Sunday, August 27, 2006

Illegal immigration and U.S. policy

The Charlotte Observer is running another series on illegal immigration, and the first installment focuses on remittances. I read the beginning with some disbelief:

To curb illegal immigration, the federal government has posted soldiers on the Mexican border, arrested workers at job sites, and talked about making it a felony to enter the U.S. without permission.

But it puts greater hope in a relatively unknown and unlikely strategy: increasing the amount of money immigrants send back to Mexico.

The Bush administration says the billions sent south each year can be used to build the Mexican economy, thereby reducing immigration. For the past five years, the government has worked with Mexico and money senders to reduce the cost of remittances, and increase the volume.

The problem with this argument is that it is based entirely on a speech given in September 2001 (before 9/11) by Presidents Bush and Fox, in which they expressed the goal of improving Mexico’s economy so that people would feel less compulsion to leave, and that remittances could be a part of the solution.

It is dangerous to build an analysis on a five year old speech (and pre-9/11 to boot) given at a photo-op. With no justification or evidence, the article explicitly states that this old speech is evidence that remittances are more important to the Bush administration than any type of immigration enforcement. Most statements the administration makes regarding remittances focus on their role in economic development, without linking them to immigration. For example, in 2004 the White House released a fact sheet on the issue, which does not mention reduction of immigration:

These hard-earned funds go directly to families and communities where they are used for improving the quality of life of the citizens of the hemisphere -- paying for school books, purchasing medicine, or starting a business.

So does the administration hope that remittances have the effect of improving conditions in Mexico so that fewer people leave? Yes. Is this a central part of immigration policy? No.

The article does raise the important debate about the role remittances can play in sustainable development, though only quotes one anti-remittance scholar in Mexico to frame the debate, which is in fact a vigorous one and not so not nearly as one-sided as suggested.

I find it frustrating to read these types of articles, because the immigration debate is so complex already without distorting it further.


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