Drawing on comparisons made between the American and Mexican economies, one analyst suggests that if the Canadian minimum wage was $70.00 an hour, Americans would be streaming across Canada's southern border at the same rate as Hispanics now illegally entering the United States. When a Mexican desperate to provide the best possible life for his or her family can earn in one hour, north of the border, what they'd be lucky to make in one day, at home, what force on earth is going to keep them there?
Put yourself in their shoes. First, let's assume you have a job, paying anything like a subsistence wage. By no means the relative certainty south of the Rio Grande as it is in Ledger Land. If the opportunity existed that instead of $5.00 an hour working at the likes of WalMart you could, by making a perilous journey across the Canadian border, make twelve times that much, the choice would be clear. Stay and stew in poverty or go where your kids can get an education and a better shot at the advantages all parents want for their offspring.
Like most immigrants, from the Pilgrim Fathers to the last guy to dig his way under the Mexican border, the folks in this latest wave of human aspiration are upping stakes to come here because they know it's better than where they are. Until that imbalance finds its own equilibrium, when the economies offer the same inducements, poor folks will continue to gravitate, perhaps overload, the wealthy side of the scale. So marked are the economic disparities that regardless of how America might fortify its southern border, the twenty first century's huddled masses will find a way to the promised land.
It is the specter of overloading that's at the root of the nation's current fit over illegal immigration. There is genuine fear, especially among folks in the affected southern states, that the US is being invaded. Many feel the Mexican migrants are, by default, reclaiming the territory annexed by land-grabbing gringos of Frontier days. Just as when the Irish arrived during the Potato Famines, or when the East Europeans landed escaping social upheaval, the native population (a concept with its own tortured history) fear Uncle Sam will change beyond recognition.
Such is the dilemma torturing successive waves of would-be Americans who have gone on, in a generation or two, to become wholly assimilated. With the exception of the few with direct connections to that tortured history, Americans understand whence they came. They came from somewhere else. In many cases, against their will. And, as is the case in most human organizations, the first in consider they have the greatest right to claim the place as their own. Any discernible threat to the established pecking order and the longer residing members of the flock get agitated.
Hence the flurry in the Congressional hen house. Control of Congress is at stake this year and sensitivity on the porous border issue has once again reached a point where it can no longer be ignored. Practically, all agree something has to be done to stem the flow and to accommodate the current population of illegals. But what, bearing in mind the first duty of any politician is to be seen to be doing something?
When the country last tackled the issue President Ronald Reagan gave amnesty to about 3 million so-called illegal aliens. This time around the idea is to let as many as 12 million illegal aliens off the hook and enable them to acquire full citizenship. At this rate of stemming the tide of southern immigration, in a decade or so America may be looking for another political ruse so as to grant legal status to four times the current estimate.
America could build a wall 2,000 miles long, station national guardsmen each yard and employ every known high- tech tracking device, yet still the immigrants would keep coming. Measures before Congress, irrespective of how hard-nosed they might be, may stem the tide, may divert the on-rush, but the waves will continue to roll this way.
It's a matter of life or death. A real life, as us first worlders understand it, versus abject poverty, a virtual death. And when it comes to human survival no makeshift barrier, legal or physical, is likely to overwhelm the primal urge to live, to improve one's lot. This conviction is as American as apple pie and current residents better get used to the idea that there are still millions who hunger to be at the table and get their piece of it.
The nativists unable to face this reality should, perhaps, consider moving to Canada.
Tav Murray lives in Christiana. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.