Border Enforcement and the Realities of Mexican Migration

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Mike Dwyer

Mike Dwyer is a former writer and contributor at Ordinary Times.

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25 Responses

  1. Avatar bookdragon says:

    Excellent article, Mike. I did not know all of the history and this made the evolution of the issue much clearer.

    I’m an engineer, not an anthropologist, but I am also fascinated by the questions you examined. Part of it is having lived at various times in places founded by immigrant groups and retaining a lot that ethnic identity, and places like where I Am now that have diverse groups of immigrants and 1st-2nd generation people. So I have seen the processes you describe play out around me in friends and neighbors. And also in my own my family, which is a blend of Mayflower descendants and more recent immigrants. One grandmother was 1st generation Irish and the other knew a dialect of German because her grandparents still spoke it among themselves, so that pattern of assimilation but with bits of cultural identity hanging on was part of my childhood.

    I don’t know what the answer is either. Both NIMBY and IGMFU are pretty basic impulses both in Americans and human beings generally, but having actual history and data to work form really *ought* to make a difference when working out policy.Report

  2. Avatar Slade the Leveller says:

    Thoughtful piece, Mr. Dwyer, and one with a perspective I’ve never considered.

    Throughout American history there has always been an Other to fear. At the outset of our nation’s history it was Natives. As immigrants began coming in large waves in the 1840s, it was whatever nationality was most prevalent in a given area. Now, it’s people from south of the border, and Muslims. It’s something that seems baked into the American political character.

    It’s really odd to me that a nation with so much to be optimistic about can be so fearful of something with so little power over it. Right now America is pissing its pants over 4,000 destitute people 1,000 miles away. It’s just inexplicable.Report

    • Avatar bookdragon in reply to Slade the Leveller says:

      It really does boggle the mind.

      US Population: 325,700,000
      Possible Refugees: 3,000

      There are more students in the local high school than in this ever so scary ‘invasion’. ::rolls eyes::

      We’ll probably spend more deploying 5000-15000 (number seems to keep changing) troops to the border for 2 months than we would on processing them and helping those granted asylum to get settled.Report

  3. Avatar CJColucci says:

    Talk about unintended consequences.
    In a sane world, immigration (and migration) would be a technical, wonky issue of low political salience. We do not live in a sane world, and we know why.Report

  4. Avatar atomickristin says:

    Interesting piece, thank you.Report

  5. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    Bush’s attempt to get a Guest Worker Program up and running for Mexican migrants was one of the things he tried to do right. Too bad the House sat on it and let it die.Report

    • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      If memory serves, his big push for immigration reform was supposed to start Sept 12, 2001. Unfortunately after 911 we got xenophobic… and we also had about a decade of very low growth which expands this cultural teenage angst.

      The US has the most agressively assimulatic culture on the planet, we’re the best in terms of assimilation of foreigners. We should have more. We should be deliberately encouraging brain drain. We should be stapling a Green Card to every 4 year college diploma.

      Also, agreed with the article in total.Report

  6. Avatar Philip H says:

    Lots to unpack.

    A functional Guest Worker program would remediate some of the migration we see, but as Oscar notes above, Republicans seem to have no stomach for something that actually makes the economy works because, well, it means we have to acknowledge people they demonize on the campaign trail are integral to our economic success, to say nothing of their cultural contributions.

    Slade is spot on that we have always had an “other” to fear – but consistently black African slaves and their descendants (and specifically their male descendants) have always been part of, and usually lead, that list of others we are supposed to fear. I maintain that having a black president for 8 years stoked that fear in many whites, and Republican politicians capitalized on that stoking.Report

    • Avatar Slade the Leveller in reply to Philip H says:

      I struggled with that one, though I didn’t take it as far as Obama.

      I have an uncle in downstate IL who is a staunch union man. He always voted straight D until ’08. When his son called him out on it, he said, “That’s different.”Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Philip H says:

      Note that in 2006, the Senate, which passed Bush’s Guest Worker, was evenly split. The House was controlled by Democrats.

      ETA: Although the 2004 House was GOP, so it really depends on when the bill was allowed to die.Report

  7. Avatar Jaybird says:

    We need illegal immigrants to work under the table for wages less than the minimum wage.

    Without them, America will have a labor shortage. A legal guest worker program will not address this issue because it will force the workers to be paid the minimum wage.Report

  8. Avatar Road Scholar says:

    Excellent article Mike! Regarding migrant workers I’m reminded of a thing in the grain belt. We used to call them “custom cutters”. These were outfits with usually two or three combines and trucks that would start in Texas and work their way up to the Dakota’s (maybe into Canada for all I know) hiring themselves out to farmers to harvest wheat.

    It makes a lot of sense when you consider that a combine is a hell of an investment — maybe $750,000 to $1,000,000 or so — and you only really use it for a few days or couple weeks at most. And when the wheat is ready to cut it’s ready NOW. And that also coincides with hail season so there’s an urgency there that a crew with multiple machines can satisfy better than a guy with one.

    My sister and her husband have an orchard/vineyard operation in central Washington and they have similar issues. They need a bunch of labor under a tight schedule now and then but they couldn’t usefully employ such a crew year-round. Migrant labor is really the only practical solution. And it’s definitely a win-win because those guys can make enough money working part-time in the States to support their family quite well in Mexico.Report

    • Avatar J_A in reply to Road Scholar says:

      My sister and her husband have an orchard/vineyard operation in central Washington and they have similar issues. They need a bunch of labor under a tight schedule now and then but they couldn’t usefully employ such a crew year-round. Migrant labor is really the only practical solution.

      As an aside, that’s also how coffee is picked In Colombia and Central America: migrant worker teams that move from farm to farm -up the hill- as the grains mature.Report

  9. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    I had never thought through the “transaction cost” paradigm of economic migration decisions before — no wall, relatively easy for Mexican laborer to come to US, work, go home; but with a wall, laborer must make investment to get past it, more likely to choose to stay, find some way to get surplus money back home.

    In retrospect, I really should have figured that out on my own. It’s a pretty simple economic proposition.Report

    • Avatar J_A in reply to Burt Likko says:

      I had never thought through the “transaction cost” paradigm of economic migration decisions before — no wall, relatively easy for Mexican laborer to come to US, work, go home; but with a wall, laborer must make investment to get past it, more likely to choose to stay, find some way to get surplus money back home.

      The reality is that the vast majority of economic migrants do not (did not??) really want to settle permanently in the USA. It is in México where they have their family and their extended social network, and cost of living is much lower. They can (could) live comfortably in their villages with what they made in a few seasons in the USA. Making th3 crossing difficult, dangerous, and very expensive killed that model.

      However, many current migrants are not (solely) economic migrants. The violence is real, and many families, not just able bodied workers, are running away from it with little intention to return, unless the situation in their countries changes dramatically.Report

      • Avatar InMD in reply to J_A says:

        This is a nuance I think is missing in the piece. In the Mid Atlantic/Upper South we have very little immigration from Mexico. Most of the Spanish speaking population is Central American and primarily Salvadoran. I’m not sure many of them have ever intended to go back.Report

        • Avatar J_A in reply to InMD says:

          El Salvador is probably one of the most violent places in the world, which is ironical given that Salvadorans are among the most courteous, polite, an$ generous people in the world too.

          It is a combination of decades of civil wars with the return (via expulsions from the USA, mostly) of Salvadorean gang members from California in the Bush 43 and Obama years.

          Many emigrants are really running away for their lives. More accurately, for children’s lives, who are gang pressed into joining the gangs at gunpoint.

          I personally know a man (union head in one of our companies) whose teenage son was shot pointblank in the street in front of him, paralyzing the kid from the neck down.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Thinking about this issue also really made me think about my ancestors coming here via boat 150 years ago. I have employees that immigrated here years ago and still get back home at least every few years. My ancestors likely knew they would never go back. Hard to imagine the courage that took.Report

  10. Avatar J_A says:

    One thing that gets lost in the discussion of the wall is that the vast majority of undocumented aliens came in via the airport and just overstayed their visas. The Department of State tries (or tried) to weed out potential visa jumpers by trying to gauge how rooted they were in their country of origin. But the system, blunt and unfair as it us, it’s also not very accurate.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to J_A says:

      I was careful in the OP to confine the discussion to Mexican migration because it has historically been rooted in economic push-pull. I think a wider discussion of migration from Central America certainly includes the asylum concerns you mention, but I would argue the intention there nearly a hybrid dynamic. It’s migration with the understanding up front that it may become permanent.Report

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