How Free Trade Reform Can Solve the Problem of Illegal Immigration from Mexico: A Modest Proposal

I will begin by stating that as I pleased as I was with
myself for concocting this inspired if long-winded title, I now regret my
decision.  The title might be appropriate
for, say,  a white paper…but not for what
I have to say today.  But I can’t think
of anything more terse or pithy.   So I will continue say what I have to say
without further apology, and if you made it past the ostentatious title,
perhaps you’ll read on.

    Let’s start with a few fundamental facts with which I
believe most of us can agree:

1-     The
various North American trade agreements of the past two decades have contained
specific language relating to immigration as an integral component of free

 2-     While
the spirit of these agreements has consistently invoked the notion of a
fundamental equality between signatories, Canada and the U.S. have received
trade-related immigration benefits which have been denied to Mexico.  For example, U.S.
and Canadian professionals have a painless, no-petition treaty visa process; but
those same professionals from Mexico
have it as tough as any H-1B.

3-     Although
Mexico has at times demanded equal trade-related migratory access for its
nationals, the U.S. and Canada have effectively vetoed this, fearing that the
availability of such access for Mexican would trigger uncontrolled migration to
the detriment of U.S. and Canadian workforces.

Now, this next one you may or may not agree with, but I
believe that:

4-     Human
resources are the single most important shared component of multilateral trade
agreements…yes, people.  Why do I say
this? Because while we can battle with the Mexicans over tomato tariffs or
bicker with the Canadians about pulpwood exports, the one shared trade component of all commodity and service trade
agreements is the workforce upon which production and delivery depend.

Looking at this reality, and looking at the success (albeit
with many continuing struggles) that the European Union has achieved in facilitating
worker mobility between member nations, is it so far fetched to believe that
the one element keeping the proverbial “whole” (i.e., all three partner
nations) from being “greater than the sum of its parts” (i.e., each nation’s
independent trade success without a trade agreement) is an intelligent solution
to market-driven workforce mobility?

My goodness…what a big sentence that was.  Terse and pithy I’m not today.

Even if you accept that forth premise I am proposing, the
issue of the 12+ million illegal immigrants in the U.S. today – the vast
majority of them Mexican – would seem to suggest that in granting Mexico the
same simplified work visa process it has granted Canada, the U.S. would face a
flood of Mexican workers all to eager to displace Americans, right?

Wrong, and here’s why: Mexicans are economic immigrants, and
they come to the U.S.for economic reasons.  Mexicans like Mexico and prefer to live in their magnificent
country, but they come to the U.S.
to make a buck.  And while we can't suddenly fix the Mexican economy to create opportunity for these folks, we must understand how it all ties together: despite the convoluted,
totally distorted U.S.
policies which turn a boatload of Haitians around while welcoming any Cuban
lucky enough to land with dry feet…there
IS a difference between “political” migrants and “economic” migrants
Political migrants are driven from their
homeland and cannot return because of persecution…but economic migrants from
politically stable, free nations go back home…especially if “home” is a cheap
Greyhound ticket ride away.

Mexican workers have been the backbone of the U.S. agricultural economy since the Emancipation Proclamation abolished
slavery.   Like Filipino nurses, IT
professionals from India,
and the enumerated professions which, via NAFTA, permit Canadian professionals
to enter the U.S. swiftly,
Mexican workers have historically come to the U.S. for one reason: to make money to support their families back home.  Come work the season, get the cash, go back home. 
That, in fact, is the underlying logic of the temporary visas which
permit Argentine ski bums to work seasonally in Colorado
ski resorts and U.S.
farms to bring in seasonal agricultural workers for harvest.  They come, they work, they go home.  (When I was a visa officer at the U.S.
Consulate in Juarez, Mexico,
I can’t begin to count the hundreds of wrinkled old men I met who were heading
back to California with their seasonal visas
after six months in their little village deep in Mexico.  Proudly they would speak of their decades of
this rhythm of life, often starting with the bracero program decades ago…it worked and it worked well, for them
as well as for the U.S. farms they returned to loyally year after year.

So here’s my question: 
what makes an campesino tomato
picker any more of a visa security risk than a Canadian RN?  In fact, it is downright weird when you think
about it: despite the lobbying of U.S. healthcare and IT labor organizations, the U.S.
demand for these professions is self evident and so the Canadians can get hired
in the U.S.
and get busy in a matter of days.  When
was the last time you heard of a U.S. farmworkers’ labor union
protesting the arrival of Mexican farm laborers?  Truth be told, there just aren’t a whole
bunch of U.S.
citizen farm laborers these days…unless you count Aunt Betty’s heirloom tomato
garden out back.

So why not do this:

1- Revisit the migratory policies associated with free trade
and give Mexican agricultural laborers –
AND Mexican professionals in the same classes as Canadian professionals – the
ease and speed of treaty visa classification
pursuant to existing trade

2- Utilize the biometric technology that we’ve had for 20+
years (I was stoked about it in 1987, when biometrically-secure border crossing
cards were discussed and abandoned) and the lessons learned form the TWIC
fiasco (the transit worker biometric effort that has cost each U.S. taxpayer
thousands per card issued…don’t get me started on that one) to create a truly secure biometric treaty visa
card which implements the same intraagency and international security crosschecks
via existing DHS and shared international databases,
allowing the movement
of these workers to be dictated by U.S. economic demands, without bureaucracy
impeding the U.S. companies who need time-sensitive labor deployment

3- Take the massive airport DHS workforce and establish a secure U.S. EXIT inspection
– at ports, borders, and airports – to insure that those who come in leave on
as most other nations have been doing for decades.  They clock in at inspection when they arrive
in the U.S.
and they clock out when season/assignment is over and they depart the U.S..  Unlike our current I-94 paper card fiasco which
does nothing to trace those who arrive and never leave, an exit procedure would,  and those who overstay – banker, lawyer, or
farm laborer – would not ONLY be barred from re-entry, but their FAILURE to
leave would notify ICE, and we would actually know who is in our country and
needs to be located.

4- Utilize the
establishment of truly fair trade visa guidelines as an opportunity to
renegotiate some of the more ill-conceived U.S./Mexican tariff rules
which have
unjustly decimated certain agricultural sectors of the U.S. economy.

Nutshell: if Mexican workers can come and go as U.S. employers
need them as can Canadians, they will come, they will work, and they will go
home.  If we establish both entry AND
exit controls via TRUE biometric technologies and enforce strictly overstay
violations, Mexicans, as economic migrants, will comply. 

I’ve spoken to thousands of Mexican workers over the last
twenty years and the fact is that when they overstay, it is because they are
afraid they won’t be able to come back for the next season.  Eliminate that fear and, I believe, we will stem most
illegal migration from Mexico.