They seemed made for each other. Taking office side by side as "compassionate conservatives", George W. Bush and Vicente Fox were united by more than a hankering for cowboy boots and ranching. President Bush was eager to demonstrate his familiarity with at least one foreign country and to utter entire phrases in Spanish. Intimacy with Vicente Fox also promised Latino votes, a blooming constituency (and possibly a decisive one in the 2004 election). Besides, "San Vicente" was the first feel-good story of the new millennium, conquering the 71-year crusty authoritarian rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and sweeping into office on a wave of reform sentiment. For Fox, Bush held countless charms, none more shimmering than the hope of an immigration accord that could relieve pressure on the economy, charm Mexico's human rights and nationalist constituencies, and endear Fox to migrants who are influential with voters back home.
The two former governors, their political interests converging, thus seemed poised to grasp the nettle of Mexican migration. In February 2001 Fox got to host the new U.S. President's first foreign trip, a bouquet previously reserved for Canada. Bush brought handsome gifts to Fox's ranch in Guanajuato: immigration was placed atop the bilateral agenda, an honor hitherto reserved for drugs. Bush also proposed a top-level bilateral migration commission comprised of Secretary of State Colin Powell, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and their Mexican counterparts, Jorge Castañeda and Santiago Creel. The offer was accepted and the commission was empowered to work out a bilateral migration agreement.
The Mexicans soon showered the fledgling Bush Administration with memoranda advocating and defining the "regularization" of Mexican immigration: more green cards, amnesty of illegals, a temporary worker program, border safety. Meanwhile, Fox barnstormed key Latino constituencies, calling on Washington to "get real", and Castañeda told a cheering afl-cio that President Bush must accept "the whole enchilada [i.e., including amnesty] or nothing."
The promise of an immigration accord, in turn, served partisan U.S. aspirations. It appealed to low-wage businesses wishing to "match willing workers with willing employers", to use Bush's phrase. An impressive coalition in favor of a Mexican immigration agreement took shape, as a bidding war between Democrats and Republicans commenced. The "chips" in that war were illegal Latino aliens to be certified for full or "partial" amnesty. Both parties recognized that a Mexican immigration deal had the support of all the usual immigration "players", including ethnic lobbies and labor unions (the latter now counting on immigrant workers for most of its new recruits).
Bush brought the tall stranger home to meet the folks at his first White House state dinner. In that one dizzying week before September 11, 2001, Fox got to address a joint session of Congress, join the President on a swing through the Midwest, and bask in a flood of American political and media attention unprecedented for a Latin American head of state. The Mexicans were swept off their feet. However, party elders sitting on Republican back benches, scandalized by talk of a new amnesty for Mexican immigrants, were already frowning at this liaison. Their disapproval would break with full force after September 11.
Left at the Altar
September 11 intruded rudely on the budding U.S.-Mexican romance like an uninvited witch at a wedding. To many Americans, immigration, which had seemed only to dish out gentle and inexpensive gardeners and nannies, suddenly appeared dangerous. Immigration was now viewed through the somber lens of homeland security, as vulnerability stared at us from every airport, bridge, chemical and nuclear plant, water system, computer terminal, salad bar and unopened envelope. Even benign Canada, across a far less problemetic border, held horrors.
Then the bad news broke on our heads that the organizations assigned to shield us were not up to the job. One after another they were implicated and fell into disrepute: airport security, the faa, the Transportation Department, the fbi, the cia and the nsa. But for sheer incompetence the ins was peerless, capable of dispatching student visa notifications to hijackers six months after they had plowed into the New York City skyline. With such an agency we would "regularize" millions of illegal immigrants? Meanwhile, Border Patrol officers were forsaking their poorly paid and daunting work for jobs as air marshals.
After 9/11 Bush had a mission that took him away from his personal passions. He turned to old comrades, Britain and Canada. Now his newest new friend was Vladimir Putin. Mexico, however, refused to play the patient Griselda. When Foreign Minister Castañeda championed America's "right of reprisal" and vowed that Mexico would not "haggle" over its loyalty, Mexico's media, intellectuals, old-line politicians and influential left-wing erupted. The Senate, led by the erstwhile ruling party, called for Castañeda's scalp. Santiago Creel, the fiery foreign minister's chief rival in Fox's quarrelsome cabinet, insinuated that Castañeda was acting as a stooge for the Americans. Fox fell uncharacteristically silent. Friendship with Bush was now exacting a price as the Fox Administration failed to grasp, as Tony Blair did instantly, the sea change in the American public and their politics.
The Top Level Talks on migration, as they were called, were put off; when they eventually resumed the Americans insisted on devoting them to shoring up the border, not legalizing Mexican migrants. Fox complied, thinking Bush would come around with time. But when the presidents next met at an international meeting in Monterrey, Mexico in March 2002, the body language was noticeably different and the immigration dowry had gone missing. Bush, courtly and evasive, said the deal would come mañana.
The reason is instructive. In anticipation of the Monterrey meeting, Bush sincerely wished to provide a token of his esteem to Fox. The administration thus lobbied the Congress to reinstate section 245(i) of the immigration code. Section 245(i) applies to foreigners who are already illegally residing in the United States when their immigrant visas or "green cards" become available. Under the program they may pay a $1,000 fine and "adjust their status" in the United States, rather than return home to obtain the visa at an American consulate. (Generally, these illegal aliens are relatives of settled immigrants who have sponsored their admission.) The measure aroused strong opposition from House Republicans, led by the restrictionist Immigration Reform Caucus, whose membership had swelled after 9/11. Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-WV) placed a hold on the program in the Senate, echoing the argument of House Republicans that the program was an "amnesty for hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens, many of whom have not undergone any background or security check." But the 245(i) program is but a partial mini-amnesty. It would only apply to about 200,000 of the nine million foreigners in the United States, and it merely permits them to undergo background security checks by the ins in the United States instead of having to undergo security checks by the State Department's consular service in their country of origin.
The strength of congressional opposition to such a mild measure startled the White House and led it to realize how deeply 9/11 had interred the U.S.-Mexican immigration agenda. The prospects of a real "amnesty", which would legalize four million Mexican migrants just for starters, was now beyond the political horizon. Clearly, the mood had shifted. In one national poll after September 11, more than 80 percent concluded that the United States had "made it too easy" for foreigners to enter the country;1 in another, 77 percent said the government was not doing enough "to control the border and screen people."
In Mexico the atmosphere had also darkened, albeit for other reasons. Fox had lost control of the political agenda. At their meeting in Guanajuato, Bush's historic mission was ahead, but Vicente Fox's great achievements were already behind him. The Bush team earned notoriety for its loyalty and discretion; Fox's for the opposite. Well before 9/11, too, an increasingly recalcitrant Mexican Congress had trashed Fox's pledges to modernize the economy. It had balked at opening to private investment an inefficient and corrupt energy sector that retards development; nor would it improve an obsolete tax code that allows widespread evasion; nor would it repeal antiquated "revolutionary" labor laws that hamper investment. Meanwhile, Fox's pledge to boost economic growth had been whipsawed by the American recession and the departure of numerous maquiladora export plants for greener pastures in lower-wage China. For the Mexican electorate, then, Fox's inability to produce an immigration agreement was but the latest in a set of unfulfilled promises.
With Fox's domestic program in disarray, foreign policy came by default to be seen as the one arena in which Fox, along with his energetic foreign minister, had put his stamp-swinging Mexican policy toward the United States and pulling away from its traditional defense of sovereignty against all other claims, including human rights. It would be a mistake to minimize the significance of what they undertook. Mexican "realism" under the PRI meant bucking the United States on (mainly symbolic) political issues (Cuba, Central America, arms control) while working quietly with the United States just enough to keep it from denouncing the pri's corrupt dynasty. Mexico sided with the Third World against the superpowers, the South against the North, and championed expansive and stern views of national sovereignty and non-intervention. Mexico led opposition to U.S. interventions in Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Grenada and Panama; supported the socialist government in Chile; voted for a un General Assembly resolution condemning Zionism as racism; and became Cuba's staunchest backer in the Western Hemisphere.
That was the backdrop when, in Fox's first heady days, Castañeda renounced the central tenet of Mexico's anti-interventionist doctrine. The former Communist Party militant offered a lucid critique of the position that human rights are internal matters shielded by national sovereignty. "The exercise of sovereignty", Castañeda said, "cannot be used as an excuse to justify any violation of rights." Promoting respect for human rights is incumbent on all governments and "cannot be contingent upon the will of a single government." This revision was enunciated in the course of Mexico's campaign to persuade Latin American countries to condemn Cuban human rights violations, a campaign that left Castañeda and the Cuban foreign minister trading insults.
As it happened, however, these foreign policy novelties could not withstand the pressure that built up in Mexican political life in the aftermath of 9/11. In retrospect, the new departure in Mexican foreign policy reached its acme this past spring, when Mexico voted to censure Havana on human rights grounds. In the face of concerted criticism from Mexico's Cuban lobby, the Left and the pri, that audacious act appeared to exhaust Mexico's new foreign policy vocation. To sustain such a bold foreign policy departure in Mexico's new democratic political culture-in which the media and the parties figure prominently-Fox needed a success. He and Castañeda had counted on a bilateral immigration accord with the United States for that purpose and when 9/11 postponed progress, Fox could not sustain his innovation in Mexican diplomacy.
The first sign that Fox would be unwilling, or unable, to go to bat for his relationship with Bush occurred in April, when the Mexican Senate, still dominated by the former ruling party, refused permission for Fox to travel to the United States. Just as Bush's experience with the section 245(i) affair had taught him his new limits, so Fox got his own message. By the summer it was Fox himself who was canceling trips to the United States-once over the "human rights" of a Mexican migrant executed in Texas and once over water disputes. Mexican foreign policy had returned to its old basis-an adjunct to domestic politics with an anti-American logo. As in the days of the pri, Fox used foreign policy for symbolic purposes while also employing it for domestic politics-in this case the eminently vote-grabbing cause of the Mexican migrant.
The Cabo San Lucas Break-up
When, as part of their foreign policy renovation, Fox and Castañeda lobbied to obtain the Latin American seat on the un Security Council in early 2001, the furthest thing from their minds was that, in the new Council's first major debate, the Mexicans would cross Bush over what the latter regarded as an existential issue. But the debate on Iraq in the un Security Council unfolded in the autumn of 2002 as if designed by the gods to administer the final blow to the Bush-Fox romance.
Fox was not prepared to take on both the dinosaurs and the Left to support the United States-still less so when such support would offend traditional Mexican pacifism, an exotic outgrowth of a bloody revolution and one of the hemisphere's most violent and crime-wracked societies. Indeed, traditional revolutionary Mexico had always looked to France as its foreign policy, as well as intellectual and cultural, mentor. During the Cold War the two prided themselves on forging "a third way" between the superpowers. They conspired famously against U.S. policy by backing the rebels in El Salvador, a policy Jorge Castañeda had worked with the Elysées palace to fashion. When France initially opposed the United States on Iraq in the Security Council, the smart money was on Mexico's siding with France against the United States-and indeed, Mexico's un representative embraced France's objections to a U.S.-sponsored resolution in which Iraqi violations of a new inspection regime would trigger automatically a U.S.-led military response.
The break-up came on October 25, when Bush traveled to Mexico for an APEC meeting in Cabo San Lucas. The Mexicans had eagerly looked forward to the apec meeting because it provided a setting for the presidents to talk of bilateral concerns. The Mexicans made it clear in advance that they wanted the meeting to signal a revival of immigration talks, with the United States indicating what it was prepared to do and when. But Bush was focused on Iraq. The United States expected Mexico to be "an easy vote", one official told the New York Times. But Fox was not willing to back an unpopular war with Iraq without an immigration quid pro quo. After what Mexican officials privately described as "a dialogue of the deaf", the Washington Post observed that the two leaders "were unsmiling, sat far apart and barely looked at each other." To add insult to injury, Bush rejected Fox's invitation to visit Mexico early next year. The idea, Fox said, would be to use the tenth anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement to undertake a sweeping, high-level review of U.S.-Mexican relations and sketch out "a big vision of where we want to go." "Maybe we'll be at war", Bush replied.
The Wall Street Journal, a passionate backer of an immigration accord with Mexico, was indignant:
It's one thing for a Mexican president to cede his foreign policy to the left for some blather about global poverty. But helping the French block the U.S. in the Security Council, and on a matter of vital national interest, is something Americans won't soon forget. As a publication that has worked long and hard to promote American understanding of and sympathy for Mexico, we fear that the progress we've made in this cause may be wiped out at a stroke.
No U.S. newspaper item in recent memory has been quoted more in Mexico than this editorial, often out of context. The paranoid conclusion of a leading Mexican columnist echoed an opinion devoutly held in traditional circles, that "the insults and even threats in this editorial . . . obviously were promoted by some agency of the Bush government." A Mexican official told the Washington Post that "Bush is today a different person" from the amigo who met with Fox in Guanajuato and the White House: "The man who once made Mexicans feel relaxed and welcome now makes them nervous and often irritated. The Mexicans find Bush, once easygoing and open, now tough and single-minded."
In the end, at the November 8 vote, Mexico joined the other 14 members of the Security Council in supporting a compromise resolution. The Mexicans prided themselves on having acted as useful go-betweens, but the administration view was less flattering. If trouble arises in a second Security Council vote to authorize the use of force, the Bush Administration cannot count on Mexican support for its point of view. It will not be "an easy vote."
If theirs was a tragedy of star-crossed lovers destroyed by the wars around them, what got sacrificed in the Bush-Fox version of the story was not the protagonists but their idea of a new era of friendship between the two countries. None of the protagonists willed this outcome. What happened was a foreign policy collision of domestic political forces suddenly moving in opposite directions. Now it is time to pick up the pieces and see what can be salvaged.
The Bush-Fox intimacy always transcended personal chemistry and reflected the structural convergence between the two countries stemming from economics and demographics. Mexico has become the second-leading trading partner of the United States, on course to overtake Canada within a decade. Mexico is already the top export market for both California and Texas. Mexico's most dynamic sectors, such as those that produce high-tech electronic components, are linked to the U.S. market and U.S. capital. Eventually, too, Mexican energy supplies could make a substantial contribution to solving California's electrical power crisis. The 2,000-mile border between the two countries is the world's most heavily trafficked. Nearly two out of every three U.S. Latinos is of Mexican origin, and the Latino population, at 35 million, has already overtaken African-Americans as America's largest minority.
These facts ensure that the end of the Bush-Fox affair will not spell the end of intimacy between the United States and Mexico. The task for the two administrations is to establish a mode of cooperation based on convergent national, not personal or political, interests. These interests include not only security and the consolidation of the rule of law in Mexico, but also expanding trade, curtailing drug and alien smuggling, energy cooperation, labor market flows, and protecting the environment and water resources, to name a few.
President Bush continues to insist that Mexico is "our most important bilateral relationship." Politics and gallantry aside, Mexico's integral value for America has grown, not diminished, since 9/11. In fact, 9/11 has unexpectedly consecrated an entirely new basis for U.S.-Mexican cooperation, one undreamed of by the principals of the Top Level Talks before September 2001: homeland security.
While a comprehensive immigration deal has passed beyond reach for the present, U.S. and Mexican leaders can still make significant progress at less ambitious levels. Such progress can help both leaders with key political constituencies and allow them to ease what is, and is otherwise likely to remain for many years, the worst irritant in the bilateral relationship. Before laying out what such progress could entail, we need a better feel for the problems facing both sides.
South of the Border
In American eyes, the unwieldy U.S.-Mexican frontier now represents a security threat more than a divergence in immigration or economic policy. But the fact is that, for a variety of practical reasons, it is not so easy to draw strict distinctions between the two. The first point is obvious: With thousands of autonomously functioning terrorists having received training in Al-Qaeda camps, the United States can no longer afford the "luxury" of a southern border so loosely controlled.2 While illegal migrants from Mexico may themselves pose no security threat, the same networks and routes employed by unregistered entrants into the United States could easily be used by terrorists. Moreover, the mere fact that there are nine million "undocumented" aliens residing in the United States (of whom nearly half are Mexicans) creates a market for fraudulent documents that serves terrorists as well as construction workers and maids. Indeed, several of the 9/11 hijackers obtained valid state licenses with phony identity documents from illegal immigrants.
There are other problems, too. Most illegal aliens now employ the services of professional smugglers. Several smuggling rings transport migrants from the Middle East across the Mexican border, and at least one is suspected by the U.S. government of having terrorist ties. Ideally, too, a visa applicant from, say, Lebanon's Beka Valley who is unwelcome in the United States should also be unwelcome in Mexico. Mexico's air, land and sea borders are now vital to U.S. security, as is the competence and probity of Mexican migration, border and police forces. The lack of security at Mexico's southern border with Guatemala has also taken on new importance in the wake of September 11.
But if our Mexican worries have grown absolutely, they have diminished in relative terms. The Mexican border troubles us more today, but the same may be said for all our air, land and sea borders. Thanks to longstanding anxieties about drugs and illegal aliens, the Mexican border inherits stricter Border Patrol supervision than the Canadian border, even though there appear to be a great many more terrorist-prone Islamists lurking to our north. Moreover, as Mexican officials have reminded their American colleagues, terrorists and weapons of mass destruction are more likely to arrive by sea than from Mexico-air travel, not wading the Rio Grande, has proved the avenue of choice for Al-Qaeda. The 48 Islamists implicated in terrorist plots in the United States since 1993 have used a wide array of means to enter the country, but few if any of them crossed the Mexican border or were Latin American citizens.3
The danger from the Mexican border must be viewed in the context of our general border crisis and our capacities to cope with it. The ins clearly lacks the personnel and resources to undertake major new programs designed to regularize either the flow of migrants across the border or the status of millions of undocumented Mexicans inside the United States. We now expect the ins to check all foreign visitors, track foreign students, fingerprint and photograph those arriving from countries of national security concern, review myriad asylum cases, and apprehend more than 300,000 visa-overstayers who have failed to obey explicit court orders to leave the country. These expanded mandates are testing a teetering ins at a time when it is slated to undergo not one but two reorganizations: relocation from the Justice Department to a new Homeland Security Department; and division into two separate agencies. Even well-run agencies are invariably disrupted by reorganizations as new missions, lines of authority and operational routines get established; and, of course, the ins is not a well-run agency.4
Institutional incapacity represents by far the most serious U.S. immigration policy problem. It is a problem so huge that it simply takes the air out of the room whenever proposals to legalize millions of illegal aliens are raised. If it can reduce a portion of our danger, a Mexican immigration deal deserves a place on the homeland security "to do" list. But the plain fact is that the U.S. government could not implement its part of any such arrangement until a reformed ins within a functioning Department of Homeland Security comes into being. Thus practicality joins politics to suggest that this is not the hour for a comprehensive agreement on immigration.
What the United States can and should do, however, is to return to the incremental bilateral policy that was moving ahead nicely before Messrs. Fox, Castañeda and Bush galloped into town. That policy will now inevitably focus more on security, and it will of necessity involve changes in immigration patterns and routines on both sides of the border. But while the balance of concern may have changed, the basic components of enhanced cooperation remain the same: reducing illegal immigration, bolstering border security, and streamlining the safety and speed of commercial transactions.
Without any legislature having to pass any major new laws, we can make important progress toward a "smart" U.S.-Mexican border. After 9/11 the crush at the Mexican border thickened, with long lines and lengthy inspections. But security precautions can be an incentive to modernization rather than a prescription for stagnation. The border needs to get slender and "smart", with fewer border checks because goods and travelers will have been pre-cleared. Most cargo can be inspected on loading docks before packing it into sealed containers outfitted with sensors to register any tampering. A smart border will require public-private collaboration between customs officers and merchants in order to reduce inspections for authorized senders, receivers and carriers. Travelers willing to undergo background checks would be awarded smart visas bearing tamper-proof biometric data. As their bearers sail past the border in fast lanes, migration authorities could devote their energies to scrutinizing those without such visas. The number of inspections actually carried out on the border would shrink while traffic expanded. While this will not require new laws, it will require significant investments. For that, the administration may need to help legislators in the United States to connect the dots between enhanced border control and adequate support for it.
Border security can be smarter, as well, but here the burden falls mainly on Mexico, both as a matter of policy and attitude. The U.S. Border Patrol has already all but shut down the major illicit routes into big cities like San Diego and El Paso, as well as border jumping towns such as Douglas, Arizona. As a result, the illegal migrant flow has slowed over the past year. However, the remaining traffic has shifted to remote and dangerous areas, abetted by smuggling rings. The "success" of new U.S. methods is thus exacting a substantial toll in Mexican lives, yet it also points the way to a solution. Mexico should place these dangerous zones off-limits and purge them of smugglers. Combined with what the Border Patrol is already doing, that effort could make the border secure.
Mexican negotiators have expressed a willingness to take these politically hazardous steps if their "undocumented" nationals can become legal U.S. residents in sufficient number. But a genuine Mexican assumption of responsibility in thwarting illegal migration would also require Mexico to relinquish the pretense that the United States is wholly liable for the unhappiness of those entering its territory illegally. For years Mexican politicians have endorsed an expansive reading of the "human rights" of illegal Mexican migrants in order to reap benefits from a popular and poignant cause. They have deflected their own responsibility onto a neighbor whose success stands as a reproach. The foundation of a principled discussion of this matter is contained in the appraisal of Mexican political commentator Sergio Sarmiento: "Perhaps the signal manifestation of the decades-long failure of our political economy", he wrote, "is the fact that millions of Mexicans risk their lives to cross the border to attain a decent living standard."5
Casting the blame on Washington for the desperation of illegal Mexican migrants smacks of bad faith on other grounds, as well. As President Fox himself has recognized, the abuses most feared by Mexicans who travel illicitly across the border are those inflicted by corrupt Mexican authorities. Traveling Mexican roads in December with a brown face and U.S. plates can invite a brutal shakedown by local police eager to help themselves to the bounty of American goods that migrants bring home to their families. Even more hazardous is the fate, at those same hands, of Central American migrants transiting Mexico.
North of the Border
Consistency and honesty are required of the United States, as well. As long as we remain ambivalent about Mexican immigration, we must share responsibility for the illegal aliens who fill the jobs that American firms offer. An effective post-9/11 border policy must therefore include stricter interior enforcement by the U.S. government, and that will mean sanctioning employers who hire illegals. (It also ultimately may lead to a national identity card, but that is another subject, and another argument.)
Interior enforcement, however, must be combined with regularization. The movement of Mexicans to the United States is a vast institutionalized social phenomenon, the product of more than half a century of continuous migration from an adjoining country. Even if it were possible, sealing the border would mete out wrenching pain to innocents and massively disrupt social networks and economic activity. So what to do?
One popular proposal to regularize Mexican migration is a temporary worker program large enough to cover the current flow of illegal Mexican migrants. However, temporary worker programs have almost invariably proved costly, difficult to administer, and illusory in the sense that the workers end up staying permanently. If we decide, nevertheless, to institute a temporary worker program, it should start as an experiment in a few selected states. A more viable alternative might be simply to increase Mexican green cards until 2015, when Foreign Minister Castañeda claims Mexican migration will "peter out" because of declining fertility rates and increased domestic economic growth. Accordingly, the number of additional visas can be decremental, decreasing each year until 2015. By that year the quota of Mexican visas (75,000, down from 250,000) would constitute the totality of Mexican migration to the United States.
One popular proposal to regularize Mexican migration is a temporary worker program large enough to cover the current flow of illegal Mexican migrants. However, temporary worker programs have almost invariably proved costly, difficult to administer, and illusory in the sense that the workers end up staying permanently. If we decide, nevertheless, to institute a temporary worker program, it should start as an experiment in a few selected states. A more viable alternative might be simply to increase Mexican green cards until 2015, when Foreign Minister Castañeda claims Mexican migration will "peter out" because of declining fertility rates and increased domestic economic growth. Accordingly, the number of additional visas can be decremental, decreasing each year until 2015. By that year the quota of Mexican visas (75,000, down from 250,000) would constitute the totality of Mexican migration to the United States. Even in the likely event that Castaneda's prediction proves optimistic, by then, with Mexican coopera tion, we will have built a border no longer as vulnerable to alien smugglers.
Dealing with those Mexican migrants who will enter the United States in the future is only part of the problem, however. The larger and more difficult issue has to do with those roughly four million already in the United States illegally. Proposals for legalization (or amnesty) applies to these four million. But like proposed temporary worker programs for future migrants, legalization of those already here represents a burden the INS is not now prepared to handle. Yet in the long run, there is no other solution from the standpoint of both security and equity. The United States, of all countries, cannot abide a burgeoning class of alien residents, a reincarnation of the metic class that toiled without rights in ancient Athens. Though immigrants in their vast majority pose no threat, Americans would be safest if all immigrants were accounted for, including those here illegally. However, the United States ought not reward with amnesty those who broke its laws to get here, lest it encourage more illegal immigration, weakening the rule of law in both countries.
One solution would be to pair earned legalization with workplace sanctions. Such a solution could point a course between deportation (which is administratively, politically and economically ruinous) and amnesty. By participating in a point system, unauthorized migrants could earn a permanent visa and, eventually, American citizenship. Points would be earned for integrating into American life--holding a steady job, residing responsibly in a community, staying on the right side of the law, learning English, and studying American history and civic values. Participants would not be eligible for means-tested government benefits. Those wishing to become legal would also pay a fine for having entered illegally. Should a pilot temporary worker program be established, they would enter that program for a stipulated number of years.
The requirements of earned legalization would have to be sufficiently stringent to discourage future illegal immigration. Thus, the program must be linked not only to Mexican border responsibility but also to strictly enforced employer sanctions. Those sanctions should be directed against employers breaking the law, not workers organizing in self-protection. Under a regime of employer sanctions, unauthorized migrants not applying for earned legalization would be rejected for their next job. Barred from all government benefits, they would have no recourse but to return to Mexico. The illegal population would be compressed by a combination of earned legalization and departure. That would be the best solution to a problem with no easy answers, but, as indicated above, it is one that must await the streamlining of the INS and the consolidation of the Homeland Security Department.
Over the long run, the United States and Mexico must work to turn Mexican immigration from the chaotic, dangerous, habitual and illegal to the regulated, safe, selective and legal. This will involve sacrifices from both sides. The post-9/11 U.S. Congress will not approve a migration agreement that does not secure the border. The Mexican Congress will not accommodate American security concerns without the legalization of the Mexican "undocumented." In the meantime, the United States will have to face up to the security dimensions of a large illegal population.
Mexico does not see migration as a long-term answer to its economic problems, and Washington knows that law enforcement cannot be the main solution to illegal Mexican immigration. The final component of an immigration bargain with Mexico, then, must encompass the economic development of what are now "sender" communities in central and southern Mexico, providing jobs at home for those prone to migrate. The United States and Mexico have begun to convene private donors and non-governmental organizations in a "Partnership for Prosperity" to raise productivity by encouraging infrastructure and education investments in those zones. But the key to the development of sender regions lies in Mexico's opening its energy sector to private investment, revamping its educational system, and finding a way to control corruption without paralyzing the government. (It is in that new context, too, that trade frictions between the two countries should ultimately be brokered.) This is not something the United States can do for Mex ico, but the Fox Administration has invited U.S. assistance in the building of an independent and impartial judiciary and effective law enforcement that itself obeys the law. Helping to establish the rule of law in Mexico is a U.S. security and demographic interest.
A RESPECTABLE showing in Mexico's midterm elections, scheduled for July 2003, for Fox's National Action Party could salvage the remaining three years of the Fox Administration. That opens more than a six-month window, following the U.S. midterm elections, through which President Bush could extend a hand to his old sidekick by moving forward incrementally on immigration. Fox should easily grasp why a comprehensive agreement on immigration is not currently practical. After all, institutional incapacity is a reality he knows well from his administration's efforts to fight drug lords and build the rule of law
Domestic politics cannot be expunged from the international policy of any democracy, but the basis for a successful and sustainable bilateral migration policy cannot be either partisan politics or personal affection. In retrospect, President Bush's early privileging, politicizing and personalizing relations with Vicente Fox exposed the impulses of a campaigner and a foreign policy novitiate. It would be unfair to weigh that false start on the scales of September 11, but there is nothing untoward in reminding ourselves that national interest will usually prove a firmer foundation for U.S. policy than looking into the eyes of petitioning peers. In the case of Mexico, whose economic future lies in integration with the United States and whose political future lies in liberal democracy, that interest is clear. It is just as clear for a United States that finds itself in need of a Mexico governed by laws, not men.
1 Cited in the Philadelphia Inquirer, October 20, 2001.
2 For the security implications of an immigration agreement, see my report, Enchilada Lite: A Post-9/11 Mexican Migration Agreement, Center for Immigration Studies (www.cis.org), March 2002.
3 Steven A. Camarota, The Open Door: How Militant Islamic Terrorists Entered and Remained in the United States, 1993-2001 (Washington, DC: Center for Immigration Studies, 2002).
4 The INS's reputation as the archetypal blundering, antiquated bureaucracy is well deserved. But if one asks how the INS arrived at such a state of disarray, surely part of the answer is that for three decades it has had to cope with a wave of Mexican migration without precedent in its quantity, length and significant illegality. Congress contributed to the INS's problems by consistently underfunding it even as it passed laws that added to its burdens. Congress is right, however, to ask whether very high levels of immigration, legal and illegal, are consistent with effective security precisely because they cannot help but overwhelm our administrative capacity.
5 Sarmiento, "Mexicanos", Reforma, September 18, 2000.
Robert S. Leiken is director of the Immigration and National Security Program at The Nixon Center. He is author of Why Nicaragua Vanished: A Story of Reporters and Revolution (Rowan & Littlefield, forthcoming) and The Melting Border: Mexico and Mexican Communities in the United States (Center for Equal Opportunity, 2000).Essay Types: Essay