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The Collective
Sunday, May 21, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor

One of the items that is often ignored in the immigration debate is that of remittances from workers in the US to Mexico.

The San Francisco Chronicle has an excellent piece on this topic today: Give and take across the border / 1 in 7 Mexican workers migrates — most send money home. The numbers in question:

Last year, Mexico received a record $20 billion in remittances from migrant workers. That is equal to Mexico’s 2004 income from oil exports and dwarfing tourism revenue.

Arriving in small monthly transfers of $100 and $200, remittances have formed a vast river of “migra-dollars” that now exceeds lending by multilateral development agencies and foreign direct investment combined, according to the Inter-American Development Bank.

Now, the initial response may be that that is money that should stay in the US economy. However, if the money in question is helping to under-gird the Mexican economy without the US taxpayer having to give that money in direct aid to Mexico, this is a substantial benefit. Further, much of that money will find its way back into our economy, given that Mexico is our second largest trading partner.

Beyond dollars and sense, if security is the reason that one is worried about the southern border, consider that the worst thing that one could imagine in terms of potential terrorism would be a failed state to our south.

As the article notes:

“We want Mexico to look like Canada,” said Stephen Haber, director of Stanford University’s Social Science History Institute and a Latin America specialist at the Hoover Institution. “That’s the optimal for the United States. We never talk about instability in Canada. We’re never concerned about a Canadian security problem. Because Canada is wealthy and stable. It’s so wealthy and stable we barely know it’s there most of the time. That’s the optimal for Mexico: a wealthy and stable country.”

What isn’t wanted, Haber said, “is an unstable country on your border, especially an unstable country that hates you.”

Exactly. And if further economic integration with the US through vehicles like NAFTA and immigration, then so much the better for avoiding political and economic upheaval in Mexico.

Back to the foreign aid issue, the article notes the following:

The money Mexican migrants send home almost equals the U.S. foreign aid budget for the entire world, said Arturo Valenzuela, director of the Center for Latin American Studies at Georgetown University and former head of Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council during the Clinton administration.

“Where are we going to come up with $20 billion?” to ensure stability in Mexico, Valenzuela asked at a recent conference. “Has anybody in the raging immigration debate over the last few weeks thought, could it be good for the fundamental interests of the United States … to serve as something of a safety valve for those that can’t be employed in Mexico?”

Valenzuela makes some substantially important points here. If that money were to evaporate, it would have a substantial impact on the Mexican economy-and commensurately on our own. In terms of pure economics, a healthy Mexico is good for the United States. Further, if one is concerned about security, there is something to be said about avoiding a large class of unemployed young men sitting around in Mexico looking for something to do. While I doubt that they would be joining al Qaeda, but there is a substantial drug industry that could lure them in.

Again: this entire is far more complicated than simply: “we are a nation of laws and we must stop the lawbreaking.”

The whole piece is worth reading, as it covers a number of key issues in this debate.

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