in response to a response

This post is largely a response to Monty, who somehow found my blog after reading the story I wrote for the Isthmus and inexplicably hearing it on a Madison radio station. The story does not link to this site, and I still haven’t found out what sort of coverage there was for it on WTDY.

First of all, thank you for the compliment. And now some answers to your sincerely asked questions (there are links throughout the text to further official and unofficial information):

Millions of Mexicans and Central Americans are in this country using invalid Social Security numbers. In my experience, the vast majority simply make up a number, and get a very cheap “Social Security” card made. They are not using the documents of an actual U.S. Citizen/Lawful Permanent Resident, not stealing the identity of another person. The fact is, employers, as the other Laura alluded to, are more than happy to accept these false papers and hire people. Yes, it’s illegal, but some blame, in my opinion, must be placed on the vast number of companies, universities, etc, that hire people and eventually know they are not working legally, but continue to employ them. I can attest to the fact that the companies, after at the very most a years time, will know one way or another that they are employing someone without valid documents. In many cases, nothing is done about it.

I also have to say that Lopez is not taking the job of a homeless person. Why has the homeless person not gone and gotten a job? Or the single mother? Certainly there are opportunities, the problem is often that Americans do not want these jobs. Some argue that were the millions of undocumented workers not in the U.S. these jobs would be filled with Americans, but I do not believe that is true in most cases. I used to manage restaurants and I had an extremely difficult time finding employees who would work in low-wage “front of the house” positions. It was easy for me to find cooks, after all, they didn’t need to speak English, but it was remarkably difficult to find responsible Americans who would work hard in a very entry-level moderately labor-intensive position. Now, there is a reason I am not in that industry anymore, and it has a lot to do with all the moral dilemnas that come in that situation. I didn’t want to be the employer making those sort of decisions, I didn’t want to pay people only ~$7 per hour, but when you work for a corporation, you don’t really have a choice. Anyway, that is a big tangent.

Next, maybe it wasn’t crystal clear in the story, but Mr. Lopez is applying for lawful permanent residency (this is necessary before applying for citizenship) through his fiance relationship with Laura Braun. However, were he not involved with her (or another U.S. Citizen), there would be no avenue for him to legalize. Even if he had never been in the country illegally and been deported, he would have had to be an extremely educated or exceptionally skilled foreign worder to immigrate here legally. I appreciate your sincere questions on this issue, but I have to admit I am always shocked when I realize that there are still many who believe Mexicans (and other low-skilled foreign workers) have some legal way to immigrate to the U.S. They very simply do not.

There is, most definitely, limits on the number of people who can apply for citizenship. The main paths for immigrating to the U.S. are either family or employment based. As I said above, it is only exceptionally skilled people who even have a chance at immigrating through employment. There are also a small number of temporary worker visas, that again require exceptional skills in most cases. Generally only large corporations are able to do this, which is why, for example, General Electric or Johnson Controls, from where my dad recently retired, have large numbers of brilliant foreign engineers and scientists working for them.

Family-based immigration encompasses the spouses and fiances of U.S. Citizens and some other family members. For example, if Mr. Lopez somehow had a naturalized U.S. Citizen brother or sister (through marriage to a U.S. Citizen), that person could petition for him, but it would take many years, perhaps ten, for a visa to become available. Fiance and spouse visas are guaranteed “immediate” consideration (that usually means within a year), but in this case, could be denied. You can read more about this situation here and here.

There is something called a visa lottery, which allows 50,000 foreigner to enter every year. However, this is a very small number, and Mexicans, and nationals of a whole list of countries that already have a large number of immigrants to the U.S., are not eligible.

Regarding Mexico, I would not say the conditions are savage, only very poor for the vast majority of the population. There are certainly many very rich people in Mexico. It has tourism, great natural resources, and has been a destination for U.S. companies seeking cheap labor. There is also the problem of what NAFTA has done to Mexico’s agriculture, creating a situation where heavily government subsidized U.S.-grown corn (for example) is now cheaper in Mexico than Mexico’s own home-grown corn. There is a good summary of NAFTA’s effects on Mexico here.

Finally, in response to this statement: “Please tell me what we are doing wrong to Mr. López when all we ask is that HE do the right thing,” I would direct you to this excellent piece on the debate over migration. It may not answer all your questions, but it is certainly enlightening, agree or disagree.

Monty – thank you for your comments, and the chance to discuss these issues.


6 Responses to in response to a response

  1. Really great post Laura!

    I also really appreciate monty’s sincere questions about what can be done to make things better for the people forced to make the decision to go North. The U.S. really has to start doing what they do when they accept a new nation into the EU, investing very heavily in the region so there is not a need to go North. The fact of the matter is that NAFTA has made things bad, but in all likelyhood it would have been worse were it not for NAFTA. Good work.

  2. Arnold says:

    As I understand it, the US is one of the most difficult countries to settle in legally. One American/French couple I came across recently are now living in Paris essentially because she was unable to get him the necessary residency visa yet by settling in France, they got the French equivalent pretty much automatically.

    One problem is that even were America/Mexico to operate as the European Union does (ie with support for the weaker country) it still results in a flood of migration. For instance, the recent entry of Poland into the EU has had the consequence that the Poles have left to such an extent that one wonders if anyone remains in Poland sometimes.

    In effect, no matter how great the support is, once the border is fully open, you can expect a flood of migration. You can also expect a massive flood in the other direction too: buying a holiday home or even immigrating to Bulgaria is now a very popular choice.

    What would be really interesting is if Mexico were to apply for membership of Europe. Geography doesn’t really enter into it, after all Greenland is in Europe courtesy of Denmark as indeed are small islands all over the world.

  3. laurafern says:

    Interesting thoughts. I honestly don’t know a lot about the EU, but it would certainly be an interesting but unlikely turn of events were Mexico to join. I would probably move there and become a citizen as soon as possible. How interesting would it be to be a U.S.-born Mexican-EU citizen?!

  4. ken kuster says:

    One important fact that seems to be missed by everyone trying to characterize the illegal worker dilemna is the face that less than half of them would actually get in line to become a citizen and live their life in the US. Some would, but most want to work for a year, two or five, earn enough to create a permanent life in Mexico and go home.

    This I have learned by talking to dozens (probably hundreds) of them who live in Mexico now but have worked in the US. I live in one of the major worker-supplier states and have these conservations not as any kind of opinion poll or interview, but just in the process of living my daily life.

    The economies of both countries are constantly in a state of change, and someday the demand will decrease and more opportunities in Mexico will be available. When that happens (it will be gradual) the workers will go home to their families and their culture. Few of them have a chance to learn to speak English, and believe me an unemployed Mexican would prefer to be in Mexico than in the US.

    Some of you may have noticed that Presidente Felipe Calderón is spending a lot of time cultivating relations with Central and South American countries and European counrtries as well. Change will happen – there will be more options for Mexico. It is a very rich country. As the corruption comes under control, the world will want to be trading partners and allies of Mexico.

    As an aside, does the CNN editorial policy of referring to them as ‘illegal aliens’ bother any of you as much as it does me? It is as ugly an expression as can be found. If they happened to have black skin and the Reverand Jessie Jackson complained about it, how long would it take CNN to change it? Two minutes maybe.


  5. laurafern says:

    Ken — I agree with your point 110%. I have also interacted personally with a lot of Mexican workers and I would say the majority would rather live in Mexico, but they feel trapped here in a way because of the opportunities to better their lives, and because the border is now more dangerous and more expensive, they just end up staying here. There are of course, many, who would want to stay in the U.S. permanently, but probably many more who would much rather save $10 or $20,000 working for a few years and then take that capital back to Mexico to start their own business.

    I have heard a lot of very activist types suggest that a guest worker program will create a permanent underclass. I take that point, but I think that that is what a lot of people want, to work here legally, without having to assimilate and become an American and all that. A lot of Americans might have a problem with that, but I think considering our corporations are allowed to go to Mexico and build factories and sell our cheap, subsidized corn and do whatever else we want there, it’s only fair that we allow labor to be a freer trade as well.

    I read a really good piece on this once, I’ll try to find and post it. I appreciate your comments Ken. Thanks for the food for thought.

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