The U.S. Mexico border ain’t workin

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Author’s note:
U.S. immigration law defines undocumented immigration as an illegal (criminal act.) Mexican law does not treat an undocumented foreigner as a criminal. Rather, a person who must cooperate to secure proper documentation. Therefore, whenever illegal is used in this article it is in quotes. The author believes that the pursuit of sustenance for one’s family, without harm to others, is not a criminal act.

Border Patrol AgentIn 1993 their were a little more than 3000 border agents assigned to the U.S. Mexican border. In 2002 the number climbed to 9,500. In the same seven year period, “Illegal” immigration increased from an estimated 4200 per year to 6400. A 50% increase in “illegal crossings” despite a tripling of enforcement personnel.

Even before 9-11 the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa border crossings into San Diego had unbearably long lines. Since 9-11, increased surveillance has created an even greater nightmare for tourists, businessmen and those crossing to work.

Why hasn’t this “stepped up” surveillance and tripling of border agents stemmed the flow of “illegal” border crossings?

  • It’s only success has been to hamper the flow of border commerce. Ask the San Diego merchant who has seen a drastic decline of Mexicanos crossing to buy goods since 9-11. He’s concerned about this three billion dollar a year consumer sector and knows that harder border crossings means fewer peso to dollar conversions to buy his goods.

Increased border surveillance has not worked because the 2600 mile border is impossible to fully secure. It has always been and will always be penetrable. Like all police work, enforcement is a selective process. Concerns about terrorism, drug and people smuggling has concentrated U.S. enforcement at major border crossings. The more isolated portions of the border are still very porous. .

The “coyotes” (people smugglers) now charge more as a result of the greater surveillance. A few years ago the average cost was three to five hundred dollars now it is $1500 dollars to be guided across. Resorting to more isolated desert trails, the long trek. under extreme weather conditions, the pilgrimages have resulted in more loss of life.

Bribing U.S. immigration agents has always been and continues to be an option. However, like the coyotes, their asking price has greatly increased as a result of internal investigations and subsequent risk.

The net effect is that the increased cost and risk of crossing the border has not reduced illegal crossings. It has, however, successfully reduced the frequency and probability of return visits to Mexico. For many, it means permanence in the U.S. with little or no hope of going back.

Once you successfully cross into the U.S. your chances of getting caught, working or not, is relatively low. The beefed up home security focus (outside of the borders) has been airports and other major transportation hubs. Work sites raids, to enforce “illegal employment”, have actually diminished since 9-11.

Undocumented WorkersIn 1998 the number of undocumented Mexicanos, who planned to stay in the U.S., was 59%. That number rose to 67% at the end of 2002. Undocumented farm workers traditionally returned to Mexico in the off season, now they stay. In farming communities like Stockton California, without winter work,” illegals” are turning abandoned buildings into crowded and unsanitary slums.

Stockton’s playgrounds and schools offer a clear sign that Mexican families are staying and not likely to return. Forty five percent of Stockton’s children under age six are Latinos. Hispanic children account for about 70% of the hospitals’ births.

Seventy percent of “illegals” earn less than $10,000 per year Since they are below the poverty line, medical patients from this group has climbed from 470,000 in 1998 to 760,000 last year. California is bankrupt and the feds inability to curb immigration further compromises her taxpayers. A chicano comedian remarked: “I’m just like California, I’m broke and I use to belong to Mexico”. The real joke is that Mexicanos are getting the state back.

The criteria for effective immigration control has got to be fewer undocumented immigrants. The present immigration goal appears to be more agents and longer border delays. A planned acquiescence to the anticipated, increase in “illegal” crossings..

Our immigration department has clearly demonstrated its inability to control the U.S.-Mexico border. Therefore, the focus should be on reducing the economic burden caused by an un enforceable border. Right? Hell yes.

A new paradigm must be developed so that undocumented Mexicanos can work in the U.S. and return to Mexico for social services and family visits. A massive re institution of what was called the “bracero program” (Mexican farmworkers crossed to harvest, then returned to Mexico and family). An unofficial bracero system that can be expanded and enhanced is operating “unofficially” right now in the Tijuana San Diego region..

Tens of thousands of Baja Californianos cross the border daily on a visa, called a mica laser visa. It is like a day pass to visit but is not a work visa. The visa is scanned and the entry recorded into a computer. This allows immigration to monitor the frequency of trips North. If the person crosses every day they can assume the person is working “illegally”. Now the immigration service is threatening to use lazer crossing data for the purpose of “busting” these day workers.

Why repeat the same mistake of forcing workers to stay in the U.S. instead of returning to Tijuana for affordable housing and medical care?. This is a perfect way to secure labor that contributes to social security (a false card or borrowed identity) and pays state payroll taxes without drawing on the benefits.

This system relieves the border employer from paying hefty U.S. health insurance premiums. The cross border employee, in most instances, secures their own health care in Mexico. Either Mexico’s government system, in which they pay low premiums, or private care at a third of what U.S. providers charge.

Everybody wins the employer, state and federal governments, the worker and Mexico. Presently, more than three billion dollars a year is sent home to Mexico by workers in the United States. This is Mexico’s second largest source of revenue. Pemex, the state owned oil industry, is the largest revenue producer, accounting for 37% of all government revenue.

Some U.S. border employers already offer a Tijuana HMO alternative to Mexicano employees. Why not transfer all of these cross border worker benefits (medical, retirement and assisted housing) and employer contributions to the Mexican system. Employers would cut benefit costs in half for this population of workers.

Why not offer all employees the opportunity, without regard to ethnicity, to cross the border for care. They could obtain enhanced coverage for their family at a lower cost to employers. U.S. retirees often prefer their doctor or dentist in Baja and would love to have medical or medicare cover these services in Ensenada,, Rosarito or San Felipe. The cost savings to Medical and Medicare would surely be in the millions.

Legalize what already exists. Border officials know these folks, without green cards, are not crossing every day just to visit. If responsibility for worker health was shifted back to Mexico, for her unemployed migrant “workers”, the state of California could save a bundle on satisfying Workmen’s Compensation claims..

As mentioned, medical care in Mexico costs a third of that in the United States.
It is a little known fact that California Workmen’s Compensation will pay for patient care South of the border. Promote the option of allowing “illegals” to receive the cheaper care and have an amnesty for returning to the stateside job after recuperation or rehabilitation in Mexico..

Why not collaborate with Mexican health providers and fully open the gates that have already been opened? Most major health insurance companies currently reimburse for medical procedures in Mexico. Preferring their insured opt for Mexican medicine and the company enjoys the cost savings.

Federal and state health agencies, from both countries, should develop cooperative experiments and plans to create synergy between their systems in addressing bi national medical problems and payment.

Clearly, immigration to the United States is about employment and earnings. The overwhelming majority of Mexicanos would prefer to stay in Mexico, amid family and their own culture. To keep them happily at home, the solutions are a a higher minimum wage in Mexico ($5.75 day presently) and more job creation.

Mexico must provide the solutions necessary to increase worker income and encourage more “job creating” investment. Manufacturing investment, both foreign and domestic, will not accelerate significantly until the antiquated, socialist inspired, labor laws change. And corrupt labor unions reformed or replaced. U.S. diplomatic and economic influences could do more to advance the cause of Mexican workers by offering trade incentives in exchange for reforms.

The U.S.and Mexico could negotiate the right of NAFTA partners to buy coastal and border property without Mexican banks acting as fiduciaries of property trusts. Providing-fee simple property ownership and title to North Americans will generate U.S. mortgage financing and an incredible boom to border real estate. Title Insurance in Mexico, by major U.S. title companies, is already available and affordable.

Also, negotiate making it simpler and cheaper for U.S. citizens to form small businesses. While we are at it, allow the small business administration to expand their loan portfolio to include joint ventures between U.S. and Mexican small businesses. Promote joint venture conferences, exhibitions and seminars to further foment bi national commerce.

The solutions are not more investment in border tightening but in cross border economic development. Let’s shift the priorities away from drug and people smuggling. Enforcement has been enormously unsuccessful and expensive for both nations.

The solutions to the “border problem” lie in new economic and political models. As we said in the sixties – “you are either part of the problem or part of the solution”. The present “prosecution” model is part and parcel of the problem and masks the root causes and solutions for our failing border.

I sit here, at mid year, reflecting over my consulting practice that primarily serves gringo investors: property seekers and foreign owned Mexican corporations. The results, year to date, are positive. We are delighted with an increase in new real estate investment clients. However we have seen a decrease in manufacturing, primarily due to a “cooling off” in the maquiladora sector – foreign owned assembly operations.

Maquiladoras are losing their allure because of new import tariffs on production machinery manufactured outside of North America , high employee turnover and Mexico ‘s very unattractive labor laws. Tijuana ‘s maquiladora sector suffers especially from high employee turnover. Folks come from the interior, work for a while and then cross the border into gringoland.

The slowdown in the U.S. economy is also hurting my manufacturing clients, here at the border and throughout Mexico . The saying in Mexico is: “when the U.S. has the sniffles we catch Pneumonia”. A clear example is volkswagen’s “new beatle”, manufactured in Puebla , South of Mexico City. The slowdown in U.S. sales has caused significant layoffs at the Puebla plant and the Daimler Benz plant, in nearby Cuatla, that supplies the Volkswagen cooling system.

The bad news, for my real estate clients, is that most of them come to me “after the fact”. They bought property, paid for it in full and now, are not getting what they were promised: clear title, subdivision services (roads, sewers, water, electricity). All of the things we could have prevented by setting up an escrow – just the same as the good ole U.S. A..

Yes, Virgina real estate title transfer laws and protections are firmly in place here. You can check for title and encumbrances in the public record. You can assure that property lines are secure. You can own it, as a foreigner, in a living trust that extends to your heirs – in perpetuity. Most important, you can protect your investment by not completing payment for the swimming pool, tennis court or waste treatment plant the developer promises but, far too often, does not deliver.

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