From Cornell International Affairs Review VOL. 1 NO. 1
Closing the NAFTA Gap: Applying EU Integration to US Immigration
US Immigration History and Current Debates
As a result of this influx of Mexican immigrants, America has taken a step to a more liberal immigration policy. The INA amendment to immigration policy in 1965 was the first step in a bias-free, fair immigration policy, something the US had lacked for years. A more liberal immigration system based on admitting people with needed skills, reuniting families, and sheltering refugees replaced the old country preference system. With these more liberal immigration policies, it was not long before illegal immigration increased. With the implementation of these new policies combined with low standards of living and increasingly open borders due to trade, it is hardly surprising that many Mexicans began to flood the border.51
The US government is understandably unhappy with this flood of people. But the solution to this problem is not to militarize the border; you cannot stop a tidal wave with a net. The solution is to use NAFTA to provide more economic opportunity for all Mexicans (not just those already on top). A NAFTA development agenda will calm the ocean to a gentle ebb and flow. If trade policies, such as the US over subsidizing agriculture and the existence of tax-free zones, are reformed, trade could benefit all NAFTA countries by providing more high-end consumers, more economic diversity, and more skilled labour.
George Bush has merely flip-flopped around the issues of border control. Caught in the middle between democratic pressure and very conservative republicans, it seems the President is unable to take a true stand on immigration reform.
In 2000, Vicente Fox proposed a second phase of NAFTA that would involve open immigration borders along with the trade borders. This “second phase of NAFTA” was a bold new plan. Recognizing the differences in living and wage standards between the US and Mexico, Fox proposed to close the gap, to make NAFTA more “fair.” Fox encouraged workers migrating to the US and argued that migrant labourers were good for both countries.52 Fox’s plan is a proposal to help close the development gap between Mexico and the US by creating a common labour market, a step towards a single-market system. With his proposal, Mexicans could have competitive advantages for their wages, helping to close the difference, and removing the problems of illegal immigration. Vicente Fox used the example of EU integration as a model for NAFTA’s second phase. Fox compared the wage differences between Mexico and the US to those in the EU: “Twenty-five years ago, Spain, Greece and Portugal had the same differences in income with Germany, Italy or England, and today that has been erased.” Fox spoke that the key was to stem illegal immigration would be “agreements on sectors” which would increase labour efficiency. This might help close development gap, but this EU-style leniency is not on-par with US policy.
Fox’s proposal was debated in Congress, but soon forgotten in the wake of 9/11. The intense fear of terrorism that followed 9/11 led to an immigration policy focused on security. Fear replaced reality as the need for comprehensive immigration reform was forgotten in the movement to secure the borders. In 2003, Bush began forming a proposal to overhaul immigration to include a guest worker program.53 Domestic problems were again abandoned as the fear of foreign terrorism rose at the beginning of the Iraq war.
Pro-immigration argues that the US has a responsibility to help developing nations. As the US continues to emerge as the superpower in the global economy, it must use some of its wealth to help other nations prosper.54 In doing so, it will increase prosperity with its trading partners, and therefore increase trade. However, until it does so, it is unfair of the US to deport illegal immigrants who simply want to live a better life. Especially in the post-NAFTA world, the US must recognize its interdependence with Mexico. By deporting and abusing all illegal immigrants, diplomatic ties with Mexico are weakening. No country likes to see its citizens mistreated abroad, so for NAFTA to be a healthy relationship, the US must find a better solution to illegal immigration than the costly and disruptive method of deportation.
The views of anti-immigration activists must also be taken into account as the US decides what to do about illegal immigration. Anti-immigration has flooded the US after 9/11 with increased fear over border control and the infiltration of terrorists.55 Policy makers need to recognize the need to document and background check immigrants more thoroughly to avoid criminals and terrorists entering the country, as a way to reassure Americans that their concerns over national security are heard.
The Secure Fence Act passed in 2006 will add 700 miles of fence to the border.56 It will not stop illegal immigration. A fence is not a long term or effective solution. As long as Mexicans are willing to risk the danger of crossing the border to find what they believe to be a better life, illegal immigration will continue. The issues lie in why these immigrants are choosing to leave in the first place. The US can fence itself in as much as it wants. It can attempt to isolate itself from the world. This attempt, in a world of increasing international cultural, economic, and political interdependence through globalization, is useless. If the US wants to stop illegal immigration, it must engage with the issues of development. Partial integration has caused an increased political and economic divide. Greater, more equitable integration is needed. The floodgates have been opened and now the wave must be controlled. No wall or fence can keep the problems of unequal development out, not matter how high or long it is.
Piecing the Lessons Together…
FRONTEX and the European Commission are like the glue among Member States in coordinating border security operations at the external borders. The combination of an independent body and a supranational organization not only promotes uniformity in managing borders, but it continually assesses progress and effectiveness. By providing detailed analyses and reports on the progress on its latest policies and projects at Summit conventions and Interministerial Conferences, the European Union is able to keep a running tab on the usefulness of its funding. This method is only one of the many ways that the EU monitors the success of its border control and the cost effectiveness of implemented measures.57
The US has done little to empirically evaluate the effectiveness of the border’s militarization. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) noted how the INS & Justice Department did not have plans to measure the effectiveness of its border control system in curbing the flow of immigrants.58 Not formally assessing the effectiveness of border controls tacitly acknowledges the current policies’ weakness without outright criticism. The results thus far have been a spike in professional smuggling, corruption, deaths, ruining of American property, and creating an environment of fear in American towns. By projecting the appearance of a more secure border, the US is merely reinventing the image, which is a perverse way of fooling the citizenry to garner votes.59
The purpose of this paper is not to place the EU on a pedestal; a social market system is not something to be cloned. It has a set of institutions whose foundation took root hundreds of years ago, thus policies for a society must be specific to that society. This paper hopes to convey alternative ways to combat illegal immigration.
The EU has a system of addressing immigration with ample empirical evidence to support their methods of simultaneous migration reduction supplemented by increased economic prosperity. Not only did the EU create markets for the poorer countries, it created quality jobs from capital and technological investment. The Economic and Social Research Institute in Dublin evaluated the EU’s programs and came to the conclusion that the combination of three factors led to the “Celtic Tiger”: Gradual accumulation of human capital,
fiscal control and the maintenance of wage competitiveness, and a sharp increase in EU structural funds.
The EU model shows how converging disparities only benefit all those in a single market.60 Plenty of Americans are hurting alongside. 60 % of Americans live on $14 per hour.61 By competing on a price model, a natural downward harmonization ensues. The more immigrants from Mexico enter illegally, the more wages are depressed. Where is our basic humanity in reducing social exclusion and poverty, here and across the border? Is the real aim to end immigration? Or it is to perpetuate unfair advantages for multinationals?
The pro-immigration stance fails to properly address these growing concerns, labeling them unsubstantiated. Pro-immigration groups such as the National Council of La Raza and the AFL-CIO – who recently changed from an anti-immigrant stance- support a new vision of immigration policy that aims to strengthen the economy by remaining “consistent with global realities, fostering economic growth, attracting needed worker to America, and protecting the rights of workers and families.”62 However noble, this stance fails to address the root problem and simply plays the politically discordant note that immigrants are good for the American economy. The pro-immigration stance needs to have clear say in its mission; does pro-immigration mean pro-cheap labour or does it mean creating a humane, just and safe society? Only then will the cacophony of messages finally resonate with a greater population.63
In context of America’s quandary with illegal immigration, the EU’s internal and external policies for migration are points for comparison. Structural funds are an example of how minimal assistance can deter illegal immigration. The hegemony of the United States exerts pressure on the other two economically smaller countries, thus, bargaining tends to converge toward the minimum common denominator of corporate interests. The US should draw from Europe’s hits and misses to develop a comprehensive migration policy of an American hue. NAFTA has not even begun to flesh out compensatory mechanisms for weaker regions. Reversing the trends of NAFTA should be a top priority.
By basing reforms on wildly successful EU projects, like investments in human capital, America can boost economic efficiency, and decrease immigration. Europe serves as an important reminder that the solution to immigration is neither easy, nor are there speedy solutions.
The US has long portrayed itself as the shining city on the hill. The ideal country, where everyone wants to be, but only the worthy can enter. The reality is that many migrants do not want to come to the US, let alone permanently reside here. The 1.3 million farmers who left their lands to take jobs as underpaid fruit pickers did do because they had no other viable choice. The regional labour and technology divide has multiplied under NAFTA, increasing the difficulties for non-privileged Mexicans, such as small-scale farmers, to earn a proper living in their homeland. The pull factor of US economic and social opportunity combine with the push factor of poverty drives economic migration, not the love of American values or culture.
The EU took 50 years to firmly link social justice with economic efficiency, to develop programs that foster democracy, equality and solidarity. It has also spawned from catastrophism; two world wars and the Holocaust. NAFTA has only been formally in operation for 15 years. Change should not come from a jolt; we can learn from example. By amending NAFTA, we can shape it to attack the root cause of immigration—a lack of opportunity. By making NAFTA a living document, we can ensure it responds to the barrages of one sided globalization and the voice of the American people.
When the US decides to take responsibility as the super power of the American region, the whole continent can feel secure, fence or no fence.