Poor Mexico and the Wicked Americans

27 April 2010

Poor Mexico and the Wicked Americans

By Gwynne Dyer

The president of Mexico was furious. “Criminalising immigration, which is a social and economic phenomena, opens the door to intolerance, hate, and discrimination,” Felipe Calderon told a meeting of Mexican immigrant groups. The state of Arizona had gone too far.

Jose Miguel Insulza, the head of the Organisation of American States, was equally angry. “We consider the bill clearly discriminatory against immigrants, and especially against immigrants from Latin America,” he told the Associated Press news agency. His point seemed to be that by treating illegal Mexican immigrants as a police matter, the new Arizona law is attacking their human rights..

The new law that is causing such outrage requires Arizona police to question people about their immigration status if they suspect they are there illegally. Day labourers face arrest for soliciting work if they are in the US illegally, and police departments can be sued if they fail to enforce the law. Illegal immigrants will face jail sentences of up to six months and fines of up to $2,500 before being expelled from the United States.

Harsh measures, certainly, but suppose I went to Mexico as a tourist and then stayed there illegally, taking work that might otherwise have gone to some deserving Mexican citizen. That does not figure prominently in my current plans, but if I did it, I would not be treated more gently by the Mexican authorities. Why does Mexico believe that its own citizens who are illegally in the United States deserve better treatment?

The flow of illegal migrants to the United States is important for Mexico. It provides a vital safety valve for the Mexican state, which would otherwise face the discontent of millions of Mexicans who cannot find decent jobs at home, and their remittances are a great help to the Mexican balance of payments. But the widely held Mexican belief that illegal immigrants have RIGHTS in the United States is most peculiar.

It arises from the fact that for a long time the United States has deliberately kept the border with Mexico porous, so that large numbers of Mexican illegals can enter the United States to provide cheap stoop labour for American agribusiness. In the cities along the American side of the frontier the border defences are quite impressive, but out in the desert they are frequently no more than three strands of barbed wire and a dirt patrol track.

Out in the desert, of course, some hundreds of the Mexican border-crossers get lost and die of thirst each year, but that is necessary in order to maintain the fiction that the United States is doing all it can to stop the flow. It is also assumed that most of the illegals will go home again after the harvest, but of course each year some choose to stay permanently.

Each year the number of permanently resident illegal immigrants grows: even in Arizona, where there is not a huge demand for agricultural labour, there are now an estimated 460,000 illegal Mexican immigrants. That is about 7 percent of Arizona’s total population. Some argue that they are doing jobs nobody else wants, but that is only a possible reason for letting them stay. It certainly does not give them the right to stay.

Yet the Mexican government reacts with outraged indignation whenever the US government, or in this case an American state, talks about enforcing the law against illegal immigrants. It has come to think of the nod-and-a-wink arrangement that allows large numbers of illegal immigrants to cross the border each year as the natural state of things.

Arizona is calling time on that system, and actually intends to seek out and send home people who are in the state illegally. In most parts of the world, that would not be regarded as unreasonable. What is different in Arizona’s case?

The implicit charge is racism. The assumption is that American citizens of Mexican origin, and legitimate Mexican visitors, will also be stopped and asked to prove that they are legally in the United States – and that they will be chosen for questioning on the grounds that they simply look “Mexican”.

President Calderon himself would never be inconvenienced by such a policy, because he does not look “Mexican”. He looks like your average white American, as does a large majority of the Mexican upper class. But it is true that most poorer Mexicans, including both legal and illegal Mexican immigrants in the United States, are mestizos of mixed white and Indian ancestry.

They look “Mexican”, in other words, and the concern is that they will face constant demands from the police to prove they are legally in the United States. But the solution for this is simple. Simply enforce the same rules that apply in airport security queues to ensure that nobody feels they are being “profiled” because of their ethnicity.

In the airports, they make sure that heavily bearded young men who look “Middle Eastern” face no greater risk of being selected for special examination than paraplegic grandmothers. The Arizona police should be instructed to stop thirteen white, black and Asian people and check that they are legally in the state for every person they stop who looks “Mexican”.

Then nobody will have anything to complain about.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4 and 7. (“Harsh…treatment”; and “Out…permanently”)