We hear all sorts of solutions for ending illegal immigration. Build a wall! Beef up border security! Fine employers, and create a massive guest-worker program. Or America could insist on tamper-proof identification cards, or detention, deportation or even amnesty for some illegal aliens — or all of these measures somehow combined.
But ultimately the solution lies in the hope that a Tijuana might become as prosperous as a San Diego — now a few miles away but a world apart.
After all, Hong Kong used to be a magnet for illegal immigrants who streamed in from impoverished Red China. Not so much any longer. Shanghai, for example, in two decades has become almost as wealthy as the old British colony.
East Berliners used to risk their lives to cross the wall into the West. Now billions of dollars are being invested in restoring the eastern half of a united Germany's capital.
Since World War II, poor workers from largely agrarian, Catholic and authoritarian Spain flocked northward into industrialized, Protestant and more democratic Germany and France to find work. Today, Spain's employment and growth rates compare favorably with those of its northern neighbors.
In each of these cases, once poorer regions bordering far wealthier societies have — either by emulation, absorption or coercion — radically liberalized their economic systems. With jobs and capital almost as plentiful at home as abroad, few wish to leave.
When Mexico follows suit, its relationship with the United States will resemble our connection with Canada. That should be our goal. Our northern neighbor's economy and political system are comparable to America's — and thus the number of Canadians arriving here is small and almost the same as the number of Americans leaving for Canada. And by any benchmark, the weather, arable land and coastline of Canada are not nearly as inviting as Mexico's.
Yet currently, Mexico's per capita gross domestic product is about a quarter of the United States'. Wages in Mexico are far lower than in America. No wonder Mexicans come here by the millions.
So how will Mexico ever achieve parity with the United States?
The Mexican government must begin selling off inefficient state enterprises, especially in gas and oil. It should offer greater protection of property rights and ensure title searches. Mexico must stop the old nationalist rhetoric and welcome foreign investment, create a transparent judicial system and allow land to be freely bought and sold.
Most importantly, the Mexican bureaucracy must end endemic corruption that so exasperates foreign investors who would otherwise bring to Mexico efficient job-producing businesses.