Every day, upward of 4,000 undocumented workers cross the border into Arizona from Mexico, according to a recent article in Time magazine. Driven by desperation rooted in poverty, these so-called illegals come to the United States either in search of work, or, in some cases, to claim the assured jobs they were recruited for even before they started the hazardous trek north.
This growing influx of immigrants has had predictable results: an increased fear and loathing among North American citizens leading to a rise in vigilantism on the one hand, and legal initiatives such as Arizona's Proposition 200 on the other. Neither these, nor Washington rhetoric, nor an increase in the number of border patrol agents, will stop the crush of humanity from seeking the promise of a better life in El Norte.
But there is a fundamental inequity lurking behind the stream of hopefuls who make the perilous journey across the sere desert. While men, women and children put their lives at risk in pursuit of their modest dreams, unfettered capital is able to flow across borders closed to humans. In other words, corporations or individuals with money to invest are free to seek out the most profitable venues for their funds in virtually any country they choose, while people from those same nations are severely limited in their ability to come to the United States in search of economic opportunities. There are no borders for capital, only for people--but only for some people.
If you are interested in starting a business enterprise in most foreign countries, you, and your capital, will be greeted with open arms. It's only the poor and dispossessed who are unwelcome. But they are welcome to stay and work in the maquiladoras, where investors--many of them North Americans--reap the benefits of a huge wage disparity between Mexico and the United States.
What makes it OK for a corporation to invest in foreign markets but not OK for foreign nationals to to seek their fortunes abroad?
Why is there one set of rules for individuals with money, but another set for those driven by poverty and despair to leave their native land? Why are there havens for capital, but none for humans in need?
The answers rest in legal and political systems at the service of an economic system that places profits before people. These systems pay lip service to stemming the flow of illegals, but in fact depend on them for a steady supply of cheap labor.
Undocumented workers who through sheer determination eventually make it across the border first into Arizona, then to destinations as far as the East Coast, can be found laboring at a wide range of jobs, including farm workers, nannies, meat processors, cooks and janitors, among others. They are consistently paid at a lower rate than is a citizen doing comparable work, and it is this wage discrepancy that makes undocumented workers so attractive to corporations and individuals more mindful of profit margins than pesky immigration laws.
The current situation is untenable and unconscionable. With thousands of people willing to risk their lives--and, in a horrific number of instances, lose their lives--to reach the promised land, it is far past time for a realistic and equitable solution; a solution that recognizes the economy's dependence on undocumented workers and acknowledges that dependence by providing a just wage.
But this would be just the beginning. All illegals--with the exception of those guilty of criminal acts--would be granted immediate amnesty and be invited to apply for citizenship. But the most significant change would occur in the way we manage our borders. It is preposterous to continue the fiction that borders actually mean anything these days. The flow of global capital reduces national boundaries to myth and national sovereignty to a fixture from the 20th century.
A more realistic approach involves the realization that borders are an obstacle to economic equity and thus to stability. With that in mind, borders would become porous to those who choose to cross them for the purpose of gaining employment. The only individuals who would be prohibited from entering the country would be suspected terrorists and criminals.
If we implemented these measures, the benefits would flow to more than the affected immigrants. People living along the border would no longer have to deal with ravaged desert, cut fences or--by far the worse--a mounting death toll. Businesses and individuals would be free to hire whomever they choose without having to consider citizenship. And finally, with the introduction of fair wages, Americans at the lowest rung of the economic ladder would be free to compete with the immigrants on an equal footing.
It wouldn't take much to institute these changes. All we'd have to do is admit the reality and act accordingly.