A Circular Anti-Reform Argument

A Circular Anti-Reform Argument

By Ruben Navarrette - July 2, 2010

SAN DIEGO -- This Fourth of July, I'd like to see the critics of comprehensive immigration reform be more patriotic. They can start by holding the United States up to high standards and quit insisting it emulate countries that are worse off.

My gripe is with those who use the flaws in Mexico's immigration law as an excuse not to fix the flaws in U.S. immigration law -- as if one had anything to do with the other.

It doesn't. Just because Mexico went over a cliff by closing itself off to foreigners -- both in terms of shutting its doors to immigrants and restricting foreign investment in key industries such as petroleum -- why should the United States follow?

It reminds me of the arguments that my uncle, a college lecturer, used to have with colleagues who responded to any criticism of the United States by saying how much worse life was in the Soviet Union. My uncle would respond that this argument "demeaned" the United States, and that he would rather hold his country to the standards set by its own ideals.

Likewise, opponents of any reform effort that would allow illegal immigrants already in this country to work their way to legal status demean the United States by comparing it to Mexico. The idea is that, since our neighbor would never make a similar offer to Central Americans living illegally in Mexico, the United States shouldn't make the offer to Mexicans. The more you think about this concept, the less sense it makes.

By the way, you can say the same thing about Barack Obama's murky agenda on immigration, which came to the forefront again Thursday when the president gave yet another speech on the need to fix the immigration system. As one political observer who has worked on the issue for more than 25 years told me, Obama has sent mixed messages by feeding the public hysteria about illegal immigrants when he dispatched the National Guard to the border and then arguing that we have to let illegal immigrants already here remain in the United States.

Naturally, the criticism of Mexico flares up whenever the Mexican government or a high-ranking Mexican official dares to question an immigration measure that Mexicans consider foolish, cruel or unfair. And since the Arizona law that turns local police into a posse hunting for illegal immigrants is all of those things, it was no surprise when Mexican President Felipe Calderon blasted the measure law in his recent speech to Congress. For the next few weeks, I heard numerous complaints from conservatives that Calderon was a hypocrite for demanding more of this country's immigration laws than he did of his own.

As a Mexican-American, I feel the same way. Like Calderon, I also demand much more of this nation than I do of Mexico, or any other country for that matter.

A little more than 100 years ago, my grandfather made a choice that changed his life and the lives of all of his descendants. Just a boy at the time, he and his family migrated to the United States -- legally. In doing so, he chose the United States over Mexico.

Now, by suggesting that we adopt immigration policies that are similar to those of our neighbor, some people want me to choose Mexico over the United States.

Come again? In Mexico, you have a Third World country with a second-rate economy. It's a country concerned that, should the United States deport large numbers of Mexican nationals, the returning workers could capsize the economy. It's a country that stifles its own growth by pulling up the drawbridge like many countries in Europe, putting national identity before the well-being of a nation.

Ironically, many of the critics of reform who love to bash Mexico would agree that the country is in bad shape -- so bad that many of the Mexicans who left the United States and returned home to escape a bad economy here are now coming back because they found the situation to be even worse. Yet those critics don't connect the dots and see that a big reason for this is that Mexico has already embraced some of the restrictive policies that immigration reform foes say we should adopt here.

With logic like this, these people shouldn't operate heavy machinery, let alone be allowed near the levers of government.

Copyright 2010, Washington Post Writers Group

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