Mexico in US

By Domenico Maceri

More than 25 million US residents are of Mexican origin, according to US census figures. Would the number go up if the US Congress approves a guest worker program?

A recent survey by the Pew Hispanic Center suggests so. A poll conducted in Mexico reveals that 40% of Mexicans would migrate to the US if they had the opportunity. And 20% would be willing to work illegally in the US.The figures are pretty high considering that Mexico’s population hovers around 106 million. Why would so many people leave their country? The answer is very simple and has to do with the huge disparity in salaries between the two countries.According to the World Bank, the US per capita income is about $40,000 compared to Mexico’s $ 6,000. The difference is huge. For unskilled workers in Mexico, daily wages are about 6 to 10 dollars a day. Given that in the US one can make that much in an hour, is it any wonder people would migrate? The desire to move goes up for Mexicans who have a hard time finding work. Since the passage of NAFTA in 1993 many people working in agriculture lost jobs. A significant number moved from farming areas to major Mexican cities but a lot of them have been coming to the US in spite of strong efforts tosecure the border. In 1994 Operation Gatekeeper began which essentially has been a crackdown at the US-Mexico border to prevent undocumented workers from entering the US. Although the operation did not reduce the number of undocumented workers from crossing into the US, it did have an impact. Getting into the US became difficult and the use of smugglers became a necessity for those determined

to cross the border. In addition, the crackdown replaced the “easy” entry points with dangerous areas, particularly in the Arizona desert. The result has been a dramatic increase in the number of deaths at theborder. In the last ten years, several hundred people lost their lives as they attempted to make it into the US. The events of 9/11 heightened the need to control the border for fear that terrorists might enter the US from Mexico. That has not happened but it’s a possibility. If the US is serious about securing the border, the attraction for Mexicans’ to move to the US must be taken away. That means ensuring that only people with legal papers would be hired to

work. Regrettably, far too many companies, big and small, hire people through subcontractors and make little effort to check job applicants’ background. Working in agriculture is not particularly appealing given the low wages and the harsh working conditions. Harvesting grapes may last a few weeks and then you’d be unemployed.

Raising wages to 15-20 dollars an hour might attract some Americans. How many growers advertise jobs with those wages? There are some bills in Congress which would create a guest worker programand allow Mexican nationals into the US to do seasonal work if no Americans can be found to do certain jobs. The idea of legal temporary workers would be an improvement over the current situation because it would save the several hundred lives lost every year as people attempt to cross the border illegally. The sticking point would be the situation of the estimated 11 million undocumented workers already in the US. Would they have an opportunity to regularize their status?

As long as Mexico’s economy reflects that of a third world country and the US remains a wealthy country, Mexicans will continue to move to the US. It’s better for everyone involved if they do it legally and we know who comes in rather than the current system which will only increase the undocumented population.

Domenico Maceri PhD, UC Santa Barbara.