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Lots of Wind, Lots of Thunder, No Useable Rain

John MacMurray: The picture we are given by groups with axes to grind in a particular direction, shamefully abetted by a shallow and sycophantic media, shows immigrants massing along our southern border, poised to rush across and take jobs away from the Americans who are rightfully entitled to them.

That was my agrarian grandfather’s description of the summer storms that sometimes roll through his part of Arizona. It was also his way of describing the various and numerous business or public officials who let their pomposity run out ahead of whatever common sense they may have possessed.

securing the mexican border

And it’s this same rampant pomposity, seasoned with abundant amounts of hypocrisy, amnesia, and unadulterated meanness, that’s making it so difficult to solve one of our biggest current problems.

The problem in this case being the social/economic/political hairball called immigration reform, with the side issues of how to deal with several million citizens of many other countries who now live here, many without formal documentation that allows this.

The picture we are given by groups with axes to grind in a particular direction, shamefully abetted by a shallow and sycophantic media, shows immigrants massing along our southern border, poised to rush across and take jobs away from the Americans who are rightfully entitled to them.

A classic “us” versus “them” scenario. Simple, neat, and far from accurate.

Framed like this, we see a straightforward example of Supply Side economics. And like the discredited policies of Supply Side economics promoted by the Reagan and Bush administrations, it distorts reality and makes the situation more difficult to repair.

Instead of framing immigration issues as Supply Side equations, they should be seen as demand-side economics. Businesses, whether farms, mines, construction, or service industries, have long created the demand that people from different parts of the world come here to fill.

And, which opportunistic politicians have abetted by creating laws and policies to support this job filling.

Which is why the business and political interests need to shoulder some of the responsibility for the mess they have created, and make genuine efforts to help.

And, considering some of the proposals which are being put forward, frequently with a straight face, that may not be an easy task.

Most of this bellicosity is focused on the border between the United States and Mexico, to the exclusion of other factors, or common sense. Witness Arizona Senator John McCain’s recent comments that this border should be made into “most militarized border since the fall of the Berlin Wall.”

Which Border Do We Secure?

A quick look at the facts raises a slew of questions, most of them expensive. Although the US/Mexican border is only a bit over 1,900 miles long (not too much longer than the Alaska/Canada border by itself at 1,500 miles) and borders only four states, the cost of upgrading this fence to deter pedestrian crossings would range from $400,000 to $15 million per mile with an average of $3.9 million per mile. Plus upkeep, of course.

Also, none of this “secure our borders” rhetoric seems to include the 3,900 mile US/Canada border, shared by 13 of our states, and illegally jumped (or boated, or swum) annually by thousands of citizens of Albania, The Czech Republic, India, and Israel.

Bracero registration

Bracero registration

What About Ports and Harbors?

Nor does there seem to be any reference to the 29,000-to-88,000 miles (depending on the tide level when the measuring was done, and how thoroughly the bays, coves, islands, and inlets were measured) of United States ocean coastline (Great Lakes not included; add on 5,000-10,000 miles right there, just for our side of all five lakes).

Not to mention our 1,600-to-16,000 miles Gulf of Mexico shoreline.

Which all told gives us 43,000 to 120,000 miles of exposure.

And taking the $3.9 million per mile average cost of securing our border with Mexico, securing all our borders will run into serious money in a hurry.

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Expensive Speed Bumps

With no guarantee of success. According to one Border Patrol spokesman, the steel border fence mandated by the Secure Fence Act of 2006 would slow down illegal crossers by minutes, at most. He described it as a speed bump in the desert.

And if this fence in relatively open solid ground is basically useless, imagine trying to secure our Northern border. Finding a small band of pedestrians crossing the Southern border is difficult enough; picture trying to locate and apprehend a few crossers on Lake Superior, which is larger than the combined areas of Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire.

So: if throwing Iraq War levels of taxpayer money at a porous boundary that would stretch about half way to the moon if it were run in a straight line and doesn’t do much of anything to control immigration down here in the best-case scenario, what should we do?

People have always come to our country to work even before it was a country. The English, French, Germans, Dutch, Portuguese, and Spanish immigrants came to the colonies because there was a chance to improve their lives; the Africans, of course, had no choice in the matter.

So, what can our denizens of the business and governmental estates do to help solve the problem they have created?

Drop the Subsidies

We taxpayers fork over tens of billions of our dollars every year to farmers of four main crops: corn, wheat, soybeans, and rice; $18 billion a year, just for corn. The subsidies are calculated by acreage, so the biggest farms get the most money. Subsidized corn is also the main reason our gasoline has corn-based ethanol in it.

And there is strong evidence that these subsidies have driven down the market price of corn to where Mexican farmers can’t compete in their own country. The NAFTA-promised jobs in industry or other agricultural areas haven’t materialized, so the only feasible option for so many of these men is to try their luck in the US.


Add a Guest Worker Program

Maybe an actual, workable guest worker program could be put into place. We had one, once. From 1942 to 1964 the US and Mexican governments had a joint agreement called the Bracero Program. This allowed over 4.5 million Mexican nationals come to the US legally to work in agriculture.

To be sure, there was much corruption and many abuses (some wage disputes are only now being settled), but it may be an idea worth trying again.


Obviously, the immigration problem won’t solve itself.

What it will take to remedy the afore-mentioned hairball is for our business and political groups to own up to the problems they have largely created, and take some positive steps to make things right.

One course of action leads us farther down the containment path, where we build ever larger, more elaborate, hideously expensive, and basically worthless defensive structures. Bad idea. The only people who will benefit from this will probably be the contractors who get paid to build the stuff, and the politicians who sell it to get re-elected.


The other course of action is to be more proactive, where our business and political groups use their considerable resources and influence to help the governments of China, India, Korea, Mexico, the Philippines, and other countries whose citizens come here illegally.

If their citizens can make a decent living in their own country, they don’t have much need of coming to ours.

Of the two, this second course seems to be cheaper in money and other resources, more feasible, and, yes, more humane.

So, while the wind and thunder are somewhat entertaining, what we really need from our political and business leaders is some useable rain.

John MacMurray

Monday, 7 October 2013

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