What has been lost in the debate about immigration is this fact: our country's foreign and economic policy is largely to blame for the flow of people who come here illegally. And if we can acknowledge that reality, we can go along way to coming up with a better long-term solution.
To state the obvious, the overwhelming majority of immigrants, legal and illegal, come to the U.S. to escape either political repression or economic crisis. Let's start with political repression. If you think about the hundreds of thousands of people who have come here over the past several decades from countries like El Salvador and Guatemala, many of them fled to the U.S. because they would have been killed or imprisoned by their government's repressive regimes or forced to live as refugees. These were often regimes that our government supported for many years, if not decades, with large infusions of weapons and money--weapons that were turned on their own people and money that ended up in the pockets of the rich and powerful.
Economically, the policies of Republicans and Democratic Administrations alike, from Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton and George Bush, have created a sea of impoverished people from the Mexican border all the way to the tip of South America. So-called "free trade" and neo-liberalism have forced governments to slash government aid to its people and bow in subservience to international banks who demanded economic restructuring as a price of doing business in the glorious global economy.
Take apparel jobs. More than a year ago, the U.S. model of running the world economy demanded that a 40-year old quota system be disbanded. Poof--there went millions of jobs and billions of dollars in badly-needed cash for people in Mexico, Turkey, African countries and the Caribbean, as that work shifted to China. The shift happened so quickly--in economic cycle terms--that these countries have had no chance to replace even a fraction of the lost apparel jobs. In a short time, millions of people will be on the move, turned into nomads clawing for subsistence-level survival. It will make the displacement of the Okies of the Dust Bowl look like a short picnic outing. Where will they go? Count the U.S. as the main destination.
And then there's NAFTA, CAFTA and the other crazy so-called "free trade" deals. NAFTA has pushed down the standard of living of vast numbers of Mexicans. CAFTA is likely to do the same to the people in Central America and the Dominican Republic. The more the U.S. imposes on poor countries a bankrupt, dysfunctional economic model, which is based primarily on the idea of driving down wages, the more we will see destitute people knocking down our doors.
So, when you hear the political rhetoric about immigration, ask the politicians spewing their ideas and solutions how they voted on economic globalization and aid to repressive governments. Building walls on the border, arresting people and imposing quotas isn't the solution. We need a complete overhaul of the way our government thinks about and acts in the world. If we are so intent on keeping people from coming to the U.S., the best way to do so is climb down off their backs--let people live in peace in their countries, don't encourage repressive regimes and, most important, give up an economic model that has failed for most people around the world.