Immigration, Race, Drugs and NAFTA
by Danny Quintana May 2, 2012
Throughout history, people tend to migrate to where there is economic opportunity, much like what we see in nature with game herds moving from pasture to pasture as weather and resources dictate. Policy and law are a result of the climate of the times, taking into account the change in beliefs, attitudes, culture and influx of new ideas and technologies. Policy and law are much slower to establish, as these ideas and technologies must fully assimilate into mainstream society. America has always been the land of opportunity, mainly a nation of immigrants.
Despite this fact, every generation has had a scapegoat for its problems. The only way to understand our current immigration dilemma and economic problems is to study how we got here. In 1790 at the time of the first immigration law, the Naturalization Act of 1790 the United States had a population of approximately 3,900,000 and the country was also much smaller than today. Citizenship was limited to free white males, women could not vote or sign contracts and blacks and other minorities were left out. American Indians were specifically excluded.
As the country grew geographically and population increased, more immigration laws followed. With the changes in technology and the building of transcontinental railroads and the consequent influx of tens of thousands of Chinese workers, a series of very racist immigration laws followed with the Chinese Exclusion Acts starting in 1870. By 1870 the Indian wars were dying down as the great tribes were defeated by overwhelming numbers, and from disease and superior weapons technology. The Civil War had come and gone. Half of Mexico was annexed by the United States and the nation's population had increased to approximately 38,550,000. The nation now stretched from sea to shining sea. Women could not vote and Indians were still not "citizens." Blacks were free in name only.
The racist Chinese Exclusion Acts were a reaction at the time to the influx of people who were of a different culture, had a different language and whose physical appearance and clothes were not European. Some of the workers smoked opium, but it is not readily know that this was a result of the forced drug trade into China by the British with the Opium Wars. America also passed some of its first drug laws which were targeted at the Chinese. Anti-Chinese sentiment was used by politicians as a ploy to get and stay elected in the same manner used in World War II against the Japanese and today against Mexicans.
The harsh immigration laws also resulted in human smuggling as Chinese workers looking for economic opportunity looked to find ways around these legal obstacles. The anti-Asian fervor was reflected in the passage of the Immigration Act of 1917 also known as the "Asiatic Barred Zone". People from Asia were specifically excluded from entry into the United States. Finally in 1924 following a 400 year history of genocide and warfare, American Indians became citizens.
The Chinese Exclusion Acts were not repealed until 1943 when the United States was in a war with Japan over economic control of the Pacific. By 1943, weapons technology had advanced to sophisticated aircraft, huge naval warships and massive land armies. America's population was now at approximately 133,000,000. Women could vote and were in the workplace to offset the shortage of labor of the men off in Europe and the Pacific in the Great War. Blacks, Hispanics and Japanese were fighting for America. Full equal rights for various minority groups and women were out of the question. Interracial marriage was still illegal. Americans now had electricity and automobiles were common.
As America developed, Mexico was run by one political party Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI. That political party kept its grasp on power for 70 years. The countries to the south of Mexico were controlled by the United States with a serious of military dictatorships who were friendly to American business interests. Mexico failed to properly develop as a result of the corruption of PRI and the countries to the south of Mexico failed to develop as a result of the corruption of American controlled military dictatorships.
Consequently, there was a huge economic disparity between America and its southern neighbors. There are also the differences in cultures as the countries to the south speak Spanish, are Catholic have brown skin. Americans are for the most part Protestant, northern European and speak primarily English. This huge disparity in economics and the corruption of Mexico and American caused corruption of Central America naturally led millions to seek a better life in the United States.
Today America has approximately 310,000,000 people. The real population size is probably closer to 325,000,000 if we include the 20 million people living here without documentation. Technology and global economics have vastly improved. We have rocket ships which carry robots to other planets, global satellites for communication, the internet, jet travel to any part of the planet, extensive interstate highway systems and every consumer good imaginable. Despite our economic problems caused by an unnecessary housing bubble and an illegal Iraq war, we still have the largest GDP on the planet of approximately $15 trillion dollars. Mexico with one third of the U.S. population has a GDP of approximately $1 trillion. Our former client states of Central America are near destitute poor. For obvious economic reasons ten percent of Mexico's population lives in the United States.
Mexico's economy continues to improve. They finally rid themselves of one of the most corrupt political parties in human history. A massive recession in the United States as well as the 1,000 people per day mass deportations under the Obama Administration, immigration is at a standstill. Demonizing the immigrants is one of the oldest political ploys around. It works in the short run but never makes economic or moral sense.
Our drug laws are in large part race based. Marijuana became illegal in the 1930s as a result of a carefully crafted propaganda campaign by Hearst publishing magnet. He did not want newsprint made out of hemp since he owned large forests and used the pulp for his newspaper empire. Mexicans were accused of raping white women under the influence of marijuana. And it worked, marijuana became illegal and Hearst kept his pulp mills and propaganda machine operating. Crack cocaine laws with their severe penalties were directed by the Republicans at the black community in a carefully crafted campaign to disenfranchise black voters. It worked. Today one in four black men in America has a felony and cannot vote. There are more minorities in prison in the United States than in college most are incarcerated for non-violent drug crimes.
The current race baiting immigration debate was started under the Bush Administration by Karl Rove and others as part of a propaganda campaign to detract people's minds off the disaster of the Iraq War. For a while it worked and worked beautifully. But demonizing the non-white immigrants obviously did not solve America's economic problems. Like the Jews in Germany under Hitler, the non-white Mexican immigrants were blamed for all of the nation's economic ills. So what will work to solve this immigration economic problem?
I suggest we amend the North American Free Trade Agreement to allow humans to travel freely in the same manner as goods and services do now. While the laws are always a step behind economic and technological change the current system breeds illegal behavior and difficult moral problems. Our immigration laws like our drug laws are immoral and outdated. They need to be changed to reflect reality.
If Obama is serious about change he needs to lead and pass the Dream Act, amend N.A.F.T.A. and end the "war on drugs" which is in reality a war on the poor and on civil liberties. The American use of illegal drugs fuels an insurgency in Mexico that has killed over 50,000 people. Ciudad Juarez is the most dangerous city on earth. Americans with four percent of the world's people use 65 percent of the world's illegal drugs. Terrorist killer Mexican gangs sell these drugs with an international drug trade worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
The drug trade which was a big part of PRIs income exists because Americans self-medicate and drugs are illegal. The refusal of the United States to treat addiction as a medical problem and instead criminalizes these behaviors is a financial and moral disaster both for Americans whose lives are destroyed by incarceration and Mexicans who are killed in this drug war.
What Romney is proposing in deporting 20 million undocumented workers, extending the war machine to attacking Iran and even harsher drug laws is immoral and economically impractical. With 2.4 million people in jail or prison and another 11 million on probation and parole, the largest prison population in the history of the world the last thing this country needs is more people behind bars for self-medicating. Iraq cost over $3 trillion dollars. The Iran conflict, which Romney is advocating, will set off a global conflagration. What will work is open borders for workers not just products, more trade and less corruption.
The proposed deportation of the hard working immigrants will have several very negative effects on American society. Many of the American children of these immigrants have never been to Mexico and will grow up as Americans in a foreign country. Others who were born in Mexico and came here when they were quite young will have to adjust. Long term there might be a positive effect on Mexico as the values of living in a successful country will be transferred to our poor neighbor and in fact that is happening today. Many young Mexicans want a prosperous, clean, safe country where the rule of law governs, and not the corruption of the previous government. Mexicans love their country and want Mexico to be successful.
The loss of 20 million undocumented workers will mean at least 5,000,000 more homes and apartments will be dumped on an already saturated housing market. One of the biggest economic problems facing America is what to do with all the excess inventory of homes. Losing people who are working and having a net population decrease and the resulting tax losses will also further slow an already stagnant economy. Food prices will triple. The farm work currently performed by the non-white Mexican immigrants will have to be done by people currently receiving entitlements, on unemployment benefits or on the side of roads with signs claiming to be homeless. Many American farmers have already had bad experiences with the unwillingness of our "citizens" to work in the fields even when offered $10.00 an hour. The crop losses have been staggering.
The deportation will force Mexico's government to absorb citizens used to living in a successful country that are educated and still have that great work ethic. The deported Mexicans will be very intolerant of corruption. Mexico will benefit and their standard of living will probably go up from the influx of talented well educated workers. America will also lose the businesses of the immigrants who while not having documentation, are still running businesses and providing services.
These tax dollars and services will have to be replaced at a time when 70 million baby boomers are reaching retirement age. Without the labor to replace these workers I am at a loss on who will pay for these retirement benefits. The result of mass deportation might be retirees who have to continue working as there are not enough workers to replace them and pay their retirement benefits.
The relations between Mexico and the United States as a result of race based mass deportation will deteriorate. Americans will continue to use illegal drugs brought in by Mexican gangs. Mexican citizens will continue to be killed by the arms bought from the United States. Both countries will continue to feel the negative effects of America's drug laws that are such a disaster both for civil liberties and increased government deficits from the astronomical incarceration costs of housing the largest prison population in human history.
Immigration is a historical reality and a naturally occurring human behavior. We have had humans migrating since time began. National borders arose from the advent of the nation state. But today goods and services travel around the world continuously 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The immigration laws of the planet, not just the United States, are outdated and need to change to reflect the current reality of technological and economic change.
Despite the campaign noise from the extreme Republican right, a new Romney administration will not be able to deport 20 million people without massive social unrest, violence and very negative economic effects. Tens of thousands of people will be killed as they resist losing everything they have ever worked for as a result of this propaganda campaign to detract people's minds of the illegal and immoral Iraq war. The Republicans started this war and have to own the results.
The political discussion needs to change on better ways to solve our economic problems using immigration to our benefit. What will work both for workers and employers is allowing any citizen of the N.A.F.T.A. countries to freely travel with just their passport and work in any of the treaty countries without immigration documentation. A passport will be enough to allow any worker to work in any N.A.F.T.A. country. Not all people who travel to another state or country to temporarily work want to live there permanently. Some just want to work long enough to earn enough money to buy a nice home for their family, others to buy a car or a dishwasher. Or others might just want to work someplace just for a change of pace, weather and excitement.
Changing N.A.F.T.A. to allow labor to freely flow like we now do with products and services will take serious difficult negotiation and require some conditions. One that will protect America's already fragile finances is require anyone who wants to work in the United States to have proof of insurance, both car and health. If immigrants cannot provide proof of insurance then do not allow them to work in the United States. With the agricultural workers provide them group insurance paid for by the consumer with slightly higher food costs. It is inexcusable to not insure the people who are feeding us. They are humans not animals and treating them humanly is the right thing to do.
What the Republicans are proposing is impractical and economically imprudent. We need the excess inventory of homes to be purchased. We will need replacement workers for the 70 million baby boomers who are retiring. The 20 million immigrants are fully integrated into American society. They have family members who are here legally and also family members in Mexico. The two countries are joined economically, and by blood. Many of the 20 million undocumented workers have been here for decades.
It is simply ridiculous that for lack of a piece of paper a Mexican worker cannot return to Mexico for a funeral or a celebration like a marriage or a graduation. Canada, the United States and Mexico are one giant economy created by the North American Free Trade Agreement. The goods and services routinely pass through the borders of the treaty countries. It is now time to amend N.A.F.T.A. to allow workers from Canada to merely present their passport and work in any part of Mexico or the United States. Workers freely selling their labor in the three treaty countries will bring honesty to a system that is making liars out of honest people. There are so many false social security cards and documents out there that employers are at a loss on what to do to comply with a set of illogical and immoral laws. The workers from Mexico merely want to sell their labor and they want to do it legally.
As for the Americans on the sides of the road claiming to be homeless and begging for money all the while refusing to work cleaning restaurants, picking fruit, digging ditches or any of the numerous other jobs currently being performed by the undocumented immigrant labor, my hunch is they will continue to beg rather than work. Asking people to give you a hand out is much easier than working.
The next administration needs to make the following changes: update the immigration laws to reflect technological and economic reality; end the war on drugs and deal with this issue as a medical problem of addiction and amend the N.A.F.T.A. to allow workers to freely sell their labor within the treaty countries. Demonizing the immigrants won't solve our economic problems and will only make them worse. If we can sell cars, computers and accounting services in Mexico it only makes sense that we can freely sell American labor. Changing these laws will also mean Americans will be better able to start businesses in Mexico, not just Mexicans coming here and selling their labor. In the short run it will be difficult. In the long run everyone will be better off.
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