don’t suck, destesticulated bull, of course, yes” is the hyper-literal translation of her telling me that I’d gone crazy. My point was threefold:
- Mexicans who really want to migrate long-term to the US to work, will do so regardless, border or no border.
- Not that many Mexicans really want to go to the US. Almost everyone I have asked in my various trips to Mexico say that they’d like to visit my country for a couple weeks, maybe work there for a while, but when it comes to living and when it comes to raising a family, there’s no place like home. If you want to offend a middle class Mexican, just assume that the only reason (s)he’d come to the US is to get a job. They’ll rightly inform you that they already have a job and that when they come to the US, it’s often to spend their paychecks on brand goods. (I am intensely curious to know what percentage of San Diego’s overpriced-Urban Outfitters’ customers come from Mexico)
- The increasingly arduous and expensive (smugglers’ market rate is up to $2300) trip across the border is keeping many Mexicans inside the US who would otherwise spend a mere 3-6 months working seasonal jobs which are often tough to fill with domestic labor, and then return to their hometown to show off new Ford Rangers with chrome rims (all bought here in the US).
It was the second point that raised Laura’s eyebrows: “You crazy cracker, if there were no border, 90% of Mexico would head North.”
I agreed that there would probably be two or three years of chaos. Novelty alone would probably entice many Mexicans who had never even given thought of crossing the border, to try out a life in a foreign country, culture, and language. There would also be an excess low-skilled labor pool which would encourage low-skilled Americans and Mexicans alike to make themselves more marketable by educating themselves at universities, community colleges, and tech schools. But more to the point, after two or three years, most Mexicans will realize what a pain in the ass it is to live and work in a foreign country with a cold culture and lingering racism. A few others will decide they prefer the American way, will assmiliate rapidly, and will probably become dedicated followers of HP’s trademarked minority conservativism. The majority, though will come here to work for a year or two, gain a more global outlook, hopefully some entreprenuerial skills, and return to Mexico – a country and culture they love – to make it something better. As simpleminded as it sounds, much of the motivation for crossing the border comes from the (often mistaken) assumption that we must be protecting some gold-paved streets if we’re willing to spend so many billions on keeping people out. But if the average Mexican can just come and go, I’m convinced that (s)he will do exactly that.
But then again, maybe I’m wrong. The results of a recent survey by the Pew Hispanic Center completely blew me away. The media concentrated on findings that 60% of US-born Latinos support laws denying drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants or that 16% said that the population of Latinos should be reduced in the US while only 28% said it should continue increasing (44% said it should stay the same). None of that surprised me, but what did – completely – is that, according to the survey, nearly half of all Mexicans would migrate to the US if they were able to. Not quite Laura’s 90%, but more than five times the amount I would have guessed.
If there is a legitimate critique of opening our southern border it’s the effect it would have on Mexico’s border with Guatemala, which is just as militarized if not more so than ours. And Guatemalan immigrants in Mexico are treated just as poorly as Mexican immigrants here. This is where the debate gets ideological. I’d say open up Mexico’s border too … and Guatemala’s … and all of the Americas. Which would result in a hemisphere-wide “Americas Union.” Makes sense to me. The European Union seems like an exemplary model to follow. But for some reason, both the left and right is afraid of opening borders and tearing down fences even though that should be the highest goal of both liberal humanism and conservative neoliberalism.
It’s been a gas seeing Ruben Navarette try to situate himself amongst the self-declared San Diego establishment. People here just don’t know what to make of him. He’s conservative and they like that. He’s a light-skinned Latino and they like that too ’cause they can just quote him when saying things like Latinos have cultural problems. But then, when the establishment – already on the defensive after their hero takes a fall – calls an exclusive town forum to discuss illegal immigration, he calls them out and they start crying. Listen to Californian senator (now frontrunner to replace Cunningham the crook), Bill Morrow:
Navarette says the forum was not a two-sided debate. But then, I never intended it to be. The public gets the pro-illegal tripe daily through the mainstream media. The pro-illegal side doesn’t need equal time.
I love conservative rhetoric. Then (you already knew it was coming):
And for the record: I’m not anti-immigrant. I have legal immigrants from Mexico on my staff.
Yeah, you and every other white guy in the country. Which is one of the points why immigration policy needs to be reformed. You just can’t keep offering jobs to a group of people without recognizing that they are in fact people.
If you’d like to get involved and do something positive you can buy Phyllis Schiafly a vibrator. Here’s her description of the immigration forum a couple weeks ago where a few dozen protesters – not allowed inside – voiced their opinion against the (lack of) debate:
The anti-free-speech activists didn’t go away quietly. An estimated 150 protesters using bullhorns, mostly Hispanic and some Muslims in head scarves or burkas, did their best to disrupt the meeting and scare attendees. It took 150 police officers in full gear with face shields and automatic weapons, plus SWAT team members in black tank-like vehicles, to keep demonstrators at bay.
Well, it is good to know that Carlsbad has such a supply of riot police, SWAT team members, and tank-like vehicles to deal with brownies and Mohammedens. Maybe next time we can make the goal of two automatic weapons for every protester instead of one.
OK, I’m getting a little facetious here, I know. I have no idea how our broken-ass immigration policy is gonna get fixed. Here in San Diego there is seriously a strong contingent of people who would like to see an Israel-style closed border wall. They use buzz words like “national security” without realizing that the easiest path to security is integration. The Pew survey also says something about anti-americanism. A contradiction I quickly picked up on while traveling is that a good chunk of the global population spits out anti-American rhetoric. And yet, a good 80% of them would gladly come try things out here.
For the same reason that we should let Americans travel to Cuba – to see how good we have it in comparison – we should also allow more temporary immigrants into the U.S. One of the best thing we could do for U.S. foreign policy would be to increase the amount of available 5 year work visas 10 fold. That way people from all over the world would spread the word that these crazy gringos really aren’t that bad at all.
For those of you who think protests change policy and aren’t allergic to the smell of hippie, there is a “(no)Border Encuentro” this weekend being held throughout San Diego.