The Compelling Reason for Immigration Reform

July 28th, 2010 · 5 Comments · Uncategorized

By Denise Tessier

With Arizona’s immigration law scheduled to take effect this week, and the first of 1,200 National Guard troops scheduled to arrive on the Mexican border three days after that, the Albuquerque Journal appears to be trying to give the issue the coverage it deserves.

I share the resigned dismay my colleague Tracy Dingmann expressed in her most recent column about the half-story the Journal ran Monday advancing the new law’s implementation, a story which, when read in its entirety, attempted to analyze the law as a “Symbol of Immigration Anger,” as the headline writer put it.

And I’ve already complained about the snide tone of the Journal’s immigration editorial from the previous Sunday.

On the other hand, the Journal on Friday ran a piece about a British couple, in the United States since 1993, who own a business in Albuquerque and would like to stay, but who run the risk of losing their visa if they decide to sell. Even more distressing for the couple, the story by Juan Carlos Rodriguez says, is that their son might have to leave the country when he turns 21. Their story illustrates a key point: that the dysfunction of U.S. immigration policy isn’t limited to Mexican immigrants.

Then, today’s Journal carries an Associated Press story that confirms what those familiar with  Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s hard-line sentiments most feared would result from Arizona’s law. The AP says Arpaio is “making room in a vast outdoor jail … determined to round up illegal immigrants to fill it.” Importantly, it reports Arpaio’s boast that he will hold his 17th crime and immigration sweep regardless of any ruling a federal judge might conceivably issue that would hold up implementation of the law. (Online, the AP carries a story saying Arpaio also vows to jail anyone who tries to block him through protests.)

Also, the most recent Sunday Journal carried a solid piece by Journal Las Cruces reporter Rene Romo about Mexican immigrant numbers in terms of Border Patrol apprehensions. “Securing the Border” reports those numbers have dropped by more than half over the past five years: On average, 35 illegal immigrants are caught each day trying to cross somewhere along the 268-mile line that separates Mexico from all of New Mexico and part of West Texas, which is far fewer than the record 1,400 immigrants one agent said were apprehended one day in 1993. “And that was just at El Paso International Airport,” Romo writes.

The numbers Romo presents are staggering: Apprehension numbers are down to the lowest level in more than two decades – from 1,171,428 in 2005 to 540,865 in fiscal year 2009. These numbers cover the entire Southwest U.S. border with Mexico, from California to Texas.

But in my view, the most disturbing numbers to be found in recent readings of the Journal were those that tallied the number of bodies of Mexican immigrants found in the Arizona desert the first two weeks in July. Because of record heat waves, these numbers have increased despite the apparent drop in numbers of those attempting to cross into the U.S.

The death tally appeared in a Washington Post Writers Group column the Journal ran on its editorial page Saturday, which the Journal headlined with “People Dying While Nation Dithers.” The story says this:

Last year, 317 Americans died fighting in Afghanistan.  Guess how many migrants, mostly Mexicans searching for work, died crossing illegally into America? The Border Patrol collected 422 in the last fiscal year, part of a rising trend.

So many bodies of migrants were found in the Arizona desert in July, Edward Schumacher-Matos wrote, that that the Pima County Medical Examiner was “stacking them like boxes of fish in a refrigerated truck.”

Forty bodies were found in just the first half of the month.

Forty bodies. In just the first half of the month. Just next door to us in Arizona.

Schumacher-Matos got his information from an Associated Press story that was released July 16, but which he said “was largely buried in most newspapers, if run at all.” If the Journal ran the AP story, I missed it. But at least the Journal ran Schumacher-Matos’ column, which not only brought attention to the AP story, but added salient detail about what it’s like to die of dehydration.

His point is to urge adoption of a comprehensive immigration package, one that would include a robust temporary worker program, improved job-place enforcement, recruitment of highly skilled immigrants and a pathway to legalization.  Importantly, this Washington-based writer says the fact that lawmakers generally agree on these points “is no secret among Washington insiders in the debate.”

That there is consensus on these principles is heartening, although one wonders if any agreement is possible when certain factions put more stock in seeing rivals fail than constructing policy.

What seems beyond a doubt is the agreement that comprehensive immigration reform is needed on the federal level – STAT.

Former Mexican President Vicente Fox, in an interview with The New York Times this week, urged adoption of a comprehensive immigration package, saying he was promised reform by President Bush and in six years, saw nothing. “I don’t want to be negative, but I’m seeing the same story repeating again. It’s been two years now, and nothing has happened in relation to migration,” he told the Times.

The Journal’s editorial urged adoption of immigration reform, recognizing that “a workable immigration policy will require adequate guest worker programs and rules weighted to allow more immigration for needed talent in fields such as engineering.”

I would add nursing to that list of fields, considering the U.S.’s aging population.

Ten years ago, the Albuquerque Journal personalized in a powerful way the desperation that drives Mexicans from their families, towns and villages to risk death in search of work in the United States. “The Price of Hope,” a two-day series by former Journal reporter Guillermo Contreras and former Journal photographer Rose Palmisano, profiled several Chiapas, Mexico, families who lost loved ones when, in 1999, a van crash on I-40 in New Mexico killed 13 undocumented immigrants. Their work took readers behind the immediate tragedy of the crash to the poverty and personal reasons that compelled the victims to make the journey north.

It was an important series, which, like this month’s story on migrant deaths, provides the most compelling reason for comprehensive immigration reform: The United States needs an orderly immigration process – assessing the need for workers on this side of the border and realistically accommodating that need with worker documentation – in order to try to ensure no more of our fellow human beings suffer the crossing dangers of exploitation, imprisonment and for far too many, death.

The Associated Press story on immigrant deaths, by the way, recounts the peak number of migrant deaths (492 in 2005) and how that number declined every year until the most recent fiscal year (422). As of mid-July, Pima County was storing about 250 bodies, according to the AP, and Tucson, where most of the bodies were recovered, had just experienced 15 of its hottest nights on record, giving dehydrated crossers no respite from the record daytime heat.

The story also notes that 1,200 crossers were rescued by Border Patrol agents in the past fiscal year, most of whom, it is assumed, were rescued in desert situations. Today’s online Journal reports that Border Patrol agents in El Paso just this week rescued three immigrants, who in this case were crossers caught up in the fast current of the American Canal near that border city.

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5 Comments so far ↓

  • Denise Tessier

    Since this was posted, the federal judge has issued an injunction blocking implementation of key provisions of Arizona’s immigration law.

  • Angie

    Great analysis, Denise! With huge and rising unemployment, we need to bring in more people looking for jobs. That’s a super idea.

    Also, with our economy teetering on the brink of a second downturn perhaps something like the Great Depression, what a great time to legalize millions more unskilled and uneducated people eligible to collect a vast range of government social services, even though they will almost all be among the 40% of people who pay no federal income taxes at all. Also great that they will then be eligible to bring in their uncles, nieces, parents, etc. Some of their aging relatives probably need kidney transplants and bypass surgery and so forth–we can pay for all that stuff too!

    Also, how great that our schools will have to hire ever more people to speak in a myriad of language to try to raise the educational achievement of the immigrants. Of course the fact they are several grade levels below par, even on the 2nd and third generation–that just shows that we aren’t trying hard enough!

    You have got some great ideas to really help transform this country in a great direction, Denise!


  • Tracy Dingmann

    Wow, Angie, did you even read the post?

  • Angie

    Yes, Tracy, I read it. It amounted to “waah waah waah, it’s terrible being poor and Mexican… waah waah… we need ‘a pathway to legalization’ and some other stuff”.

    Since it is very obvious that it is terrible being poor and Mexican (or poor and anything else), the only content in the article that seemed to merit a response was the policy suggestion of ‘a pathway to legalization’. Which means, let’s put it in plain English, legalizing millions of people who snuck across the border (or more often, overstayed their visas). My point was how injurious that would be to the interests of American taxpayers.

    Let me make a suggestion if you feel you are a vastly nicer and more moral person than your fellow Americans: why don’t you give, say, 40% (or even 20%) of your income to charities that help promote social economic and health care development *in Mexico*? Rather than promoting policies that amount to vast charitable gestures on your fellow Americans’ dime, why don’t you step up and take some impressive action at *your own expense*?


  • Tracy Dingmann

    Such anger. And no, that’s really not what it said. It is all black and white with you?

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