Tag Archives: illegal immigration

Misplaced charity

Pres. Barack Obama’s proposal for what would be a substantial new entry of Syrian refugees is a major miscalculation of traditional American morality and generosity.
It is true that the 13.5 million Syrian refugees, half of them expelled or hounded out of their country, are a momentous human tragedy. And America has almost always responded to some calamities.
But the question of additional Syrian refugees coming to the U.S. is part of a challenging failing American immigration policy which has become an extremely divisive political issue.
While generally unrecognized, it has arisen because of the profound changes which have taken place in worldwide migration patterns and the traditional one of entry into the U.S. Rapid and cheap transportation and communication has changed the pattern of the lives of newcomers to America.
In the great wave of American immigration of the late 19th and early 20th century, Europeans abandoned their homelands with a desire to build a new life in The New World. Ties to the old country, while culturally deep, dissolved – and, indeed, some ethnic and religious groups such as the Jews did not want to look back on persecution. Even the Italians, with their celebrated family ties, came and for the most part to their new neighborhoods, only occasionally maintained their European ties, mainly for remittances for family to follow them.
In the 21st century, immigrants to the U.S. may have much of the same motivation. But large numbers come for economic benefits and either maintain their relationships with their home countries, return at frequent intervals, or, indeed, return to their original homelands.
Those New York City Indian and Pakistani taxi drivers, for example, rarely bring their families, and return on long “vacations” to their families with whom they are in constant contact through cheap communication. This group, like other migrants with similar patterns, have no intention of becoming ‘Americans” in the traditional way although they might acquire U.S. citizenship for convenience and profit. Important, often influential, groups such as these exist today at every level of American society including the highest echelons of business and culture in our major cities.
Another significant difference from past patterns of immigration is that welcoming ethnic or religious communities in the U.S. which once helped integrate the newcomers are no longer prominent if they exist at all. Syrian Moslems, for example, find little institutional aid from coreligionists when they immigrate to the U.S. And, in fact, some of the existing Moslem organizations are suspect with ties to the Moslem Brotherhood, the fountainhead of Islamic terrorism. Ostensibly pursuing an electoral policy [The Brotherhood’s strategy of “One man, one vote – one time!”], Its attempt to establish an Islamic dictatorship was proved quickly to the satisfaction of the Egyptian electorate which welcomed the military back to power.]
On August First U/S. Homeland Security Jeh Johnson issued “temporary protected status” to some 8,000 Syrian, many of whom had arrived in the U.S. illegally. He did so, he said, because ““Syria’s lengthy civil conflict has resulted in … [A]ttacks against civilians, the use of chemical weapons and irregular warfare tactics, as well as forced conscription and use of child soldiers have intensified the humanitarian crisis.” Another 7,000 Syrian refugees – many of them persecuted Christians and other non-Moslem minorities — have been admitted legally to the U.S. since Oct. 1, 2015. Obama announced in September that the U.S. would admit 10,000 Syrian refugees by Sept. 30, 2016.
But GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump has attacked this decision, arguing that – as FBI Director John Comey has admitted – despite elaborate UN and US procedures to process them, little is known of the refugees’ background. Daesh [ISIS or ISIL] like other Mideast terrorists has made no secret of their attempt to infiltrate refugee communities. Only a few such subversives, given the gruesome “effectiveness” of suicide bombers, could defeat efforts to defend Americans against attacks such as took place in Orlando, San Bernardino and Ft. Hood by immigrants.
American charity might better be directed toward relief efforts for the Syrian refugees in the region. Oil-rich neighbors in the Persian Gulf have not met demands that they absorb, at least temporarily, Syrians [and other Mideasterners masquerading as Syrians] who have moved into Jordan, Turkey and Western Europe by the hundreds of thousands. [Germany took in more than a million migrants from the Mideast last year, and difficulties of absorbing them and with highly dramatized attacks on women and other crinmes, are now producing a backlash against Chancellor Angela Merkel’s welcome].
Illegal migration from Mexico and Central America has already become a major problem for U.S. immigration policy, developing into a political football between the parties based on a still nebulous growing influence of Spanish-speaking voters. Adding the Syrian problem to this controversy neither benefits the humanitarian goals of its sponsors nor the formulation of new American immigration policies to meet a new world of migration.

Mañana is here

Much has changed, obviously, since I published Mexico: chaos on our doorstep [Hardback, Paperback: 232 pages, Madison Books (July 24, 1989), ISBN-10: 0819172960, ISBN-13: 978-0819172969, Amazon, $13.17].

As so often has happened, my timing was bad. The book’s research identified a problem prematurely and the title raised hackles among some Latin American specialists, most of whom had a more optimistic view.

But what led me to write the book may still be as relevant. It was my “discovery” of the startling fact that the 1500-mile U.S. Mexican border was the only land frontier between what in those days was called The Third World, pre-industrial, poverty-stricken, and unstable societies, and the First World of a few “developed” European and North American countries, Australiasia and Japan. Ultimately, I argued, that was bound to lead to a security crisis for Washington.

The prediction has been a long time in coming and we may still not be there yet – but recent events on the border suggest we are very near at least.

I couldn’t but be struck these past few days with the familiarity of “the children crisis” on the Texas border. In my reporting for the book in Mexico and in the U.S., particularly among Mexican Americans, the head of Los Angeles’ medical services told me his budget was coming apart because pregnant illegal Mexican women increasingly were using his facilities. They accomplished two purposes: they got free medical services not then available in Mexico except to the rich. But more important, they established the American birthright of their offspring who might in later years claim citizenship for their families. But his complaint was that in order to meet this additional drain on his facilities he was having to reduce his postnatal care extension service.

Substitute the nationalities of the current children and accompanying parents and pregnant women now producing “a humanitarian crisis” and you see trends haven’t changed.

The question not too often asked is how these children, many if not most unaccompanied by adults and some without contacts in the U.S., made their way twothousand miles up through Mexico from Central America. A bitterly humorous but excellent semidocumentary Anglo-American film, “El Norte”, in 1984 described the perils of such a journey. Only acquaintance with Mexico gives one an appreciation, for example, of the instructions to the Central American protagonists of the film as how they are to pass as Mexicans in their trip to The North [the U.S.]. It is obvious not only that it takes “guides” but collaboration of Mexican authorities, at least at the local and regional levels, for the rapidly growing flow of children. Chiapas, for example, the Mexican state on the Guatemalan border is one of the most troubled in the country. Their inspiration to come north depends, as well, on the widespread belief in Central America and beyond that amnesty for illegal entrants is coming in the Obama Administration’s proposed immigration “reform”.

A look back at some of the problems outlined in my book suggests it is less dated than one would otherwise assume; one could argue only the numbers have changed. The border was already under siege I learned then when I talked off the record to members of the Border Patrol and U.S. immigration agents working the border turnstiles. Once when I quoted some Washington numbers, one American policing a frontier gateway asked me, incredulous, if I believed the official statistics. In my investigations then I was already shown ultraviolet photographs of crowds of illegals crossing the border under cover of night even in the highly populated areas surrounding San Diego. And I heard details of the expanding gangs of ”coyotes”, the criminal body traffickers, who arranged for less sophisticated or adventurous migrants to cross into the U.S.

Furthermore, any examination of U.S. border cities, where I visited, whether Nuevo Laredo, El Paso, Nogales, or San Diego, exposed the growing call on their resources by the growing satellite cities on the Mexico side and the difficulties of policing any American border precautions. [The El Paso fire department, for example, was routinely called on to aid with fires in Ciudad Juarez, just across the border. Juarez has more recently been the site of such violence in “the drug wars” tens of thousands of its estimated two million people have fled to safety.] It was obvious that the growth of the so-called maquiladoras – twin plants which meshed manufacturing on both sides of the border to employ cheaper Mexican labor and tariff incentives –would be a draw not only for rural Mexican and Central American labor but would tempt even more illegals to cross into the U.S.

My book “bombed” for, as The New York Times iconic reporter and editor, Scottie Reston, once said, “Americans will do anything for Latin America – except read about it”. When we made a documentary, “The Invisible Invasion”, based on the book – I wrote and narrated it with cameos on border sites – we managed to interest only one public TV station in telecasting it, once. Unfortunately, even my copy of the video has disappeared – at least temporarily.

The overall issue I posed then – and perhaps it is still as significant – was whether Mexico’s European elite [as distinguished from “the Golden race”, the Mestizo bulk of the population and the growing number of Indians] would assume the responsibilities of their then authoritarian control. It was clear that Mexico was not only built on what was then labeled the 14 families, but that “civic spirit” was a concept alien to the culture. It’s perhaps still valid to ask that question today.

Of course, Mexico 2014 is vastly different than the country I examined a quarter of a century ago. Its economy, after the great foreign exchange crisis of 1994, has expanded exponentially until it is now the 14th largest in the world, the 10th largest in purchasing power. The then 70-year monopoly of power of the Party of the Institutionalized Revolution [the PRI] has been broken by the once Catholic-centered National Action Party [PAN]. Not only have peaceful transfers of power between the two parties taken place, but slowly if painfully the old government monopolies with their cozy relationships with crony capitalists [including the multibillionaire Carlos Slim, perhaps the world’s richest man, and a major New York Times stockholder] are dissolving in a slow progression toward a market structure.

That export-led economy – its more than $200 billion in exports larger than the combined exports of several major Latin American countries — has more free trade agreements [40 countries] than any other country.  Its most notable trading partner, of course, is the U.S. [through the North American Free Trade Pact including Canada]. Some 80% of exports of machinery and agriculture flows north, with the Norteamericanos supplying half its $370 billion in imports. Finally, the curse of the 1938 leftwing ideological nationalization of its vast oil resources is slowly being amended so that at least its vast reserves have access to new international technologies through production sharing and other arrangements..

Mexico’s population explosion – it has the largest Spanish-speaking population in the world of 120 million and after Brazil the second largest cohort in Latin America – has slowed to just under 1% annually. But the tenfold increase since 1900 means that even today more than half the population is under 25. That is a great contributing factor to income inequality – more than a third of its population, particularly in rural areas,.lives in abysmal poverty – may even have accelerated in recent years. The $22 billion remitted by immigrants to the U.S. constitutes a critical part of life for millions of Mexicans left behind – and explains why the border migrant problem is central to the political as well as the economic issues between the two countries.

What dominates contemporary Mexico life, however, is the violence and economic effects surrounding the enormous drug trade, largely catering, of course, to the $60-billion market for illicit drugs in the U.S.  According to the Global Peace Index 2014, it cost the Mexican government almost $172.7 billion to fight the powerful drug cartels in 2013 [more than twice Mexico’s foreign debt].

Former Pres. Felipe Calderon launched an aggressive campaign to subdue the traffickers who threatened to the take over the whole apparatus of government through massive corruption of the police and other government officialdom. But since Calderon launched military operations in 2006, violence has escalated not only between the government and the drug rings but between competing criminal gangs. Two years into his six-year presidential term as Calderon’s successor, Pres. Enrique Peña Nieto – the return of the PRI to power — has put the emphasis on reducing violence rather than his predecessor’s frontal attack on the traffickers.

So far there is little evidence that strategy has worked and the violence continues apace. Murder rates have risen substantially, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, nearly triple the level in 2007. Calderon’s resort to using the military arose from the inefficiency and corruption among the police. But recent violence between the competing cartels has reached levels, particularly in the states bordering the U.S. that has forced whole villages to flee.The lifeblood of the drug traffic, of course, is a high level of corruption. In the 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index, Mexico ranks 106th [out of 177] and is the worst performer among the large Latin American countries, excluding Venezuela.

Peña Nieto’s response to criticism – especially American — of his policies has been that no Mexican strategy would be successful if the United States does not stop the flow of weapons to Mexico, block money laundering through North American banks, and, above all, reduce its own drug consumption. In 2008, the U.S. and Mexico – acknowledging the necessity for a mutual approach to the drug epidemic and the growing power of the trafficking cartels — adopted the Mérida Initiative. It sought to combat transnational crime with $1.4 billion in a three-year U.S. grant to the Mexican government for military and law enforcement training and equipment. U.S. Senate investigators since have seen the program as largely ineffective, if not a failure.

The arrival of The Children’s Crusade following the Pied Piper of illegal job opportunities in the U.S. marks a new era in the growing dysfunction of the U.S. southern border.

And what looked like a probable security crisis in the future to me 25 years ago now appears to be, indeed, on our very doorstep.