Immigration Reform: Compassion for Mexican Elites

Ah, those poor 11 million "undocumented" aliens -- err, souls -- rootless and furtively going about their meager existences in the U.S.A. Doesn't compassion dictate that Congress pass immigration reform, bringing these unfortunates out of the shadows, say liberals? And isn't it just plain practical to end de facto amnesty, says Marco Rubio and other Republican enablers of what is, in fact, amnesty with conditions (but don't call it that; stick with the Orwellian script by claiming that illegals have amnesty now).

What's really compassionate and practical about immigration reform has less to do with the illegals among us than it has with Mexico's elites, who have long used the United States as a dumping ground for its poor and unemployed. About 62% of illegals in the United States are expatriate Mexicans. Without the United States serving as a safety valve for Ole México, the oligarchs and Crema de la cosecha that run things south of the border would face large segments of its citizenry who are -- shall we say politely -- restive, or impolitely, downright revolutionary.

Isn't it typical of American politicians (and that includes Rubio and many Republicans) to treat the symptom that is illegal immigration rather than getting at its root causes? The root causes of illegal immigration -- the bulk of them, anyway -- is governmental and societal dysfunction, incompetence, corruption, and lack of educational and work opportunities in Mexico. The very fact that millions of Mexicans have voted with their feet to trek north testifies eloquently to the failure of Mexico.

But -- shhh! -- that's supposed to be a secret. The unspoken understanding between our politicians and Mexico's is that we absorb Mexico's downtrodden to relieve pressure on the Mexican government and those movers and shakers who are padding their bank accounts through favoritism, back-scratching, and payoffs.

Mexico is corporatist, with the government running or controlling major sectors of the economy. Pemex (Petróleos Mexicanos) is the state-owned oil and gas giant. Ferroistmo (Ferrocarril Transistmico) is railway sans rolling stock. CFE (Comisión Federal de Electricidad) is the state-owned electric supplier and second most important holding by the government behind Pemex. ASA (Aeropuertos y Servicios Auxiliares) runs airports.

You'd think with the Mexican government owning and dominating major industries the dinero generated would make its way to poor Mexicans to improve their lives. Isn't that the point of socialism? But, in practice, Mexican socialism is like socialism anywhere else. The elites rake in the money, privileges, and power, directly or indirectly, from the government while the lowly and powerless scrape by or worse?

Let's take a look at some telling statistics for Mexico, shall we?

According to the World Bank, for Mexico, the "[p]overty headcount ratio at national poverty line (% of population)" stands at a staggering 51.3% (2010 statistics).

Literacy rates for Mexicans are deceiving. index mundi reports that the literacy rate for young female Mexicans (15-24) stands at 98.38% and 98.67% for young males (15-24). Both are 2009 statistics.

But here's the definition of literacy offered by index mundi: "Youth literacy rate is the percentage of people ages 15-24 who can, with understanding, read and write a short, simple statement on their everyday life."

That means Mexico is head and shoulders above Detroit's standards for literacy (47% of Detroiters are functionally illiterate). But that's not saying much, in fact.

As Mexican novelist David Toscana recently wrote for the New York Times:

Nowadays more children attend school than ever before, but they learn much less. They learn almost nothing. The proportion of the Mexican population that is literate is going up, but in absolute numbers, there are more illiterate people in Mexico now than there were 12 years ago. Even if baseline literacy, the ability to read a street sign or news bulletin, is rising, the practice of reading an actual book is not. Once a reasonably well-educated country, Mexico took the penultimate spot, out of 108 countries, in a Unesco assessment of reading habits a few years ago.

Toscana added:

One cannot help but ask the Mexican educational system, "How is it possible that I hand over a child for six hours every day, five days a week, and you give me back someone who is basically illiterate?"

David, parents with kids in American inner-city public schools (those kids who have parents) are asking the same questions. Hands across the border, amigo.

Unemployment statistics for Mexico are suspect as well (about as suspect as those for the U.S.), in that they grossly understate the problem.

In April of this year, per Trading Economics, the unemployment rate in Mexico was 5.04%. But -- and a big but -- unemployment "measures the number of people actively looking for a job as a percentage of the labour force."

So those who've stopped looking for work don't count -- and those who are underemployed? Seems that the Mexican government is consulting the Obama administration on how to cook employment statistics to put them in the best possible light.

The employed, not incidentally, would include those protected by Mexico's powerful (and corrupt) unions who produce little and those in government-owned industries, too many of whom might as well be counting paperclips in some government agency.

Mexico is, of course, the Land of Corruption. Corruption is endemic in the Mexican government and predates the growth of the illegal drug trade. (The drug trade's impact on Mexico merits a separate discussion. Let's just say it compounds and exaggerates Mexico's problems manifold times.)

Rodrigo Aguilera, who edits the Economist Intelligence Unit, wrote for the Huffington Post last November:

Ask the experts what they think the root of Mexico's problems is and you'll get a myriad of responses: an economy that despite its export success, suffers from big local monopolies which stifle internal competition; the inability to achieve a sustainable reduction in poverty and inequality even during periods of growth; an education system hijacked by its notoriously powerful union; the dominance of organized crime groups significantly impairing governability; a political system that is notoriously inflexible and subject to chronic legislative paralysis. However, ask the average Mexican the same question, and the answer will most likely be corruption.

The experts may be right on the details but in a broader sense, it's hard to think of any other issue that, besides corruption, has had such a toxic pervasiveness in Mexican society. Unfortunately, hopes that the establishment of democracy in 2000 would inevitably lead to the strengthening of the rule of law have fallen short.

Aguilera's article is worth reading in its entirety.

Conservatives get why Democrats want immigration "reform." It's about Democrats building their constituencies over time. Politics is about muscle, and muscle comes in numbers, and Democrats are glad to import the numbers, from Mexico or elsewhere.

Yet, Marco Rubio and his Republican cohorts should know better. Immigration reform that leads to amnesty -- not, principally, tightening border security, returning egregious offenders to the nations of their origin, and making others go to the back of the legal immigration line -- is a fool's game.

Immigration reform, intended or not by Rubio, is a sop to Mexico's elites, who need the complicity of American politicians and elites to maintain their privileged berths and comfortable lifestyles. The status quo is maravilloso when you're the beneficiary.

If Senator Rubio had his eye on the ball he'd confront Mexican elites about their chronic failures to open up Mexican society, squeeze out corruption, create a free market, and give the poor opportunities to advance and prosper in their homeland.

Immigration reform, Senator Rubio -- compassionate and practical for whom?