Ross Perot famously predicted that if Congress passed the North American Free Trade Agreement, we'd hear a "giant sucking sound" as American jobs were exported to our southern neighbor. Not only did that not happen, but American exports to Mexico have jumped. According to an analysis by Howard J. Wall of the Federal Reserve, real U.S. manufactured exports to Mexico rose by 54 percent in the decade after NAFTA passed. All but four states in the U.S. benefited from this export boom.
But those who had hoped the NAFTA would prod Mexicans to modernize their economy were disappointed. Mexico remains among the most corrupt and least efficient nations in the world -- tainted by a yawning gap between the tiny minority of very rich and the rest of the country, particularly the 40 percent who are very poor.
Time and again we've heard rumors that Mexico was going to tackle corruption and improve its judicial system. Outside observers and Mexican reformers alike were elated in 2000 when Vicente Fox's National Action Party defeated the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), which had held authoritarian control for 71 years. At last, it seemed possible that Mexico would begin to tackle its strangling bureaucracy, its rotten police, its corrupt labor unions (who did nothing for labor) and its anti-competitive environment. If Mexico made even modest progress in improving the lives of its citizens, the gusher of illegal migration north would slow.
But as Fredo Arias-King explained in a 2005 article for The National Interest, Fox proved to be a lousy new broom. Instead of sweeping out the PRI officials, Fox kept them on, even hiring operatives from his opponent's campaign to run the Finance Secretariat and his own office, and reaching back to a particularly unsavory PRI official with ties to a deadly extortion attempt in the 1970s as head of the Public Security Secretariat. As for members of Fox's party, the PAN, only 78 received jobs in the new administration.
And so the Mexican government lumbers into the 21st century tolerating drug running (even profiting from it if reports are to be believed), stifling competition for the benefit of a few favored companies and suppressing the rights of workers. As the Defense and Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy magazine noted: "Mexico ranks number one in the world for disappearances of women, number two for kidnappings for ransom (number one of countries not at war), number two for number of narco-cartels, and number three for murders per capita." In 2004, 300,000 people rallied in Mexico City to protest kidnappings by criminal gangs -- kidnappings that not infrequently result in death to the captive even after ransom has been paid. The police resolve less than one percent of these cases. And, as the article details, even when the criminals are jailed, they can easily buy their way out of prison "with collusion of prison officials."
According to the World Economic Freedom Index, Mexico ranks 58th out of 123 nations in economic liberty (behind 10 other Latin American countries) and 88th in measures of legal structures and property rights.
It is hardly a surprise therefore that Mexico's government does not discourage and in fact facilitates migration north. The remittances illegal immigrants send back home to their families constitute a valuable source of cash, and the possibility of out-migration operates as a valve to vent popular anger and frustration.
Thus the Mexicans shunt some of their troubles onto us.
Those who obscure the distinction between legal and illegal immigrants overlook the huge burden illegals impose by their disproportionate criminality. As Heather MacDonald has discovered, 95 percent of all outstanding warrants for murder in Los Angeles target illegal aliens. Up to two-thirds of all fugitive felony warrants are for illegals. A California Department of Justice study reported in 1995 that the infamous 18th Street Gang (20,000 strong) is at least 60 percent illegal.
This is not to suggest that we close the border. There is every reason to believe that we need more legal immigrants. But the current wink, wink, nudge, nudge system of permitting thousands to pour across the border every year without so much as a once-over from an immigration official is perverse.
Republicans should stress that we need and welcome hard-working legal immigrants from around the world but that we will not and cannot be the dumping ground for Mexico's particular miseries.