Thursday, September 16, 2010

Over the Shoulder in Booth 3

This is on the screen of the young woman's laptop as she is reading the post that one of her classmates has put on the discussion board in response to a question about immigration for her Macroeconomics class:

Basically, the immigration question is emotionally charged no matter what way you look at it, but since we're on it, I would like to pose it as an economic question with a few select sources:
First, there are by estimation some 12 million undocumented immigrants in the US, the majority from Mexico and Central America (by the way, there were also 3500 illegal Irish in Boston in 2005, until President Bush pardoned them on St Patricks Day - the pardoning is truth, although the year may be wrong), but looking at it from the standpoint of what we learned in chapter one: the Rationality Assumption - no one does anythign that would leave them worse off. With that as an agreed starting point, let's face the facts: Millions cross a border every year to wander through the desert without food or water. Children as young as 7 years old jump trains from El Salvador to ride up through Guatemala and Mexico, people who often fall of the trains, facing dismemberment or death. You probably read the train story of Mumbai from the class book, well - same thing happens just south of our border every day as well.
Plus, it's not as though these immigrants are coming to a land that will welcome them with open arms - believe me when I say very few Latinos really have a burning desire to make their way in Gringolandia. So, economically speaking, what would bring them here?
Maybe it's the realization that economic conditions are SO poor that there is really no other viable option - between starvation and going Al Norte to make enough living to support your family back home. Now, we can sit here and make judgement calls regarding "their" reproductive habits and what have you, but that really doesn't solve anything. The point is, economic conditions in Mexico and Centroamerica are poorer than here.
Now - why? Well, there is a history of military dictatorships, there is a history of US military intervention (especially in establishing those military dicatorships - face it, the US loves a fascist regime better than a commie regime, right?) and lastly, about 18 years ago, there was something called NAFTA - pushed through congress under Bush the First and signed into law by Clinton, which according to an article I read I believe in Time a few years back was designed to push down prices of food stuff such as corn so deeply that it was actually cheaper for Mexico to buy it from Mississippi than it was to grow it in San Luis Potosi. The result: more farmers with dead farms, and a migrant population that doubled in the following decade. That is what we would probably call unintended consequences of a macroeconomic decision (however, some conspiracy theorists out there might make the case that it was entirely intended to make a new slave class, but that doesn't solve anything either).
About the quality of work, several have stated "You get what you pay for" but I would like to say that sometimes you get more than what you pay for - and businesses know this. I knew a man who worked alongside Mexicans who fought their way through the desert just to take jobs laying tile or putting roofs on houses and they worked for less money than him and did a better job. I really feel that the quality of the job depends on the amount of the emotional gratitude you put into the job, and is no reflection on wage. Poor wages do not necessarily compute into inferior labor. That's part of a human factor that business tries to exploit, with the "You should be grateful I pay you anything at all" mentality that many day laborers face.
Now, as for remittances: now there's an interesting topic for debate. Remittances do indeed support foreign economies. I just met a woman at the bus stop last week who won't visit her home country of Jamaica (as she and her husband do every year) until the gang violence dies down. Gang violence? Yes, apparently there is a direct correlation between gang violence and the depressed US economy - jobs down = remittances down = increased poverty = increased violence. I've read in the WSJ about similar conditions in Mexico and El Salvador, where remittances are perhaps as much as 20% of the economy.
Do you think that's fair? Should "they" really be coming here and taking "our" money and sending it over "there"? Well, if you believe that a person has a right to do whatever they please with their hard-earned cash, then yes, they do. If not, then perhaps we should encourage companies to hire more US workers. OK, those may SEEM like valid points, but they still don't strike at the heart of the issue that these remittances improve lives and increase stability, both political and economic stability.
Again, our ire goes back to our centrism, our refusal to believe that any country outside our borders has any right to the life that we enjoy, but as we've seen over the past two decades (the time in which most in this class have grown up) is that instability outside our borders affects the stability at home.
and so here I am going to make the giant leap and state that IF we want to decrease illegal immigration, then the only true path is to ensure that ALL countries Central America (including Mexico) have economies that provide their citizens exactly what ours provides us, and that includes: livable wages, health insurance, a Fair Labor Standards Board, and governments that actually provide for the needs of their citizens instead of just sucking the wealth. I know our first instinct is "We've got our own troubles" or "They should take care of themselves" but truly, truly, truly, follow the logic:
The Rationality Principle: A Mexican or Central American will never leave his/her home, face dismemberment from falling off a train, getting robbed or knifed by a Coyote or Narco, shot in the back by a Minuteman, or death by dehydration in the Arizona desert, IF they have their BASIC NEEDS MET AT HOME. By ensuring economic stability in the region, all our immigration questions will be ameliorated.
It's not popular, and I'm not calling for military intervention or anything of the sort, I just wanted to put it out there for debate. I hope I haven't severely offended anybody, but if I have, please please forgive me.
And for those of you who have read through this whole thing, I say, God BLESS YOU, thank you, and good night!

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