No River Wide Enough

Posted on June 3, 2010


There’s a lot of flack these days about Arizona’s new law on illegal immigration. While it certainly deserves any negative responses it garners, a couple of things are getting lost in the rhetoric.

First up is the issue of state’s rights versus the federal government (back to the Tea Party-ists and Sarah Palin’s “we all are Arizonans” mantra back to the same old tired arguments). The issue they bring up is that the federal government is not doing its job (keeping illegal immigrants out of the country, and, in specific, out of their state). Now Arizona can’t go and build a wall or hire officers to patrol the border. That’s the federal government’s job — to secure and protect our national borders. It is not the responsibility of the individual states with an international border to secure it, but rather the federal government’s. So to skirt the legal issue, the best minds in Arizona tried to figure out a way to stem the tide of illegals that does not infringe on the role of the federal government. The federal government views the Arizona law as one that impacts on, and interferes with, the federal government’s role to secure our borders and plans on challenging this law in court on those grounds.

The other key issue that is not getting discussed to any discernible degree is that this law, or more officers (or troops) or a wall or having to produce valid ID is not — repeat IS NOT — going to solve the problem of illegal immigration. Illegal immigration is a symptom of a significant variance in standard of living. In this case, there is a huge difference in the standard of living in the United States and in Mexico. In the U.S., we share a much longer border to the north with Canada. Are there thousands (or millions) of Canadians flocking south? No (well, only Canadian geese). Why? Because the standard of living is either equivalent or in Canada’s favor, depending on the criteria you view. In fact, it is harder to emigrate legally from the U.S. to Canada than vice versa.

The disparity between the standard of living in the U.S. and in Mexico is so great that many (too many) Mexicans (and other Central and South Americans, as well as Caribbeans) see themselves as having no choice but to risk their lives to enter our country. They are not coming on a whim for a free ride. Who would risk their lives to do so, to be separated from family & friends & home, to put up with the hundreds and thousands of daily humiliations (large and small) that are part and parcel of living somewhere where you are not wanted? These are people who see no other alternative in order to survive, to have any sort of chance at life. These are the same people as our grandparents and great grandparents (and on up) who gambled and did the same thing but then made it harder for each successive generation to do what they had done to have any chance at survival.

Disparity in the standard of living. It’s what drives jobs overseas. First, large corporations found it was cheaper to manufacture goods overseas. The labor costs, say in Bangladesh, were (and are) minuscule compared to labor costs in the U.S. The savings in labor costs offset any shipping costs for transporting raw materials in and finished products out. So, we have said goodbye to most of our manufacturing jobs due to this disparity. And now we see many of our service (help lines and call centers) and professional jobs going this way too. I challenge any large publishing operation in the United States to prove that they do not outsource some publishing service (whether its page formatting, proofing, copyediting, etc.) overseas.

The true, and real, solution to the problem of illegal immigration? A global standard of living, plain and simple. And it’s not a situation of lowering our standard but raising others’. Corporations like to think globally because it permits them to exploit labor markets. If labor costs are equivalent globally, there is greater financial incentive to the decentralized (i.e., more localized) manufacture and distribution of goods.