Trade Goods, Not Insults

Posted: Apr 02, 2005 12:00 AM

Who would have expected a soccer game could be noteworthy?

 On March 27, some 100,000 fans packed a stadium in Mexico City to watch a game between Mexico and the United States. That?s not really news. Soccer is a big deal south of the border. It?s also not newsworthy that the Mexicans prevailed, 2-1. Most Americans were too busy watching NCAA basketball that day to care about a soccer game.

The real news is that, during the countries? national anthems, the Mexican fans booed ?The Star Spangled Banner.? Some even chanted ?Osama, Osama? after we scored our only goal. Shame on them.

But in that shame, an opportunity. After all, if they?re booing our national anthem on a Sunday, maybe they?ve decided to remain in Mexico, rather than make a run for the U.S. border on Monday. And let?s face it: The only way to prevent illegal immigration is to convince immigrants to stay home. If they want to come here, there?s no way to stop them.

Consider: The Department of Homeland Security plans to add an additional 500 agents along the border, to augment the 9,900 it already has. Also, a private group plans to launch the Minuteman Project. About 1,000 volunteers will watch a 40-mile stretch of border and report illegal immigrants to the border patrol.

That?s fewer than 12,000 people, trying to guard 2,000 miles of border and block 2 million (or more) immigrants. The arithmetic doesn?t add up.

Besides, Mexicans are motivated to come here. Per capita income in the United States is $37,800, four times higher than in Mexico. Free-market economics says people are going to risk everything to cross that border.

And not only is life better here, but it offers opportunities to those who remain behind. In 2003 Mexico?s president announced that emigrants had sent back some $12 billion. Such payments ?are our biggest source of foreign income, bigger than oil, tourism or foreign investment,? Vicente Fox declared.

But there?s a way to enable Mexicans to be as financially successful at home as they are here. Free trade.

For an example, let?s look a little further south, to El Alto, Bolivia. That city seems an unlikely place to find supporters of free trade. In October 2003 street protests there helped topple the country?s pro-U.S. leader, Sanchez de Lozada. But during those protests, when rioters tried to destroy the United Furniture plant, Bolivian employees of the plant fought off those rioters.

No wonder. About 100,000 El Alto residents have jobs because they?re able to export products to the U.S. duty-free. As Juan Carlos Machicado, a supervisor at the plant, put it, ?I?m in favor of free trade. It?s helping us move forward. I wouldn?t have thought this way five years ago. But now I work here.?

The people in El Alto probably don?t love the United States. But they?re gainfully employed, and they?re not risking their lives to come here. The same thing can happen in Mexico, if we maintain our free-trade policies and convince the Mexican government to privatize inefficient state-owned industries.

Of course, charity begins at home, and so does the battle against illegal immigration. It?s pretty clear that illegal immigrants are working here; how else did they earn that $12 billion they sent home? Not by hitting the lottery.

But for some reason, our government isn?t punishing those who employ illegals.

TIME magazine reports that in 2002, even as millions of illegals poured across our border, the Immigration and Naturalization Service opened only about 2,000 investigations of employers. That?s down from 7,000 in 1992. Even worse, the magazine notes that, ?fines for immigration-law violations plunged 99 percent, from 1,063 in 1992 to 13 in 2002.?

Employers see that they can easily hire illegal aliens, save money by not paying benefits to those employees or paying taxes on their wages, and never face any penalties. So why wouldn?t they hire illegals?

The necessary laws already exist. In 1986, Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which said employers could be fined as much as $10,000 for each illegal they hire. Repeat offenders could be locked up.

This law?s never really been enforced. But imagine if it was. Suddenly, employers would face a true risk for employing illegals. And if we made the risk greater than the reward, the problem would swiftly go away.

We can?t round up everyone who crosses the border illegally. And we don?t have to.
Let?s help the Mexicans help themselves, by encouraging free trade and by enforcing our own laws. Then, maybe we can play soccer with our neighbors, without hearing from the boo-birds.