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Immigration demands realistic consideration

As I See It

Curbing the flow of illegal Mexican immigrants? Who are you kidding?

Whenever the realities of the marketplace collide with government regulations a “black market” emerges. Prohibition in the 1920s is a good example. The current black market traffic of cigarettes into states having excessively high tobacco taxes is another. The increasing number of illegal Mexican immigrants is nothing more than a black market for cheap labor.

Let’s look at the situation realistically.

Canadian visitors are welcomed into the U.S. because they won’t work for low wages and thus are not a perceived threat to American workers. Mexicans, on the other hand, willingly do the heavy lifting for low wages because that’s a better opportunity than they have in Mexico.

America’s immigration laws are colliding with economic reality, and reality is winning. There is a fundamental mismatch between a rising demand for low-skilled labor in the U.S. and a shrinking domestic supply of workers willing to fill those jobs. Statistics tell the story. The Labor Department estimates that the total number of jobs in our economy that require minimal training will increase from 53 million in 2000 to 61 million by 2010.

Are the Mexicans putting American laborers out of work? No. American workers are getting older and more educated and don’t want the menial jobs that most illegal immigrants willingly do. By 2010, the median age of American workers will reach 40.6 years, while the number of adult native-born men without a high school diploma continues to plunge. Only half of working men finished high school in 1960 while all but 10% finish today. Middle-aged, high school-educated workers don’t want the tough, sweaty jobs at the bottom of the labor barrel.

Currently there are about eight million people living in the U.S. without legal documents, and each year the number grows by an estimated 250,000. More than half of the illegal immigrants comes from Mexico.

Despite the clamor of some radical conservatives to seal the U.S. borders in response to terrorism, Congress understands that Mexican immigrants are not a threat to national security and passed legislation last year that doesn’t waste scarce resources solving a nonexistent problem. The Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002 focuses on identifying terrorist suspects abroad and keeping them out of the U.S. Interestingly, the new law makes no mention or provision to reduce the flood of illegal Mexicans.

And why should we be concerned about illegal Mexicans coming into America? One concern should be for the Mexicans themselves. The illegal passage into the U.S. is fraught with danger for the migrants. Death and abuse at the hands of unscrupulous “coyotes” is fairly common.

Other issues for consideration include the burden illegal immigrants place on our social and medical services systems. Language problems also need to be addressed. These are real concerns but legalizing the immigrants and making them part of the system rather than continuing to deny their existence would mitigate them.

Loosening the immigration laws would go a long way toward solving some of our national problems. It would allow the government to devote more resources to keeping terrorists out of the country by freeing up thousands of government agents who currently spend their time chasing harmless Mexican immigrants. It would also provide a legitimate source of inexpensive labor that is required to keep some parts of our economy humming. Remember, unlike the Muslim extremists, the Mexicans love America and want to come here and buy our stuff. They have no agenda for destroying our country.

America has always stood as a beacon for the oppressed and disadvantaged. Why have we chosen now to place restrictions on that opportunity? Except for the few Native Americans among us, all the rest of our ancestors immigrated here from somewhere else. If the U.S. had followed the immigration policies then that are in force today perhaps we wouldn’t be living as well as we are.

This whole issue is a matter of timing. At some point in the future the economies of the U.S. and Mexico will have blended to the point of comparability and no one will care about Mexican immigrants. In fact, Mexico, a beautiful and exotic place, may someday have concerns about U.S. immigration there.

We could get way ahead of the curve by addressing the situation realistically now rather than continuing to deny its existence.

Thought for the Moment — The great problem confronting us today is that we have allowed the means by which we live to outdistance the ends for which we live. We have allowed our civilization to outrun our culture, and so we are in danger now of ending up with guided missiles in the hands of misguided men.

— Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968)

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.


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