Saturday, June 10, 2006

The U.S. Immigration Issue: a mismanaged dance

The U.S. Congress is considering some immigration legislation. What has emerged is a dance of wrong steps and missed cues.

First, the "Minutemen" and "slock jock" radio talk show hosts have reached back into northamerican history to dip their buckets in the well of xenophobia: blame the immigrant for all problems from crime to imbalanced local budgets.

Second, there were pro-immigrant marches and a proposed boycott day both in the U.S. and Mexico. Mexicans were supposed to abstain from the roles of worker and customer at U.S. owned businesses. This approach was a mistake for several reasons. Here in Acapulco, workers showed up at WalMart and (Mexican) customers placed lunch time orders at KFC. Everytime such a protest failed to register economically, it showed its supporters as weak or disorganized. When the protests in U.S. cities commanded media attention and flew the Mexican flag or chanted revolutionary slogans ("El pueblo, unido ...") this only antagonized the right wing, and provided more propaganda sound bites and video clips.

Third, when President Fox visited several governors in the western U.S., he became the target of protests. The old stereotypes were repeated in the calls to the talk shows and letters to the editor in the local newspapers: "the illegal immigrants come here because the Mexican government is so corrupt and the Mexican economy is so bad." The media did not present the facts that the Fox administration has led Mexico to an historic peak of economic prosperity and political transparency.

Neither the U.S. public nor the Mexican public is thinking clearly or acting responsibly. Both sides should subdue their anger with another emotion: that of gratitude. Northamericans should be grateful for the immigrants who pick their fruit, clean their homes, mow their lawns, watch their children, construct their buildings, and prepare their meals. Mexican immigrants should be grateful for a host country that provides decent wages and schools for their children. Immigration has occurred, and been tolerated, because it is beneficial for both sides. The time has come to make it safe and orderly for both sides.

Fox and Bush have poll numbers that have gone up and down, and the measure of their greatness has been their ability to stay the course on unpopular policies and resist popular pressures. If both publics could be more grateful, and more quiet, perhaps their responsible heads of state could sit down and negotiate a just and mutually advantageous pact. The U.S. government could provide a systematic safe passage for Mexican migrants, and an orderly transfer for elementary school children. Reciprocally, the U.S. could ask local tuition rates for American students in Mexican medical schools and for easier access to the I.M.S.S. medical care for gabacho retirees.


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