Friday, July 19, 2013

The Strange Case of Mexican Emigration

Victor Davis Hanson

There are many strange elements in the current debate over illegal immigration, but none stranger than the mostly ignored role of Mexico.

Are millions of Mexican citizens still trying to cross the U.S. border illegally because there is dismal economic growth and a shortage of jobs in Mexico?

Not anymore. In terms of the economy, Mexico has rarely done better, and the United State rarely worse.

The Mexican unemployment rate is currently below 5 percent. North of the border it remains stuck at over 7 percent for the 53rd consecutive month of the Obama presidency. The American gross domestic product has been growing at a rate of less than 2 percent annually. In contrast, a booming Mexico almost doubled that in 2012, its GDP growing at a robust clip of nearly 4 percent.

Is elemental hunger forcing millions of Mexicans to flee north, as it may have in the past?

Not necessarily. According to a recent United Nations study, an estimated 70 percent of Mexico's citizens are overweight and suffer from the same problems of diet, health concerns and lack of exercise shared by other more affluent Western societies.

Mexico is a severe critic of U.S. immigration policy, often damning Americans as ruthlessly insensitive for trying to close our border. It has gone so far as to join lawsuits against individual American states to force relaxation of our border enforcement. Former Mexican President Felipe Calderon sharply criticized the United States for trying to "criminalize migration."

Is Mexico, then, a model of immigration tolerance?

Far from it.

Until 2011, when it passed reforms, Mexico had among the most draconian immigration laws in the world. Guatemala has criticized Mexico for initiating construction of a fence along its southern border.

Mexico has zero tolerance for illegal immigrants who seek to work inside Mexico, happen to break Mexican law or go on public assistance -- or any citizens who aid them.

In Mexico, legal immigration is aimed at privileging lawful arrivals with skill sets that aid the Mexican economy and, according to the country's immigration law, who have the "necessary funds for their sustenance" -- while denying entry to those who are not healthy or would upset the "equilibrium of the national demographics." Translated, that idea of demographic equilibrium apparently means that Mexico tries to withhold citizen status from those who do not look like Mexicans or have little skills to make money.

If the United States were to treat Mexican nationals in the same way that Mexico treats Central American nationals, there would be humanitarian outrage.

In 2005, the Mexican government published a "Guide for the Mexican Migrant" -- in comic book form. The pictographic manual instructed its own citizens how best to cross illegally into, and stay within, the United States. Did Mexico assume that its departing citizens were both largely illiterate and without worry about violating the laws of a foreign country?

Yet Mexico counts on these expatriate poor to send back well over $20 billion in annual remittances -- currently the third-largest source of Mexican foreign exchange.

Multibillion-dollar annual remittances from America fill a void that the Mexican government has created by not extending the sort of housing, education or welfare help to its own citizens that America provides to foreign residents.

In truth, many thousands of Mexicans flee northward not necessarily because there are no jobs, or because they are starving at home. America offers them far more upward mobility and social justice than does their own homeland. And for all the immigration rhetoric about race and class, millions of Mexicans vote with their feet to enjoy the far greater cultural tolerance found in the U.S.

Indigenous people make up a large part of the most recent wave of Mexican arrivals. Those who leave provinces like Oaxaca or Chiapas apparently find the English-speaking, multiracial U.S. a fairer place than the hierarchical and often racially stratified society of Mexico.

People should be a nation's greatest resource. Fairly or not, Mexico has long been seen to view its own citizens in rather cynical terms as a valuable export commodity, akin to oil or food. When they are young and healthy, Mexican expatriates are expected to scrimp, save and support their poorer relatives back in Mexico. When these Mexican expats are ill and aged, then the U.S should pick up the tab for their care.

The current problem for Mexico is that the U.S. might soon deal with illegal immigration in the way Mexico does. But for now, to the extent that Mexican citizens can potentially make, rather than cost, Mexico money, there is little reason for our southern neighbor to discourage its citizens from leaving the country -- by hook, crook or comic book.


Australian PM faces uphill election battle on asylum seeker issue

AFTER his quick political fix on the carbon tax, Kevin Rudd must now turn his attention to the tougher problem of asylum seeker policy.  But this could prove a unsolvable dilemma.

Rudd was always planning to announce a crackdown on refugees soon after seizing back the nation's top job.

The new Prime Minister knows he has to find some way of distancing himself from the policy failure that is emphasised every time another boatload of asylum seekers arrives in Australian waters.

The latest deaths at sea after another boat disaster have only heightened the urgency for Rudd to convince voters he has a solution.

At a policy level, the Government needs to find a way of meeting its aim of stopping asylum seekers arriving by boat.

But at a political level, Labor needs to ensure the debate does not dominate the election campaign.

Labor has learned through bitter experience that it has little to gain from electoral battles over border protection.

The Coalition already has an natural advantage on the issue because voters tend to trust them more on national security.

When his opponents can point to a history of stemming boat arrivals the last time they were in government, Rudd's task is even tougher.

So Rudd is under immense pressure to neutralise the Coalition's campaign on asylum seeker boat arrivals before calling the election.  But that is easier said than done.

The Prime Minister's chief problem could come down to one of believability.  He has changed his position on asylum seeker policy before.

And the government he was a part of has gone through a series of policy contortions without finding a solution.

Unauthorised boat arrivals ballooned under Rudd's last time in power, after he dismantled the Howard government's Pacific Solution and moved asylum seekers into the community.

Rudd has since blamed other "push" factors of conflicts in other countries increasing the numbers of people willing to risk their lives on a boat to escape persecution.

The closest he has come to admitting to a mistake was "in perhaps not being quick enough to respond to the new change in external circumstances with an outflow from Sri Lanka from a civil war in 2009-10".

He has not accepted that changes in Australian laws when he was the leader have acted as "pull" factors by making Australia a more marketable destination for people smugglers.

But this is the focus of the Opposition's criticism that, in the reported words of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Australia needs to take "the sugar off the table" for people smugglers.

Julia Gillard appeared to admit the Rudd government had made mistakes on border protection when she rolled him as prime minister.

Asylum seeker policy was one of the three areas where Gillard said the government had "lost its way" and required a change of leader.

But after Gillard's failed ideas of sending asylum seekers to East Timor and swapping them with refugees in Malaysia - and a series of capitulations to the Opposition by reopening processing centres on Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island - the Government has little credibility left.

Rudd's political effort so far has been twofold.  First, he has accused Opposition Leader Tony Abbott of lying when he says he can stop the boats.

Rudd used his first press conference after becoming prime minister to lambast Mr Abbott for using meaningless three-word slogans, and raise the spectre of a conflict with Indonesia if a Coalition government enacted its threat to turn around boats at sea.

Rudd is now entering the second phase of his attempt to take the sting out of the issue for Labor.

He has flagged new policies to make it harder for asylum seekers to be assessed as refugees in Australia, suggested he could change Australia's application of the Refugee Convention, and will push for better regional co-operation on people smuggling.

He has raised concerns in recent trips to Indonesia and PNG, and he could make another visit to Jakarta to take part in a planned summit with source countries including Iran, Afghanistan and Myanmar.

We are likely to soon see the Government announce a tougher process for weeding out economic refugees from those genuinely in fear of persecution.

Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr has been laying the groundwork for his change, and has recently claimed the vast majority of recent asylum seekers are "economic migrants".

But none of these options is likely to have any immediate impact on the rate of boat arrivals.  Labor has made similar suggestions before.  Now the Government is running out of time.


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