Jobs, not drugs draw immigrants

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By Harold Morgan

Imagine the scene. Two poverty stricken, uneducated men are chatting somewhere in Mexico. One says, “Ese, vamos p’ Albuquerque pa’ cometer delitos.”

The other replies, “Que buena idea!”

Such was the primary election portrayal among Bernalillo County Republican sheriff candidates. Drug cartel types aside, the occasional immigrant may come to New Mexico with an explicit criminal purpose. But not many. Getting here is too much work. For nearly all, jobs are the attraction.

The demagoguery of the sheriff candidate and his ilk feeds the xenophobic overreactions that drive any thought about immigration among conservatives. The xenophobes and buddies cite useless and wrong mantras.

“No amnesty,” is the call. There are perhaps 11 million or possibly 20 million illegal immigrants. Ignore the moral issue of being a nation of immigrants and get practical. We are not going to find all the illegal immigrants, much less deport them. (Visions appear of the World War II Japanese internment). Therefore, if the federal government ever gets its act together (where is “change we can believe in”?), the  mechanism turning illegals into citizens will amount to amnesty under a name with long bureaucratic words.

“We’re a nation of laws,” say the xenophobes, and illegals break the law and should go away. But it is the immigration laws themselves that are broken. Remember Jimmy Carter’s 55-mph speed limit. When laws are stupid and/or broken people find ways to do what is needed.

“Secure the border,” is another call. The most secure modern border was between East and West Germany, writes Edward Alden of the Council on Foreign Relations. As with the Japanese internment, ya gotta love the police state.

By another standard, making it harder and harder to cross, Alden says, the Mexican “border is more secure than it ever has been at any time in American history.”

As usual, that security has come with unforeseen consequences, collateral effects.

With crossing more difficult, the desperate have gotten better help — smuggling gangs, for whom crossing is an illegal business and who behave in expectedly nasty manners. The real problem is the drug cartels and the gangster violence, which pose a much greater national security threat than do folks just trying to get work in a system that forces them to hide.

In her “Americas” column in the Wall Street Journal, Mary Anastasia O’Grady writes persuasively and with passion and eloquence about these issues. Conflating the regular folks and the cartels, both technically law breakers, she wrote May 10, would be a “tragic mistake (that) could inflict serious economic and moral damage on the most successful nation of immigrants in human history.”

The standard discussions ignore the demand side of drugs.

Back in the day, the border was called “La Frontera.” In 1993, I wrote about “the two-nation, three-state cross-border area of Ciudad Júarez, the state of Chihuahua, El Paso and Doña Ana County. La Frontera is a mix, neither one country nor the other, a reality that residents deal with every day but that others don’t appreciate.”

This informal arrangement of the local reality worked for a long time.  Jobs and families were and are on both sides of the border.

Now, writes Jose Garcia of New Mexico State University, it “has come under severe strain, beginning with the beefed up war on drugs of the 1990s, but then especially after 9/11, and now for the past two years even more so.”

Diane Denish and Susana Martinez, the candidates for governor, have an opportunity to offer real policy solutions. So far we’ve heard little that is substantive, just nonsense about drivers licenses. Martinez, an El Paso native and a product of La Frontera, would seem to have the strongest personal framework for policy creativity. We’ll see.

© 2010 New Mexico News Services