David Sirota and David Neiwert strike me as basically correct on the immigration subject. The reason that there are so many illegal immigrants here is because (a) American businesses keep hiring them and (b) NAFTA has made Mexican workers poorer. Both of these factors increase the flow of illegal immigrants.
Marcela Sanchez puts this in perspective:
Whether you believe Mexican immigrants help or hurt the United States, there is one incontrovertible truth: work here pays much, much better. A low-skilled Mexican worker in this country earns five to six times as much as he would back home, assuming he or she could find a comparable job.
This truth is so obvious it seems a cliche and yet it remains mostly absent from the current debate on how to reform U.S. immigration. For all the talk around the country of border enforcement, guest worker programs, employer sanctions and driver's licensing restrictions, the sad fact is that none of these "solutions'' addresses the root of the problem -- a persistent and large U.S.-Mexican income disparity.
Even the most comprehensive and progressive immigration reform proposal in years, introduced this month by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., is more concerned with making U.S. immigration policy more humane than dealing with income disparity between the United States and Mexico. The bill crafts a guest worker program -- creating new visa categories and quotas and a secure identification system for employers -- but only provides a vague indication that income disparity might be a problem worth taking on.
Why such reluctance? How can a proposal that purports to reduce the flow of illegal Mexican workers to the United States not take a stab at the root cause? Won't better conditions for immigrant workers here only be an invitation for more illegal migrants from Mexico, as the argument goes, as long as wage disparity remains unaddressed?
To alter income disparity, it is obvious that Mexico must reduce its development gap and raise incomes. What is just as apparent is that Americans do not feel, at least at the moment, that they have a responsibility or even an interest in reducing that gap through investment of money and expertise. They don't feel the same obligation they once felt, say, after World War II for Europe, or that the European Union took on when it bolstered its poorest members. Mexico and the United States may share a 2,000-mile border but their sense of a shared future runs two two inches deep.
The Republicans have countered with the racist Tancredo-Frist wing of the party, which turns the illegal immigrants that businesses recruit into fugitives. Moderate Democrats, though not particularly strong on the issue, have embraced the stupid McCain-Kennedy bill, which creates new categories of quasi-legal immigrants while not really addressing the structural problem. It's a typical McCain bill, well-feeling yet massively incompetent.
The progressive answer to immigration is to crack down on corporate hiring of illegal immigrants for low pay, to accelerate the path to citizenship for existing illegals, and to reform NAFTA so that it actually produces the wealth for Mexico it promised in the first place.
Oh yeah, and Democrats, this is a great opportunity to get the Latino vote permanently on our side. Many Americans will understand the corporate argument if we start making it, though some pro-corporate knuckle-draggers will not. So as usual, progressive policies are good politics.