Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Back Flow

David Horsey has some interesting comments on the recent Pew report on immigration statistics. Both the report and Mr. Horsey's comments are quite timely because the U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing arguments on the immigration issue with respect to Arizona's law on illegal immigrants this week.

According to a report released by the Pew Hispanic Center, the massive wave of Mexicans entering this country illegally is subsiding and a rising counter current of Mexicans returning to their homeland has brought net migration to a statistical equilibrium.

This trend began about five years ago, according to the report, and the number of undocumented Mexican nationals in the U.S. has fallen from 7 million to 6.1 million. At the same time, the number returning – or, as Mitt Romney would put it, “self-deporting” – has jumped significantly.

There are several probable reasons for the reversal of the trend. Horsey mentions one that is often ignored. As contraception became more readily available and its use more acceptable, the number of children born in Mexican families has declined, thus making for a smaller labor pool needing to make the trek. But he also mentions a couple of more that certainly make sense.

Another big element in the immigration shift is that Mexico’s economy is puttering along rather well. There are more jobs south of the border, while the prolonged U.S. economic slump has made employment scarcer to the north. The result is that, for some Mexicans, there is more economic opportunity to be found at home than in places such as Arizona, where they are less and less welcome.

Adding to the incentive for Mexicans to stay put are the heightened dangers along the border, beefed-up border enforcement and a sharp increase in deportations under the Obama administration. (A record high 400,000 people were deported last year alone.)

Does the report make the Supreme Court case moot? Not hardly. The primary issue is whether a state has the power to enact laws regarding immigration or whether that is purely a federal matter. Arizona and its supporters in this will no doubt argue that the federal government has not moved on the issue and therefor have yielded that power. And, to be honest, the states have a legitimate gripe. Congress has avoided the issue for at least a decade. President Obama is now promising to take it up "first thing" after the election, but he made a similar promise four years ago. Republicans don't want any reform which might in any way smack of "amnesty" for the millions of undocumented workers already here or for their children.

And there's another factor complicating the whole matter. Businesses, especially in the agricultural sector, count on immigrant employees (documented or not) to get the work done. The employees work cheap, work under lousy conditions, and don't complain for fear of a visit from ICE. Alabama, which also has passed a very restrictive measure, had crops rotting on the trees and in the fields for lack of workers to harvest. California will face the same problem if the feds don't come up with a reasonable law (and a new "Bracero Program" is not a reasonable law, in my opinion) shortly.

And that means that those businesses will have to raise wages and improve working conditions to attract workers with the requisite papers. Prices for food stuffs, and for garments, and for a host of other products still being made in this country will rise accordingly.

I think this is going to be one of the thorniest problems facing the 113th Congress. Maybe this time our congress critters will actually address it.

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