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Simple Solutions on Immigration

By Ruben Navarrette

There are lots of good reasons to be dubious of Congress' pointless and unimaginative plan to build 700 miles of fencing on the U.S.-Mexico border. But the possibility that such a barrier might hurt U.S-Mexico relations isn't one of them.

Mexican officials warned that the fence would damage the relationshipbetween the two countries and urged President Bush not to sign the bill into law. He reaffirmed on Wednesday that he intends to sign thelegislation. Now Mexico is threatening to take its case to the UnitedNations.

Mexico needs a timeout. Our southern neighbor has no standing in this debate. This is the country that plays favorites among its people, fails to provide enough job opportunities so its citizens wouldn't have to leave, scoffs at notions of social justice, and allows the rich and middle class to exploit the poor. Mexican officials really need to stop meddling in what remains an internal issue - that is, how we Americans go about securing our borders - just as Mexico wouldn't put up with meddling from Central American nations about how to control its southern border.

Pride wouldn't allow Mexico to take orders from another country, and yet it's that same sense of pride that compels it to try to give orders to the United States.

Besides, for Mexico, this issue is mostly about dollars and cents. The concern is that, if it becomes more difficult to enter the United States, perhaps fewer Mexicans would try. And that could hurt Mexico's bottom line by chipping away at the more than $16 billion that Mexicans in the United States send home annually. Since it has no real economic policy, Mexico has grown far too dependent on remittances, and it'll do just about anything to keep the faucet turned on.

But Mexican officials need not worry. A 700-mile wall is not going to curb illegal immigration. They are wrong about that - just as wrong as those immigration restrictionists who insist that erecting more physical barriers represents some sort of meaningful solution to the illegal immigration crisis.

First, the fence isn't even fully funded. It turns out that Republicans were more eager to beat their chests than open their pocketbooks. They authorized the building of a fence but not the money to pay for it. Congress put a $1.2 billion down payment on a project that could cost as much $8 billion.

Does anyone really think our representatives will ever be able to scrape together the other $6.8 billion? Which members would be the first to give back education or transportation funds earmarked for their districts to help close the gap? That's Washington-style accounting for you. Republicans played a big role in getting us into this mess by penny-pinching border enforcement dollars during the 1990s, and now they're at it again. They talk tough but spend on the cheap. And then they declare victory.

The bigger problem is that, even if fully funded, fences and walls won't stop the daring and desperate. In fact, such physical barriers are nothing more than flashy gimmicks designed to appeal to naive Americans who fancy simple solutions to complex problems.

Simple solutions have a way of backfiring. Adding walls and fences only enhances the profit margins for smugglers who - in response to market forces - raise their prices and become even more creative and determined in trying to find ways to move people across the border. Meanwhile, as it becomes more difficult and more expensive to go back and forth - something that used to happen with ease - illegal immigrants are more likely to stay planted on the U.S. side even if it means paying smugglers to bring in family members to join them. Call it a lesson in migrant multiplication.

The real answer is to do something that Republicans in Congress are always reluctant to do: take on their friends and supporters at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce by cracking down on employers of illegal immigrants.

What deception. House Republicans had better hope that the conservative voters in their home districts who wanted Congress to get tough on illegal immigration don't figure out that their representatives went soft when it came to turning off the jobs magnet. If they do, they might just decide that they have nothing to lose if Republicans fail to maintain their majority.

You see, it's not Mexico that Republicans in Congress should worry about. As always, it's Middle America.

ruben.navarrette@uniontrib.com

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