Column: Controlling borders, risking lives

By Jenette Sturges

Bush may or may not hate black people; I’ll just take Kanye West’s word on it. But over the course of his presidency, Bush has made it readily apparent that he’s not that fond of Latinos – Mexican immigrants in particular.

The most recent battle in the war between Bush and the country’s minority groups – in this case, an incredibly large and ever-swelling soon-to-be-the-majority group – was written last week when Bush announced his “new” immigration reforms.

The Dual Immigration Plan would permit undocumented Mexican laborers to apply for temporary worker permits, allowing employed immigrants to live and work in the United States for up to six years, after which they would be expected to return home. The second part of Bush’s plan emphasizes increased border security by allocating more funds to the U.S. Boarder Patrol for more technology and guards.

The plan, however, has discrepancies wider than the Rio Grande.

The first part of his plan seems admirable enough. Bush is hoping that issuing worker permits will keep unskilled jobs, like cleaning and fruit picking, filled – an important move for an economy dependent on its 11 million undocumented laborers. However, it’s not without its flaws.

For instance, the permits expire at the end of six years, prompting workers to return home – even though this is unlikely since many will have established family and lives in the United States. Also, since undocumented workers make considerably more money working here, it is unlikely that they would be willing to return to the impoverished conditions characterizing much of Mexico. Thus, this part of the plan, while it manages to keep our economy afloat, will do nothing to stop the huge numbers of undocumented workers.

Moreover, Bush expressly claims that his plan will not grant amnesty to criminals. Critics claim the plan does exactly that by allowing those who have committed a crime by entering the United States illegally to stay. Conversely, others criticize the plan because it does not expressly outline rights they believe should be granted to workers, including a sufficient minimum wage, which would benefit not only the workers but also those Americans willing to compete for the same jobs.

Even more issues arise from tightening the borders, the second aspect of the Dual Immigration Plan. The first is monetary. Border Patrol is asking for more money to stop the flow of undocumented workers, even though their funding has increased tenfold in the last decade without any real results.

Concentrating money and energy on Mexican workers also diverts attention from issues of national security at the southern border. The Department of Homeland Security is concerned that members of terrorist organizations will establish themselves in Mexico and then attempt to cross the border.

More important, however, is the number of lives lost each year by Mexican nationals who dehydrate in the desert heat. In 2004, as many as 460 people were estimated to have perished under the punishing sun.

But the biggest problem is that this plan is not new. It’s just a rewritten form of Bush’s immigration plan announced January 2004 – the plan that was heralded as Bush’s great humanitarian effort, ending the string of deaths along the desert borderlands and allowing people to find work that they could not in their impoverished hometowns -that was never implemented.

An unknown number of Latino workers die every year in the deserts and at the hands of coyotes, paid border-crossing guides. Even more arrive in the United States only to end up enslaved to business partners of the coyotes, forced into farm labor until they pay off debts owed – debts that, due to bad bookkeeping, can often never be repaid.

Something must be done to reform immigration to prevent the resulting death and enslavement in our own country. Tighter borders without better cooperation between the nations of Mexico and the United States can only result in more tragedy.

Immigrant workers have proven to contribute to the economy. If this is the case, why are we trying so hard to keep them out at the expense of our taxes and their lives?

Jenette Sturges is a junior in LAS. Her column appears every Tuesday. She can be reached at [email protected]