Blogging mostly about mundane stuff like, immigration, Workers' Compensation and other immigrant related activities.

Monday, August 18, 2008

100 Years in the Back Door, Out the Front

The New York Times ran an article on May 21, 2006 titled; "100 Years in the Back Door, Out the Front".  The story brings to mind the love/hate relationship that the United States has had with migrant workers from Mexico.  The article highlights how in 1919, Texas brought in tens of thousands of Mexican migrants to pick its cotton each year. Then it invited them all to leave.

The perverse history that the United States has had with Mexico when it comes to cheap immigrant labor, but especially with immigration from Mexico has been an issue of particular interest to me.  It's an issue that binds my family to this country and connects me to a small town in Mexico that until today continues to export it's young men, and now young women into the United States. 

In 1986, when the Reagan Administration signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). I questioned whether Reagan's Administration would follow through with the enforcement provisions of the law that granted amnesty to approximately 3 million undocumented immigrants who had entered the country prior to January 1, 1982.  The law turned out to, as critics of the act claimed, provided no sanctions against employers and failed to stem illegal immigration.  The fact that the 1986 Amnesty failed to stem illegal immigration is undisputed, what is disputed is who should be blamed?  The anti-immigrant groups will have us blame the undocumented immigrants and point to the fact that illegal immigrants continue to come in droves.  Anti-immigrant groups would be right, if we did not consider the magnets (jobs and willing employers) that draw migrant workers accross our borders.  These same  anti-immigrant groups (NumbersUSA, FAIR, CIS) are quick to cite that what this country needs is to do is secure its southern border and then go after unscruplous employers.   They are half right.  The border, despite its pourous nature is not the problem.  The border has always been pourous, but despite beliefs to the contrary the vast majority of illegal immigrants arrive via legal means, with entry visas and then simply overstay them and join the ranks of millions of other undocumented workers. 

If we return for a bit to the 1986 Amnesty, it's not difficult to see how actual employer sanctions coupled with an effective workplace verification system would have deterred continued illegal immigration.  How many undocumented workers would have continued to journey to the United States in search of unattainable jobs? 

A lack of employer sanctions and lax workplace verification resulted in an open invitation for both workers and employers that fueled, instead of detering undocumented immigration. 

So, 25 years later we now have an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States.  The true number of illegal immigrants living in this country could well exceed that amount by 2-3 millions once an actual solution is drafted by an Obama/McCain administration.

Immigration Reform - Act II

In 2008-2009, some type of immigration reform will be passed and a new course will be set for the millions of undocumented immigrants.  Whether those newly minted immigrants will be provided a clear path to American citizenship remains to be seen.  What we can be sure of is that this round of immigration reform will contain employer sanctions and workplace enforcement. 

Those sanctions and workplace enforcement will contribute to uneasy tensions between the races, especially when the economy stumbles.  Nevertheless, immigration reform will come and the vast majority of illegal immigrants currently in the United States will be allowed to remain, whether it be as temporary guest workers, permanent residents or eventual Citizens remains unclear. 

Immigration from Mexico will always be an important issue for the United States.  The U.S. will have to contend with immigration from Mexico as long as it continues to rely on it as a cheap labor source and maintain certain segments of manufacturing and agriculture.  A continued lack of decent hourly wages and a rise in delinquency, crime and economic uncertainty in Mexico will continue to drive immigrants North. 

Our government needs focus on one of it's major tenets of it's immigration policy, which has been family reunification before it implements comprehensive immigration reform otherwise our next wave of illegal immigration will not be from those seeking work, but rather from those seeking to reunite with their families.

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