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Location: United States

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Screw Mexico - We Like our Problems

The good news is that Mexico wants to help us solve the problem with Social Security insolvency. The bad news is that we are telling them to get stuffed. The even worse news is that we are now using armed civilians to do so.
The New York Times reports today that illegal Mexican workers have been pumping billions of dollars into Social Security and Medicare. You can read the full story here (free registration may be required). The reason for this subsidy is simple: poor Mexicans want to work and are willing to risk their lives to get here and take whatever job is available. In return for their hard work and bravery, they are vilified and terrified of being sent home. They will never see one penny of the money they pay into Social Security and Medicare.
The story does not tell the full story, though. Legal immigrants also face this problem. My good friends, Yulia and Artosch, are legal immigrants from Armenia. In order to get a job here, they have to prove that they are not taking a job away from an American. This means that extra forms have to be filled out and submitted by anyone willing to hire them. Even though they are not supposed to have Social Security and Medicare taxes taken from their paycheck, they can show you pay stubs where they have paid into the system for several years. It seems that the company’s automated system doesn’t allow their employers to stop the deduction without purchasing a software upgrade. They won’t buy the upgrade because it costs too much. So, both Art and Yulia are paying into a system where, even if they become citizens, they will not be able to recoup the money they paid into the system during these early years of their careers.
Meanwhile, the flow of Mexicans into the country is so bad, or at least so alarming to some people (not necessarily the same thing), that the Border Patrol is actually utilizing civilian guards to patrol the Mexican border. While they do not have the power to physically detain anyone, the guards can and do coordinate with the Border Patrol when they see someone walking north – make that, someone with dark skin walking north. As an added insult to every principle upon which this country was founded, these patrols are called “Minutemen patrols”. You can read about them here (again, free registration may be required to access the whole story).
The original Minutemen, you may recall, were an armed militia formed to fight for independence from the British King. Exactly how keeping poor Mexicans out of the country is parallel to bravely facing the best army in the world is a bit beyond me. The British, after all, were willing to kill anyone standing up to them – which they saw as rebellion. The Mexicans just want a chance to earn a living – often at sub-minimum wage rates.
The answer, to me, is painfully simple – although politically painful in some areas. You will never stop people from finding some way across the border – you will only make it more life-threatening to do so. Anyone who needs evidence of this need only watch the news for stories about finding semi-trailers full of illegal immigrants from Mexico or overseas shipping containers full of people fleeing from China. We cannot stop someone who is willing to give their life for a cause – the best hope is to co-opt that desire and channel it into a reasonable direction.
If we allowed every Mexican who desires to come into the country and work legally, it would undercut almost all of what is wrong with the system. Illegal workers are abused by employers because the workers are afraid of being sent home if they complain. Giving them legal status would force employers to pay them full wages and to abide by all labor laws. The requirement of full wages would already undercut the economic reasons for seeking out illegal labor.
A free trade area must have free flow of labor as well as capital to work successfully. Otherwise the result is simply an outflow of jobs and inflow of capital as employers abuse the right to repatriate goods without having to worry about labor costs. If NAFTA is ever going to fulfill its promise to bring a better life to all working people in North America, we have to open our borders and provide Mexican laborers with a legal means of protection. Not just for a lucky few who win a greed card lottery, but for everyone who makes it here and wants to be productive.

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