Harvest of Empire

by Juan González

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Why is the U.S. policy towards Latin American, particularly Mexican immigrants, contradictory?

Examples include forced repatriation during the recession, the bracero program, operation wetback, and the immigration reforms of 1986.

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There are some strong levels of contradiction present in this topic area.  I think that the contradictory elements present is that we have agreed to Free Trade with Mexico via NAFTA, en route to a borderless setting.  Yet, our immigration policy seems to be at a disconnect with this reality.  It seems odd that goods and products are freely moved and people are stopped.  I suppose it makes sense, but from a theoretical position an awkward note is struck.  I think that there is border patrol and a desire to have laws stand on illegal immigration, but there is a disconnect as to how this is going to be enforced or what a consistent enforcement policy resembles.  Part of the current debate regarding the Arizona Law passed a few weeks back is that there is question as to its enforceable nature.  Can a law on federal immigration be passed and enforced by states? This might be another area where contradiction and confusion about immigration is present.

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Because we have an essentially emotional and, in my opinion, schizophrenic approach to the issue.  Politicians use illegal immigration as a wedge issue to rally their base of support while at the same time refusing, year after year, to even undertake serious debate and legislation geared towards reforming the current broken system.  That is, they want the votes, but they don't want to do anything about it.  In fact, if the issue was solved, even short term, they would lose it as an issue to bring up in the campaign, so it is in their interest as politicians to do nothing, while exhorting otherwise.

As ordinary citizens, many people are angry at what they see as attacks on "traditional" American culture through language, flags, holidays, etc. and want the border secured, but those same citizens would never consider working the asparagus fields or the orchards for less than minimum wage.  Then when food prices increase as a labor shortage drives up wages, they complain about high prices at the grocery store.  Americans want their cake and eat it too.

The immigration programs (deportation, Bracero, etc.) closely mirror the economic situation of the time, and reveal what is really driving the debate: not illegality or even border security, but economic realities.

As for the Immigration reforms of 1986, these were contradictory in that it offered amnesty for those here illegally, but did so without any long term solution, so the same issue is now a problem again.

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To me, what is really contradictory about our policy is that we officially do not allow illegal immigrants into the country, but at the same time, we do not really try very hard to make it less attractive for them to come here.

What I am thinking of specifically is the fact that we do not try very hard to force businesses to make sure the people that they are hiring are legal.  We turn a blind eye to the fact that many workers are illegal because it is good for most of us to have them here, doing the dirty jobs for very little money.

You could also argue that the amnesty of 1986 was very contradictory and sent the message that anyone who could get here would be allowed to stay.

So, I think that what is contradictory is calling them illegal while making it attractive in many ways for them to come.  I would look for policies that do each of those things for my evidence.

I do not think that the Bracero program was contradictory.  There is nothing contradictory about asking for "guest workers" and stipulating that they will not be permanent.

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