Panel Transcript: Mexican Immigration After 9/11

New (and Old) Challenges

Related: Report, Video, Report


Dimitri Simes, President, The Nixon Center


Mark Krikorian, Executive Director, Center for Immigration Studies


Steven A. Camarota, Director of Research at the Center for Immigration Studies; author of Immigration From Mexico: Assessing the Impact on the United States.

Robert Leiken, Guest Scholar at the Nixon Center and a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution; author of Enchilada Lite: A Post-9/11 Mexican Migration Agreement.

George Grayson, professor of government at the College of William & Mary and adjunct fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; author of recent CIS Backgrounder "Mexico's Forgotten Southern Border: Does Mexico Practice at Home What it Preaches Abroad?"

MR. KRIKORIAN: My name is Mark Krikorian. I am director of the Center for Immigration Studies. We're a think tank here in town that examines and critiques the impact of immigration on the United States. And we are cosponsoring the event today with the Nixon Center. And, later on in the event, the president of the Nixon Center, Mr. Simes, will make a few comments as well.  Apparently he's stuck on the Whitehurst Freeway.

Before introducing everybody, I wanted to sort of just talk about the premise of this panel. It's on Mexican immigration, the issues that predated and have postdated 9-11. And obviously policy-related issues with regard to Mexican immigration. But the assumption, the premise behind this kind of panel or any discussion on Mexican immigration is that we have some influence or some potential to influence immigration from Mexico, and that's not something that everybody accepts. Much of the discussion, or what passes for discussion of immigration from Mexico, is based on the presumption that we can't do anything about immigration from Mexico. That it's like the weather, a force of nature. We just have to accommodate ourselves to it.

And if that were true, then we could all go home on this beautiful day and not have to come to the office and sit under fluorescent lights, but it's not true. And I just wanted to point out briefly why Mexican immigration is, in fact, an artifact of state policy, and can be influenced by state policy.

Mexican immigration is a relatively recent phenomenon, and one of our speakers will go into some detail about the characteristics of Mexican immigrants to the United States. But, the immigration flow that we are dealing with today is, in a sense, a consequence or continuation of the flow that we started, the United States government started through the Bracero program, it was a large guest worker program, that created connections between Mexico and the United States that then continue the immigration flow, because immigration doesn't happen in a vacuum. No one wakes up in Uruguay and says, today I will move to Hoboken. People go where they have relatives, friends, connections, neighbors, countrymen, and government policy is one of the ways those kinds of connections are created.

And, in fact, not only was Mexican immigration to the United States started by government policy, but it continues to be responsive to government policy. For instance, in 1987, after Congress finally, for the first time, prohibited the employment of illegal immigrants, and Congress made a big show of now starting to enforce the immigration flow, the illegal flow across the southern border decreased dramatically. Apprehensions by the Border Patrol declined by half because prospective illegal immigrants were concerned that we actually meant it this time, that we really were going to enforce the law. And then when it became clear that we weren't, they responded to that message as well, and continued to come.

The fact is that flows of human beings across borders, although they can't be turned on and off like a tap, people, in fact, have their own agendas, their own wills, their own intentions, can significantly be influenced by government policy. And so, there actually is a point to a discussion like this. Our decisions about what our responses should be to Mexican immigration, and whether we should have more of it or less of it, how we can control it, limit it, or expand it, actually do make a difference in the real world, and can be implemented in a meaningful way.

And we have an expert panel to discuss this issue. All of the panelists have publications that the Center for Immigration Studies have published in your packets, along with a few other things relating to Mexico that CIS has done. I'll briefly introduce them. Two of the panelists, in fact, Mr. Grayson and Mr. Leiken also have articles on Mexico in upcoming issues of the National Interest, which the Nixon Center now owns and operates.

Our first speaker will be Steven Camarota, he is my director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, and is author of one of the thick books in your packet on the characteristics of Mexican immigrants, socioeconomic characteristics, which is all based on publicly available data, but nobody seems to be interested in putting together in one place and kind of summarizing and analyzing before. And Steve is going to talk about that in some detail.

Our second speaker will be Robert Leiken, who is a guest scholar here at the Nixon Center, and also a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He's author of a paper in your packets called Enchilada Lite, assessing the possible outlines of an immigration deal between the United States and Mexico. His comments today I think will reflect a little bit actually of change in thinking on his part on the issue, but, nonetheless, his paper for us was, I think, a very interesting and thorough examination of the issue.

And then our third speaker will be George Grayson, who is a professor of government at the College of William & Mary, an adjunct fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and, by the way, also on the board of the Center for Immigration Studies. He's the author of a recent paper, which is also in your packets, on Mexico's southern border, and how it deals with its own illegal immigration and border control issues.

I'll have each of the panelists speak for about ten minutes, and then we'll try to get some vigorous questions and answers from the audience.



DR. CAMAROTA: Thank you, Mark.

We thought we'd start with the numbers. The numbers I'm going to use are from a study from the Center for Immigration Studies. It's in your packet. And let me just begin by just looking at sort of immigration from Mexico over the last 40 years or so. As you can see here, this figure actually is a little bit updated from the one in your packet. It uses more recently available data from a Census Survey done in 2000. The rest of the data in that report that you have is from a little bit earlier survey, but also done in 2000.

Anyway, what it shows is the number of Mexican immigrants living in the United States 1960 through 2000. And what it shows is, as recently as 1970, there were less than 800,000 Mexican immigrants living in the United States. By 2000, this is all in thousands, that number is close to 9 million. So you have about an 11-fold increase or so over that time period.

The other line, which I don't know if you in the back can see, shows completed fertility in Mexico.  So that in 1960, women just finishing their childbearing years had about seven children on average, and by 2000, women finishing their childbearing years had about 2.75 children on average. And the reason why that's important is a lot of people suggest that declines in Mexican fertility will lead to a reduction in immigration out of Mexico. A perfectly reasonable theses because it will mean that at some point there will be fewer people coming onto the job market, and thus needing to come to the United States if they can't find work in Mexico. But what this chart shows is, at least so far, there's zip, zero evidence for that. Declining fertility in Mexico has not in any way that we can see led to a reduction in out-migration from Mexico, which certainly suggests that we can't expect the problem to take care of itself on its own. Now, at some point, it may matter, but at least right now, it doesn't seem to so far.

The other point to take away from this chart is that Mexican immigration from 1970 on was growing. This big jump between '90 and 2000, where the Mexican population went from 4.3 to 8.8 million in the United States, some people attribute that to increased border enforcement in the United States and, of course, without interior enforcement. That is, people simply don't go home now.  They come and they settle because they don't want to have to risk crossing the border.  Again, a perfectly plausible theses, and probably correct. On the other hand, it appears that Mexican immigration was increasing pretty dramatically before the United States decided to do anything in the mid-'90s. So, my guess would be, had the United States not increased border patrol in the absence of interior enforcement, there still would have been a substantial growth, but maybe not quite as much.

Okay, let me just briefly show you were Mexican immigrants live in the United States. It is a relatively concentrated population. What this shows is the regions of the United States where Mexican immigrants live. The bottom chart shows where all immigrants live. So what you can see is about 63 percent of Mexican immigrants live in the West, California, Arizona very heavy settlement, and in the South, that includes Texas. In fact, Texas and California together account for something like two-thirds of Mexican immigrants living in the United States. That is people born in Mexico.

Let's go on and look at probably one of the most — what I would say is probably one of the most important measures of sort of socioeconomic status. This one shows educational attainment of Mexican immigrants, and the reason why this is so important is because there is no single better predictor of how you're going to do in life than your educational attainment. And what this shows, the Mexicans are in green, the natives are in black, and all immigrants are the clear color, but they're not so important for this discussion.

What it shows is that about 10 percent of adult natives lack a high school education. But of Mexican immigrants, it's about two-thirds. That's a pretty important statistic because, as I said, it tells us likely what kind of jobs people hold when we look at their educational attainment. As you can see on the higher skilled end, very few Mexican immigrants have a college degree or a graduate degree relative to natives, or relative to other immigrants as well.

The second reason why this chart is important is because it gives us some idea of what are the likely impacts of Mexican immigration on the United States in terms of the economy. What kinds of workers is Mexican immigration increasing the supply of? And what you take away from this is that really the only type of worker that Mexican immigration is really increasing the supply of is workers without a high school education, which also means that if you're a native born worker, if you have more than a high school education, you've really got nothing to fear. And the vast majority of Americans, as this shows, have more than a high school education. Only about 10 percent of natives are high school dropouts, two-thirds of Mexican immigrants are. So, most native born Americans don't face much job competition from Mexican immigrants. That's good.

 The problem is, there are about 13 million native born Americans in the workforce who lack a high school education, and they're already the lowest paid, have the highest unemployment, highest poverty rate, and they are in direct competition with Mexican immigrants. As I tried to point out in that study in your packet, if you look at the kinds of jobs that unskilled natives do, and Mexican immigrants do, they are very similar. And, of course, how could they be otherwise, right, they're bus boys, and pool cleaners, and waitresses, and those sorts of jobs, and construction labor.  That's what unskilled native born Americans do, and that's what unskilled Mexicans do. No surprise there.

So, what is the impact of this on sort of the economy? Well, Mexican immigration in the 1990s increased the supply of dropouts, just in the '90s, by about 11 percent. If we assume that each 1 percent increase in the supply of labor reduced wages by about half a percentage point, then that would translate into about a 5 percent reduction in wages for high school dropouts. But, of course, that doesn't vanish into thin air. The good news is, we, as consumers, should benefit from that, because if workers are being paid less, some of that or all of it is being passed on to us as consumers.

The catch is that unskilled labor in the United States only accounts for a tiny fraction of economic output, less than 4 percent of all goods and services in the United States in terms of output is what high school dropouts account for.  So, if Mexican immigration lowered the wages in that sector by 5 percent by increasing the supply of labor, the overall impact on prices in the United States for consumers has to be in the 2 percentage point — two-tenths of 1 percent reduction in prices. And, of course, remember, this comes at the expense of the poorest workers in the United States.

So, it's kind of an equity question. Does it make sense to drive down wages for the poorest roughly 10 percent of the U.S. workforce in order to get a two-tenths of 1 percent reduction in prices for consumers? That's kind of a moral question you have to ask yourself.

Now, there are other consequences to this skill profile. This one here shows the percentage of all immigrants, Mexican immigrants, and natives living in or near poverty. The first set of bars is natives, green is in or near poverty, the black bar is just in poverty, and then on the right we see the green bar shows Mexican immigrants at about 66 percent living in or near poverty, and then about 29 percent living in poverty. So, it's poverty versus near poverty, which is double the poverty threshold.

And, again, what you find is Mexican immigrants dramatically poorer on average than natives, and, again, you can expect that. But this has a lot of implications for things like public coffers, and the social mobility of immigrants, obviously. If you put that next one up, this shows a little bit of time series data. And what you see here is on the far right are natives and their kids living, again, in or near poverty, the green bar is near poverty, the clear colored bar is in poverty.

So the first one shows the percentage of newly arrived, people who basically just came across the border, who live in or near poverty from Mexico, and about 72 percent live in or near poverty.  About 35 percent are in poverty. And as you move across, the next bar shows the people here 11 to 20 years, and then the next one shows people here 21 to 30 years, and the next one shows people here 31 years or more. What you see is a nice steady decline. What you also see is Mexicans don't come close to closing that gap with natives.

And, again, given their educational attainment, it would be unreasonable to expect that, but these people who have been here or more than 30 years, actually most of the people who have been here for more than 10 years are all legal residents of the United States, but you can see that even though they are legally here in most cases, they can't — they don't come close to the figures for natives. In many cases, they still, after being here for more than 20 years, have double the rates of poverty, double the rates of near poverty. And that has a lot of consequences.

Let me show you one of those consequences very briefly. This, if this were at all legible, what you'd be able to see is, it looks at welfare use by households headed by Mexican immigrants. The green is, again, Mexican immigrants, the black is natives, and what you can see is in most programs, or actually in all programs, Mexican immigrants have higher use rates of welfare. The bar located right here, this one here, shows the percentage using at least one major welfare program. And what it shows is about 15 percent of natives use at least one major welfare program, and about 31 percent of Mexican immigrants use at least one major welfare program.

From this we would say that roughly Mexican immigrants have about double the rate of welfare use as natives. What's interesting about this is, these figures include a whole lot of illegal aliens. Illegal aliens generally stay away from welfare. And it's in the report. In general, if we pull the illegal aliens out of this data and just looked at legal Mexican immigrants, the welfare use rates are even higher.  Which does point to another potential problem with amnesty which is that it may inadvertently increase the cost to public services, because as people become legal, they're even more likely to use welfare.

And, finally, let me finish up with something that looks generationally. Again, this is a little complicated, but let me explain briefly. The black is natives, and the dark green again is Mexican immigrants; the lighter green is second generation Mexican Americans, these are people who are born in America but have at least one parent who was born in Mexico; and finally the last chart, the middle colored green is people who are third generation, that is they and their parents are born here, but they are of Mexican ancestry.

And the first one shows the percentages who are dropouts. Again, about 9 percent of natives are high school dropouts. Now, we see that about 65 percent of Mexican immigrants are high school dropouts. But when we look at second and third generation Mexican Americans, we see still about a quarter are high school dropouts. Thus, more than double the rate of non-high school completion. Those low educational attainment of Mexican immigrants has been transmitted to some extent, not entirely, through the generations. And, of course, that's not so surprising. Sociological research indicates that one of the best predictors of whether you go to college is whether your parents went to college. So, it's really not so surprising that a large share of Mexican immigrants have not completed high school.

We see college as the second group of numbers, some progress there, but still 29 percent of natives have a college education, whereas only 13 percent of Mexican natives, third generation, have a college education.

If we look at welfare use, you see a somewhat more pessimistic picture. You don't see much decline over the generations in welfare use among Mexican immigrants. And if we look at the end, we see percent living in or near poverty, again, we see some progress form the first generation, which is the immigrant generation, to the second and third generation, but still dramatically higher than those figures are for natives. So, unfortunately, the low educational attainment of Mexican immigrants seems to have consequences through the generations.

 And then, finally, very briefly, let me just put up I think the policy implications of this. First thing, we need to improve the labor market skills and education levels of legal Mexican immigrants, and children already here. They make up a very large share of the workforce, and they're going to make up a growing share. So, it's obviously in our interest to improve their skills, because that way they can share in the middle class.

And I think the second thing you should draw from this is, we need to figure out how to reduce unskilled legal and illegal immigration from Mexico and elsewhere because, again, people with few skills don't do well in the economy, and we need to figure out how to do that as much as possible.  Unskilled immigration is very problematic.

Thank you.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Steve.

And now, Steve having given us an outline of the Mexican immigrant population, Bob Leiken will now give us some thoughts about a possible deal between the United States and Mexico relating to the illegal immigrants who are here, and future immigration flows.



MR. LEIKEN: Thanks, Mark.

Enchilada Lite, which is my report that's in your folder, laid out a blueprint for an immigration court capable of passing through the legislature of both countries. But today, in view of the impending Homeland Security Department, the increased tasks that have been laid on the INS in the last several weeks, let's consider this matter from the angle of institutional capacity of implementation, because I fear that today neither the United States nor Mexico has the institutional capacity to carry out an immigration court.

Currently, our border agencies, air, sea, and land, are all facing crisis of means, a crisis of implementation. Consider the INS, which in March scandalized the country when its student visa notifications for two dead hijacker pilots arrived in Florida flight schools exactly six months to the date after they have plowed into the Manhattan skyline.

Even before September 11th, the agency was regarded as the classical flunky, blundering, antiquated bureaucracy, outdated equipment, loaded management, staggering backlogs, abysmal morale, low pay, a dysfunctional structure, and conflicting mandates. The INS had become legendary for admitting terrorists and other criminals into the U.S., for losing track of people it wanted to deport, and failing to govern a population of 9 million illegal immigrants.

If one asks how the INS arrived at such a state of disarray, surely part of the answer is that for two generations they have had to face a migration from Mexico that in its quantity and length and in its significant illegality is unmatched in U.S. history by any other country.  But, our immigration system or lack of it was also a reflection of ambivalence, between our wish to be a country of laws, and on the other hand our desire for cheap labor, and to be a country of unfettered opportunity for immigrants.

Now, since 9-11 this dysfunctional INS is being asked to install-entry exit system, to check all 350 million foreign visitors, to track foreign students, to limit tourist visas to 30 days, to fingerprint and photograph all those arriving from countries of national security concern, to enforce an almost forgotten law requiring immigrants to register their change of address cards within ten days of moving. The INS is currently attempting to apprehend 314,000 visa overstayers, who have failed to obey explicit court orders to leave the country. Only a few dozen have been found.

Given current threat assessments, probably all of these mandates have a higher priority than devising a policy to deal with the 9 million illegal aliens, as important that may be. Moreover, the INS is about to under go a double reorganization. It is being shifted from the Justice Department to the Homeland Security Department, and it is being split into two separate agencies, one of which may or may not be in the Homeland Security Department, depending on whether the House of Representatives or the Senate prevails.

Even well run agencies are invariably disrupted by reorganizations, as new missions, lines of authority, and operational routines get established. To heap atop of an agency already in disarray, and facing daunting challenges, a guest worker program, a legalization program, or a deportation program seems, however politically attractive to some, imprudent, and even irresponsible. A hurricane is not the time to turn on the sprinklers. The INS lacks the tools to carry out deportation, guest worker program, legalization, or border closure, in the unlikely event that any of these extreme proposals were to become law, that would further hamper the agency supposed to carry them out. So this is not the hour for a comprehensive agreement on immigration, such as Mexico had proposed. First, we must put our house in order.

Eventually a Mexican agreement would be desired, if Mexico agreed to share responsibility for our common border, and if a stringent earned legalization program — if an earned legalization program were stringent enough to encourage — indeed, to discourage further illegal immigration.  Now, if an agreement is not feasible, what should we do instead?  Adjust to the uncomfortable fact that for the time being a large illegal population will be with us. The number is not likely to dwindle by itself.  The California Public Policy Institute just released a study showing that whereas in 1987 to 1992 more than half of Mexicans returned, more than half of the Mexican immigrants went back to Mexico, from 1992 t 2000 that number had shrunk to a quarter.

To reduce the illegal population we should consider, perhaps, a reduced version of Enchilada Lite, in exchange for Mexico’s controlling immigration by placing dangerous border zones off limits, and suppressing alien smuggling. We could simply increase the number of visas for Mexicans on a temporary basis. That would tend to transform Mexican immigration from the chaotic, dangerous, habitual, and illegal, to the regulated, safe, selected, and legal. But, if we are serious about reducing illegal immigration, then we have to consider interior sanctions, and that probably means workplace sanctions.

But, I want to stress that Mexican immigrants are not a direct danger to homeland security. In Mexico and in most of Latin America Muslim communities are small and moderate. There are no demonstrated links between Al-Qaeda and Latin American guerilla and terrorist groups. The real problem is that a large illegal population generates a market for fraudulent documents. Several of the hijackers obtained driver’s licenses with the assistance of illegal Latino immigrants. Looking at immigration through a security lens, in the phrase of Dimitri Papadimitriou, and Debra Meyers, the main danger comes from alien smuggling, from alien smuggling rings and networks prepared to escort Muslim terrorists across the Mexican border.  We need to make our border with Mexico and smart, and we need Mexico’s cooperation on that. And we need to work to extend the rule of law to Mexico’s southern border, and seaports, and airports.  IN the long run, though, the answer to illegal immigration is economic development and — (inaudible) — as Mexican officials used to argue when lobbying for passage of NAFTA.

At his upcoming meeting with President Fox, President Bush should explain candidly why a comprehensive agreement with Mexico is not currently practical. That is something the Mexicans ought to grasp, because they often suffer from a similar, general institutional incapacity in their valiant efforts to combat official corruption, and the drug laws, and to build a rule of law. Helping to extend the rule of law in Mexico is, in the light of 9-11, our most important Mexican foreign policy goal. Eventually, a migration accord could assist in expanding the rule of law in Mexico.  Domestically we should work to integrate those immigrants who are here legally. Keep in mind, so far the only Latino accused of involvement with terrorism, Jose Padilla, the so-called dirty bomber, is a second generation immigrant, as is the French born, so-called 20th hijacker Zacharias Moussaoui, as is Richard Reed, as are many of the Al-Qaeda operatives picked up and round up in Europe since 9/11.

At least in the case of Latinos our concern should be focused not on the first generation, who are generally hard working and law abiding, but the second Latino generation is now experiencing a downward mobility. It used to be the case, it used to be the adage, the first generation was a peddler, the second generation became plumbers, and the third generation professionals. But, we are often seeing downward assimilation among Latinos, not into with the American work ethic and political creed by effective public schools, but often into gang and drug cultures. And then sometimes prison, where some undergo political indoctrination, Islamist indoctrination, as in the case of Jose Padilla.


MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Bob.

And now our final speaker, Professor Grayson, will look at how Mexico deals with its illegal immigration and border patrol issues on the southern border.



PROF. GRAYSON: Thank you very much, Mark. 

I must admit that I have mixed emotions addressing this audience. And I think it was Dr. Simes who I first heard identify what mixed emotions are, and that’s when your teenage daughter comes home from the senior prom with a Gideon Bible under her arm. My mixed emotions occur because — you understand that in hotels — you have to explain things to these think tank people, they’re way up there in the stratosphere. When I see people like Marivel Gonzalez (sp) from Reforma, and Jerry Caiman from Copley and Howard Liarda (sp), and others who have forgotten more about Mexico than I know, I do have mixed emotions.

The point that I want to make is that there is in my view a third border, that is, in fact, analogous to a sieve that’s been blasted by buckshot, and that’s the border especially between Guatemala and Mexico. Guatemala has a shorter border between itself and Belize, but the 602 miles between Guatemala and Mexico have some 200 clandestine crossing points. The majority of entrants are migrants from Central America, or South America, who are seeking access to the U.S.  But, you have along that border one of the most vicious gangs in the world, the Mara Salvatruchas, and you also have an increasing number of Asian, African, Mideast migrants who are able to cross the border, often with the help of abetters and aiders, the poliarios, who are linked from their home country all the way to the United States. The question of this third border that is virtually undefended plays no role, as far as I can tell, in the plans for enhancing U.S. homeland security, and it’s an omission that I believe needs to be addressed.

Having said that, the Fox administration deserves credit, because the National Immigration Agency, the INM, has, in fact, made strides to improve its efforts, and improve its presence at the southern border. For example, Central Americans how are apprehended anywhere in Mexico are now bussed to Tapachula, and every day, like clockwork, there are 10 to 12 busses that leave the immigration center in Tapachula with 38 illegals abroad, and they’re taken to their home countries, and then there are accords with the Hondurans and with the Guatemalans, and the Salvadorans to take these people back to their cities or villages of origin. There’s also an effort to increase the number of beta groups. Beta groups look out for immigrants, to make sure that they’re not abused, that their civil rights aren’t violated. 

And there’s been a sharp increase in the number of beta operatives. The problem is that in the Tapachula area, for example, that lies cheek by jowl with Guatemala, just a few miles from the border, you have 17 beta agents, and they’re having to try to staff an area about the size of Delaware, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. And while that is a step in the right direction, beefing up their numbers, they still are grossly understaffed, and under funded.  Moreover, Commissioner Jesus Placiado (sp), who is the Mexican counterpart to our INS commissioner, he has undertaken the Herculean job of attempting to coordinate the more than 20 state, federal, and local agencies that have an interest in the border. And that coordination effort has been largely unsuccessful, but it is, again, a step in the right direction.

The final two points I would like to make are that first, the Central American immigrants who cross from Guatemala into Chiapas, are often ripped off six ways until sundown. I know that there are abuses that are committed by the border patrol, by the INS, by customs and other U.S. agencies.  But, generally those offenders are brought before the bar of justice, because there are so many human rights groups and media folks who are casting a very bright spotlight on their activities. Very little is done to look out for the welfare of the Central Americans and the others who cross into Mexico. And so what they may well find is that they’re paying a bribe to a Guatemalan official, or three, they’re then having to pay a bribe after they have floated across the Sushiati (sp) River, and you can see them floating across anytime of the day or night, another bribe to Mexicans, and then they run afoul of gangster groups like the Mara Salvatruchas, who will take everything they own, including their lives.

And the final point deals with the issue of migrant workers. One of the several goals that foreign secretary Jorge Castañeda has been pursuing with the Bush administration is that there should be a guest worker program. And most of you know the specifics of that. Well, Mexico has a guest worker program with Guatemala, because Chiapas State is one of the most prolific states, in terms of vegetation that you could ever find. Everything grows there it seems. And the local growers, however, say that Mexicans won’t do the hard work of planting, of cultivating of harvesting the bananas, the mangos, the coffee, that they’re lazy. It’s as if their script had been written by growers in the several valleys of California.

Therefore, the Guatemalan and Mexican governments have worked out a legal guest worker program, and the guest workers are referred to as braceros or jornaleros. And it typically works that the growers, or their agents, go into Guatemala, into Tecún Umán, which is increasingly a small Tijuana in terms of being a wide open large town, and there they negotiate either with workers or with government officials. There are two paths to recruiting braceros, and let’s say this is the legal path, you would work with the Guatemalan and Mexican officials, and you would get ten workers for a month to work in the coffee harvest. This is, shall we say, the irregular path, although it’s still legal, that you contract directly with the workers or with their agents. Well, 95 percent plus of the recruitment is done through this informal, but legal, approach. The growers say, we don’t want to have to put up with all of the corruption involved in working with officials. There’s also the possibility that they are able to have less scrutiny of their activities.

The jornaleros come across, they’re paid at best a couple of dollars a day, they’re given two very basic meals, they live in primitive conditions, and the plantations are simply not visited by social security agents, by labor department agents. And one is assured by all of the embassies of Central America that are in Mexico City, that these workers don’t receive social security benefits, aginaldos (sp), or any kind of OSHA type protections. And so it might be that perhaps the — as we talk, Bob, about putting houses in order, that the Fox administration might want to undertake root and branch reforms of its own guest worker program before it suggests moving ahead with that and other initiatives in the U.S.

I want to close by reminding you that some years ago a starlet by the name of Pia Zadora, is that her name, you remember, you follow the starlets closely, somehow her agent got her cast as playing Anne Frank in the Diary of Anne Frank, the worst miscasting job that one can ever imagine. And so this extremely poignant novel, diary, which became a play, extremely poignant play moves to its last scene, and Pia Zadora is so bad that when the German soldiers enter the Frank house the audience with one voice says, she’s in the attic. It may be that we should begin looking at the southern Mexican border.

[tape change]

MR. KRIKORIAN: (In progress) — question and answer.

Dr. Simes, president of the Nixon Center, wanted to offer a few belated welcoming comments.

MR. SIMES:  Thank you, Mark. 

And I’m very grateful to you and your colleagues for helping us to put this event together. I, frankly, think that immigration is becoming one of the most important, and perhaps the most important challenge to American national security. My colleague, Bob Leiken, I believe had a Freudian slip when he said the Immigration and Naturalization Service is facing a crisis of ends, and then you corrected yourself and said it was a crisis of means. Of course, in reality this is the crisis of ends, because we do not know what we want to do with immigration, is it an opportunity, is it a threat, people who come here illegally, are they undocumented workers, or are they lawbreakers? We don’t have any sense of criteria, or any sense of priority. And until we develop criteria, and until we have clear priorities on the political level, I don’t think much is going to change.

Let me make one simple observation, there is a great deal of dejá vu about illegal immigration. And the assumption is that nothing can be done about it. I don’t quite United States that. We have a first rate military, second to none, because we clearly have decided that protecting the United States against foreign enemies, and enhancing American interests abroad is so important that we should spend whatever it takes, we should do whatever it takes to be number one militarily. So we can have missile defense, but we cannot have border defense.

We’re being told that we can tell local governments how they should maintain environmental standards, how they should police speed controls, speed limits, how they should make sure that voters in Montgomery County would get ballots in Spanish, but we cannot tell them that they should do something about illegal immigrants. Maybe we don’t want the federal government to give this kind of guidance. Maybe our political culture is not prepared for that. But, we should not say that this is not doable. If nothing is happening, it is because we don’t yet want it to happen, and we need a national debate, and I’m delighted to have Mark and his colleagues, to have this debate, at least to try to start this debate.


MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Dimitri.

I’ll moderate the Q&A from up here, but I’ll just let the panelists sit down, so we don’t have a lot of shuffling back and forth.

Let me take the moderator’s prerogative to ask the first question for whoever wants to answer it, and that relates to something that Bob said about — and this is a common argument about and for amnesty, for legalization illegal immigrants. That is that this will somehow bring these people out of the shadows, and if you will, drain the swamp, if that’s a proper analogy, that terrorists can use, in other words, the infrastructure, fraudulent documents, and what have you, to reduce that and therefore make it more difficult for terrorists to operate. And what I would ask, and this would be for anyone else, but may be an issue for Bob, is, doesn’t a large immigrant population in itself create the environment within which terrorists can operate — 

[Technical difficulties]

MR. KRIKORIAN: If we were to legalize a certain number of the illegal immigrants millions more would remain, and millions overseas would still want to come, as immigrants, even if they couldn’t. And therefore, for instance, the large industry for forged documents, and what have you, would continue to exist and provide a kind of environment for terrorists to operate. So my question is, would it really make any difference whether the large immigrant population were legal or illegal in its effect of providing cover, if you will, for terrorists?

MR. LEIKEN:  I think it does make an affect, it does have an impact, because if you have a large illegal population they need fraudulent documents, if your immigrant population is legal they don’t need fraudulent documents, so the market shrinks.

MR. KRIKORIAN: My point is, isn’t there — in other words, is legalizing an illegal population really going to result in the end of a large illegal population?

MR. LEIKEN: That’s why I said only a very stringent earned legalization, which removes incentives for illegal immigrants to come here. In '87 we had an amnesty, and as Mark pointed out, briefly there was a reduction in illegal immigration. But, two things happened, the conditions under which you got the amnesty were attractive enough, on the one hand, on the other hand we did not enforce workplace sanctions. Those two things made it attractive to migrants to come again, and get online, and hope that we would have a rolling amnesty, which is what some people are on the verge of proposing. 

If we have an amnesty it has to be very — if we have a legalization it has to be clear that this is a last time, and that it’s connected to the Mexicans patrolling their border. Mexico is going to have to do certain things if we are going to legalize a large number of these people. And if Mexico would take up positions in the dangerous areas, where most of the people are coming across on the Mexican border, that, I think, could pretty much control illegal immigration coming in through Mexico. So if it were part of a packet, I think it would have that affect.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thanks, Bob.

The comment about this being a last, one time only amnesty reminds me of George’s daughter with the Gideon Bible. But, be that as it may, we’ll take questions from anyone in the audience.  Somebody must have a question about this topic.

Yes, sir.  If you could identify yourself, too, please.

QUESTION:  (Off mike.)

DR. CAMAROTA: Yes, absolutely. There’s an enormous body of research that shows that English language acquisition is critically important to labor market mobility. As you know, there’s not much money spent, at least on the part of federal, state, and local governments to help immigrants make that transition. And so surely, if you’re going to admit 7 to 10 million legal immigrants every decade you ought to make some effort to help them integrate into their new home. And it’s pretty clear that we’re probably not doing very much. And so, yes, I think language skills is critical, and as I said, there’s a whole body of research to suggest that it would be very helpful.


QUESTION: (Off mike.)

DR. CAMAROTA: On the question of Middle Easterners coming across the southern border, obviously that’s happened. There was the famous case, he was sentenced nine months ago, George Geranian, an Iraqi immigrant who specialized in bringing in people. He forged an alliance with a corrupt official in Mexico to get these people Mexican documents brought in about 1,000 people, mostly Jordanians, Palestinians, and Syrians. The New York Times did several stories on it. Obviously that’s just the most recent example.

In terms of a sort of related question, in the last amnesty, as you probably know, we also legalized some terrorists, most notably Mahmoud Abu Halima (sp), one of the leaders of the '93 attack on the Trade Center. He gets his amnesty by claiming falsely to be a seasonal agricultural worker, the system was so lax that they give him his green card. He then takes his green card, travels to Afghanistan, gets the terrorist training that he needed for the attack, and then returned to the United States and helped to blow up the Trade Center in February of '93. It was only the amnesty that allowed him to travel and return, because as an illegal alien in the United States he couldn’t come and go. 

So the amnesty clearly facilitated terrorism in the past, and there’s every reason to think that could easily happen again, especially because it’s doubtful that the amnesty would be just limited to Mexico. It’s doubtful, maybe that would happen. But, politically it seems unlikely.

MR. LEIKEN: The problem of Mexico’s claim to the United States, of course, goes back to the mid-19th Century when we did, in fact, steal half of their territory, that’s not something that’s forgotten, particularly by intellectuals, and by the educational system. But, Mexican immigrants, and Mexican Americans have a pretty remarkable record in terms of participation in the armed forces.  I think they’re the highest decorated national cohort, and polls have shown that Mexican Americans living in the Southwest are very loyal to the United States. So it’s a mixed question.


PROF. GRAYSON: Georgia Anne, my only comment would be, that most of those who come across the Guatemalan-Chiapan border are Central Americans, although there’s an increasing number of Ecuadorians. And they’re uprooted because of the egregious poverty in their homelands. They’re not terrorists, they’re just trying to get to the United States. But, they help to facilitate and create such a spider web of polieros (sp), of individuals who can, in fact, facilitate the crossing of the border, and also help people arrive in the United States, that it would strike me that if a foreign country wanted to do us harm they would certainly take into consideration that 602-mile border, which again is a sieve blasted by buckshot between the United States and Mexico.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Let me just offer one little comment on your question about Mexico’s perception of the legitimacy of the border. I think it sort of relates to this whole issue of ABSCOM, does Mexico want Texas back and all that. I think in that sense it’s a fantasy. It’s sophomoric nonsense by undergraduate radicals, that the Southwest is going to secede or something, at least it is now. 

But, what really is happening, and this is happening today, is the Mexican government’s effort to create a kind of shared sovereignty within the United States over American citizens. In other words, it really is a significant concession, or session of American sovereignty over Mexican Americans. That’s what all the talk about 123 million Mexicans, for instance, is, where the Mexican nation is increasingly defined not in territorial terms, but in ethno-racial terms the way it is in the Balkans or elsewhere. Such that American citizens born in the United States, whose grandparents happened to have some from Mexico are now claimed as legitimate parts of Mexico, and can be spoken for by the Mexican state. That I think really is a problem in a way that the sort of hyperventilated talk about irredentism really isn’t.

MR. LEIKEN: I think, though, when we talk about Mexico, we need to keep in mind a couple of things.  Mexico economically and politically is gravitating in the direction of the United States. It is very dependent, increasingly dependent on the United States economically, and increasingly doing away with the one-party, semi-socialist system that prevailed in Mexico up until the last decade.  So you now have a basically liberal economy, and you have a political democracy, grid locked, which has lots of problems. And you also have an elite, which is largely, or at least partly pro-American. Every once in a while the anti-American forces get an issue and they’re strong in the university, or they’re strong in some of the unions, some of the most corrupt unions. But, I think it’s important to see that Mexicans regard their destiny as being part of the United States, not taking over the United States. And that means political democracy, and basically accepting a whole lot of important U.S. values. I think that’s the major trend.

PROF. GRAYSON: Mark, could I just — a very brief footnote.

I would agree with Bob completely that there are new rules of the game for elections in Mexico, and that presidential elections in Mexico are every bit as clean as presidential elections in the United States.


And, in fact, you’ve had at least three local elections, or state and local elections overturned by judicial authorities, as opposed to back room meetings of power brokers. But, to say that you’ve got new rules of the game for elections doesn’t ensure that you’ve got new rules of the game for governing, because there is still an unwillingness of any of the parties, but especially the PRE and the RD, to recognize their opponents as the loyal opposition. In other words, it’s viewed as a zero sum game, and to the extent that they win we lose. And Fox has had a horrendous time trying to put together a coalition to be able to get meaningful legislation passed.

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

MR. LEIKEN: Well, this is why I say there's a lack of institutional capacity on both sides to implement the Mexican accord. Fox places a very high priority on this, partly because hasn't gotten anything else done. He's been unable to get anything through the Congress, partly because of the situation that George described, partly because of his own ineptitude in lobbying the Congress. So, immigration reform, and an immigration package becomes the major issue on which, or a major issue, he can run in the mid-term elections. They've got mid-term elections coming up, too, next year. So, it's a very important issue for them.

But whether they could do the things that I think we would need in order for him to make an accord that would get through Congress, whether they could clean up their customs and border patrol so that we could rely on the Mexican border, on extending the parameter to Mexico. So, for example, if someone from Lebanon who wanted to get into Mexico would not be allowed into Mexico if he weren't allowed into the U.S. As long as you have a corrupt federal police, border patrol, or customs police, Mexico can't really implement the kind of agreement we want.

I do think they're making big strides. I think Fox is really doing a lot or trying to do a lot in dealing with corruption on the federal level. But there's still a lot of corruption on the local and state level, and it's a long range proposition. Which is why I see a plan or agreement with Mexico as somewhere further down the line, not ready for this election season.


PROF. GRAYSON: Quite briefly, the director of customs in Mexico is one of the finest professionals whom I've ever met. I think Jesús Preciado is in charge of the National Immigration Institute, he's also hard-working, and honest. I think that the attorney general has done a first rate job in coordinating with American authorities in the pursuit of narco-traffickers. So, I see clear accomplishments by the Fox administration. And it was well before Fox took office that he was pushing for a much more flexible, three-pronged, immigration program with the United States.

What I think it's difficult, though, for the Mexican authorities to understand now is that 9/11 has changed the ambiance in this town, nobody in the U.S. Congress wants to talk about immigration reform certainly before the elections. And what we found even before 9-11 is, at the grassroots level, Anglos, African-Americans, Latino-Americans wanted immigration laws enforced. Now, that's a radical idea in Washington, but they thought that probably the laws that are on the books with respect to having to play by the rules to come into this country should be enforced, and some of that is percolating up to Congress.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you.

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

MR. LEIKEN: I don't think it is. I think it has been overblown. I don't think there are very many Mexican immigrants who are second generation, or third generation, who are longing to become Mexican citizens. And those who do actually often play a very positive role, because by becoming Mexican citizens, they are allowed to own property, to participate politically in Mexico, which has the effect of bringing to Mexico the American standards of accountability, of liberal democracy, of economic efficiency. I think on the whole, on balance, the dual citizenship issue has weighed in the direction of increasing American influence in Mexico, not increasing Mexican influence in the United States.

PROF. GRAYSON: Perhaps to take exception with that, I believe the Fox administration is doing what predecessor administrations have done, and it would like to have a lobbying presence in the United States that could help persuade policymakers here to embrace programs that are deemed beneficial to Mexico. The Japanese do it, the Taiwanese do it, the Israelis do it, the Cuban-American National Foundation does it with respect to policy toward Cuba, and so it's attempting to get a lobbying presence, and it's pursuing various paths toward this goal.

The problem is that it's very difficult to persuade first, second, even third generation newcomers that they should somehow organize themselves in behalf of their home country. They've got the bread and butter issues of jobs, education, healthcare, housing to cope with, and so they're not that interested in the outcome of the disputed mayoral race in Tijuana.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thanks, George.


QUESTION: (Off mike.)

MR. LEIKEN: I think it's very doubtful that there will be an agreement. There is a window which will open after our elections, and before the Fox elections, or the mid-term elections, in the spring or the summer of next year, in which the Fox administration would like very much for the Bush administration, which would feel perhaps more able to do something for Mexico once they've gotten past the mid-term elections because there would be less resistance from the Congress, from Republicans in the Congress.

But I think we're probably — I think that an agreement is workable, but I think that, as I stated earlier, anyone who looks at the tasks that have been assigned to the INS, to the Homeland Security Department, and to the crisis that they face, I think could not likely go ahead and offer the kinds of incentives to Mexico that would get an agreement through the Mexican Congress, because I think it would need an earned legalization and/or a guest worker program, and I think those are very unlikely to happen, just because I don't think we can handle it. I would hope the Bush administration would recognize that we can't handle it right now.

But I think what's important is that President Bush and the new U.S. ambassador to explain very clearly what George Grayson said a moment ago, how much things have changed, not just in this town, but in the country after 9/11. I don't think the Mexicans understand that. I don't think the Latin American countries understand that. And I think we have a big problem with the whole region as a result.


DR. CAMAROTA: Yes, on the question of an agreement, let me at least be a little bit of a dissenter and say, I'm not sure we need one. I'm not one who thinks that illegal immigration from Mexico or elsewhere is uncontrollable or that we need that much help from Mexico. Let's run through some numbers very quickly.

We think that some 200,000 people, about 225 each year, get legal status.  They adjust status under 245(i) or they fly home and pick up their visas.  These are people living in the United States illegally.  We also think that about 100 to 150 thousand people a year return home on their own, something like that, and a small number die.  And, in addition to that, about 50,000 illegal aliens, roughly, are deported each year.  Thus, the numbers leaving the illegal population are actually quite large, somewhere in the neighborhood of 400,000.

Now, it is true that something like seven or eight hundred thousand new people come in each year, and so recent Census Bureau estimates suggest that in the '90s the illegal population grew by four or five hundred thousand on average each year. Again, there's a huge migration out of the illegal population. So, if we significantly reduce the number coming in through Border Patrol and going after employers who hire illegals, and only modestly increase the number going out, we could actually get the number of illegals, which is 8 or 9 million, to begin to fall very significantly, because, again, there is this outflow.

So, I would argue that I'm not sure we want to deal with Mexico. I think we should pursue our own interests and, as I tried to suggest, unskilled immigration from Mexico or anywhere else is very problematic in terms of public coffers, in terms of importing poverty. Almost a third of the growth in the uninsured population in the United States over the last 10 or 12 years is just Mexican immigrants and their children. To a significant extent, the health insurance crisis is being driven in the United States by unskilled immigration.

I would make the case for enforcing the law and not so much trying to placate Mexico.

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

MR. KRIKORIAN: Wait, George has to respond.

PROF. GRAYSON:  I yield.

MR. KRIKORIAN:  Quickly, sure.

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

DR. CAMAROTA: But that's a choice we're making not to pay the Border Patrol, not to hire the inspectors, and so forth. If we increase their pay grade, if we gave them the political support, and so forth, I think that would have a huge impact on the level of illegal immigration. This is a choice, it's not the weather, it's not continental drip, this is a choice U.S. policymakers have made to let our enforcement regime atrophy. It may be a good choice, it may be a bad choice, but it's a choice.


PROF. GRAYSON: Four other points, one, I'm an optimist. And the proof of that, Brian Holt is here from Virginia, I'm a Democrat in Virginia.

Secondly, Steve is right, it's a political will, where do you put your resources, and it's not just the border, it's workplace enforcement that's been neglected by Democratic and Republican administrations.

Thirdly, although an optimist, I suspect we're going to see more acts of terrorism in this country. I think it's a matter of time before a human bomb goes off in a shopping mall, and really brings terrorism to Main Street America.

And the final thing I would say is that there are elections in Mexico next July 6th, but they're not all that important. One, because the PAN is not growing in strength according to local elections, that is Fox's party. And, secondly, no member of the Mexican Senate is up for reelection. 

And so the opposition is still going to have a choke-hold on the Senate, and so whether or not there is an agreement with Bush, I don't think it helps Fox's prospects very much in breaking the deadlock that besets his administration vis-a-vis Congress.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, George.

Another two questions. Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION:  (Off mike.)

MR. KRIKORIAN:  Just a quick, quick answer.

DR. CAMAROTA:Just quickly, the question was on welfare and Mexican immigrants, I'm just calculating welfare use like the Census Bureau generally does, by household head. So, if someone in the household is receiving food stamps, that's a household using a welfare program. We can debate that question.

One of the statistics I gave was for Earned Income Tax Credit, I didn't even really talk about it here, but it's important because it costs taxpayers over $30 billion to have the Earned Income Tax Credit, and what that shows is that there is a high cost to cheap labor. An employer who wants a non-skilled worker says, hey, I've got somebody to work, and of course it looks like a good deal to him, but he doesn't see the huge cost associated with some of those programs you just mentioned, food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit, free school lunches.

And so what I'm trying to explain is, even if you think that it's a good idea to bring unskilled laborers in, they're human beings, they're going to use services, and those services come at a very high cost, and it's very unlikely that any economic gain you get from having them here is enough to offset the very large fiscal costs that are borne by taxpayers.

MR. KRIKORIAN:  Let's have a last question, please.

No questions.  Let me — oh, yes, Bruce.

QUESTION:  (Off mike.)

MR. LEIKEN: Yes.  I, in Enchilada Lite, basically dismiss the guestworker program on the grounds that guestworker programs historically have proven to create a lot of illusions about these people being temporary. There's nothing more permanent than a guestworker, as the phrase goes.  Also, they're open to a lot of corruption on both ends, both companies against the guest workers, there's corruption on that end, and the people who have chosen to come here, there's corruption on that end. And it does create a caste of people who don't have rights, who aren't — some people are talking about a guest worker program that would lead to citizenship. That would not be open to the objection that you're creating a kind of subclass. But, you are creating even then a temporary subclass. And with most of the guest worker programs, you're creating a permanent subclass that I think, after 9/11, is particularly not in the U.S. interest.

I think, in fact, that you have to be more thinking to reduce the green card, or the number of people who are permanent legal residents of the United States, and increase the number who are citizens of the United States. And I think that has been the trend of both the Justice Department executive orders to the INS lately, and also of recent legislation.


PROF. GRAYSON: First, with regard to guest worker programs, just look at the Guatemalan-Mexican program and you can see how it becomes involuntary servitude, or maybe in that case voluntary servitude.

Secondly, the history of guest worker programs has shown that even where they're legal that you tend to have a parallel stream of illegal workers entering the country.

And the final thing I would say, as a blue collar Southern Democrat, and some would add red neck to that also, who probably did every kind of odd job as a young person, Americans will work, or legal residents of this country will work in any job there is in the United States.  The thing is, they're not going to cut asparagus in Washington State for minimum wage.  And so, the question that we have to as a country decide, do we want to pay people decently for jobs that we tend to perhaps discredit, even if it means that we're going to be having to pay a little bit more for childcare, a little bit more for that asparagus that comes out of Northern California, or a little bit more to have offices cleaned to the degree that we want.

MR. KRIKORIAN: A last quick comment from Steve.

DR. CAMAROTA: Yes, I agree with you. I think that there is something troubling about a guest worker program, it really does have the potential for creating E-lot class of work. In a republic, in a democratic republic, you don't want that. So, I think that's a perfectly reasonable objection.

The other concerns I have are the same as Mr. Grayson's, that in the past guest worker programs always spurred more illegal immigration. They don't seem to solve the problem, and finally it always seems to result in permanent settlement.

And then the other point I would make is, economically bringing in unskilled people is very problematic to the United States in terms of they and their children's social mobility, in terms of public coffers, it also creates significant job competition for people at the bottom end of the labor market. So I would say that we should have less unskilled immigration, and simply buy the labor saving devices. In agriculture you might see dried on the vine agriculture. In construction, you might see more prefabricated materials used. In hotels or restaurants, what you might see is more going to buffet style, and takeout.

I don't think, as I tried to explain to you, unskilled labor, we could measure it pretty well.  It's a tiny fraction of U.S. output. So, if we had a little bit less of it, that is less illegal unskilled labor, the impact on the U.S. economy is very tiny, and it's a good deal for taxpayers, and it's a good deal for the poor. So, I would try to move away from any kind of guest worker program, and passionately make the case for enforcing the law and reducing unskilled immigration, including unskilled illegal immigration.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thanks to all our participants. The transcript, for those of you who just can't get enough of this, of this entire presentation will be on the Center's web site, it's, where all our publications are. The Nixon Center will be presenting a kind of summary report, which will be on their web site eventually at

And a quick little commercial for the Center for Immigration Studies, we do these kind of panel discussion which are cosponsoring today with the Nixon enter, we do them with some frequency.  And we're doing one on our own next week on Middle Eastern immigration, and the week after on the Canadian asylum system, and the security aspects and threat to the United States. All the information is on our web site.

Thanks a lot, and thank you, Dr. Simes, and the Nixon Center.