The best fence

Published 5:57 am Wednesday, October 22, 2008

By Staff
is an open gate
Helen Marrow, a Harvard-educated Tarboro native, recently gave a talk about, among other things, causes of the current wave of Latino immigration.
She’s a sociologist with the University of California at Berkeley now, and very qualified, but we thought we would offer our take, too.
We think letting lots of legal immigrants in is the best way to solve this problem.
One of the most interesting facts Marrow gave during her talk at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Washington is that recent moves to seal our border with Mexico haven’t cut the number of immigrants getting into the U.S., only the number who go home.
Better security means people often have to try a couple of times to cross the border, increasing the cost of the trip. When travel costs more, people are more likely to settle in America.
Marrow didn’t say the solution is to make the border easier to cross, though it seems that some people have inferred that.
We certainly don’t endorse it. Butch and Sundance drifting south across the border makes for dandy cinema, but it’s lousy policy.
But militarizing the border would be expensive, and not very practical. Building fences and sending patrols through hundreds of miles of desert would cost plenty of money, even if we used technology to help cut manpower requirements.
Big walls are chiefly used by six-year-olds in snowball fights, and then often to poor effect.
China built one to keep the Mongols out; Hadrian built one to keep the Picts out; and the Soviets built one to keep the East Germans in. All three examples have since reached their highest potential — as nifty tourist attractions.
If we shouldn’t let immigrants cross, and we can’t stop them if they try, the only course left is to stop them from trying.
They try for three reasons: things aren’t very pleasant where they’re from, they think they’ll find a better life and they can’t get in legally.
Many immigrants are from countries where small farmers get pushed off their land and into a wage economy, but can’t make a decent wage.
This isn’t the U.S.’s fault, but it is our problem. We need to make sure that development aid goes to improve infrastructure and drive development, not to enrich officials.
Graft is accepted in some Latin American cultures as a fact of life. In some cases, it does a lot of good. But even when it’s temporarily useful, it’s a permanent obstacle to thriving in the world economy.
We also need to support democracy, whatever its result, because people like legitimate governments that they actually support.
In the past, that’s been trumped by efforts to keep away communism (and ballistic missiles pointed at us). But the Cold War is over, and neither China nor Russia is strong enough to be a threat in our hemisphere.
Some immigrants will still think they’ll find a better life here. There’s no need to fix that. America should always be a land of opportunity.
But we can make legal immigration easier. Now, we allow 20,000 immigrants from Mexico each year, Marrow said. That sounds like a lot, but it’s miniscule given the countries involved.
America has sustained massive amounts of illegal immigration without collapsing. It’s clear we could allow more legal immigrants to enter. And we should.
We should let all people who are hard-working, morally upright and willing to commit themselves to the United States join us here.
In one clean stroke we would gain many productive, valuable citizens and slash the pool of would-be illegal aliens.
Or we could just hope the economy keeps heading south until the Mexicans do too.