Something there is that doesn't love a wall

On Thursday, as the U.S. Senate was about to vote on its new immigration bill, scholars and political experts at New York University were busy "Rethinking Global Migration: New Realities, New Opportunities, New Challenges." (Click here for conference program and webcast.) The main conclusion (for anybody who was paying close attention) was how ridiculous and inadequate are the Senate's gestures. The only thing that can be said for the Senate bill is that it is not as punitive as the bill in the House, but none of these measures addresses the real problems in a realistic way. To wit:
• The Senate proposal would permit 200,000 "temporary workers" per year (the House bill would permit none), but we've got 500,000 crossingly illegally each month, according to Cristina Rodríguez (NYU). So the numbers are totally inadequate both for the emigration pressure from Mexico and for the labor demand on the U.S. side of the border, which is immense.

• The Senate's bill does not envision any reciprocal process in Mexico, such as "We will admit x number of workers legally if you (Mexico) commit to reducing illegal emigration from Mexico by that amount" -- an idea broached by Jorge Santibáñez (President, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, Mexico).

• People will keep coming, even at the risk of their lives, as long as survival opportunities in the U.S. are so much greater than in their own countries, no matter how high or long or thick the fence. Most of those who come illegally don't even cross by land anyway, according to several the speakers.

• U.S. labor demands, for example for highly trained nurses from the Philippines and elsewhere, are making conditions even worse in the sending countries -- by diminishing services -- and thus stimulating emigration. That's not going to stop with the proposed legislation, but there could be negotiated ways of relieving pressure on the sending countries.

• The biggest issue -- implicit in the others -- is one emphasized by Saskia Sassen, enriched by her comparative studies of European immigration policies: No immigration policy will be tenable unless it is worked out in negotiation among both sending and receiving countries.
In short, we can't "secure our borders" on only one side. Nor would it be enough to enter a treaty with Mexico. The northward flow of migrants is regional, with great numbers from Central America and South America illegally entering Mexico just to cross it and get to the U.S. border.

This is just a start for my thoughts on the question. We still haven't talked about "assimilation" of immigrants, whether and how fast they will learn English and adapt to the "American way of life." One thing is obvious, though: a "guest worker" program just inhibits assimilation, by telling people they can never become U.S. citizens anyway. And of course letting 11 million or so people remain "illegal" isolates them, from services, police, and schools, making their assimilation almost impossible.

When in "Mending Wall" Robert Frost quoted another farmer saying, "Good fences make good neighbors," it was because he found the statement ridiculous. He went on to reflect,
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
"Why do they make good neighbors?...
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down." ...
In the 21st century, that "something" is globalization, the unstoppability of information, money goods and -- though at greater risk and cost -- people, regardless of borders. They only way to regularize the flows for the greatest benefit and least harm to all parties is through frank, honest and serious negotiations. A good place to start would be with Mexico and the countries to its south.

Good neighbors can make good fences.

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