Migration & Culture/Koptiuch
Nogales Fieldtrip Reports



My location for this paper is a rural and often overlooked, but highly trafficked border point in Naco, Mexico and Douglas, Arizona. I chose this place because I have been there many times and I know many people in the local area.

The signs of what goes on here are everywhere. First you see border patrol check points that never seem to stop anyone headed south and empty plastic bottles littered across empty stretches of desert. To those of us born here these things might go unnoticed that is until you talk to the local people on both sides of this border.

When you begin to talk to the locals on this side of the border, you begin to see just how complicated the politics of the situation are. Some want more enforcement of immigration policies, while others feel limiting immigration is a lost cause, and think we need to find other answers. On the other side of the border, many do not want to be a part of what is seen as the immigration problem, but do not know of an alternative to providing for their own and their familyís survival.

On the United States side of the border, the illegal immigration issue is creating mass division between city, state and federal governments. One of the best illustrations of this division is found in a town just north of Douglas, called Bisbee. In Bisbee I spoke with some of the locals about the cars and property seized by the border patrol that are housed in Bisbee later to be auctioned. The proceeds of which go to the town of Bisbee. The locals not feeling right about this policy, voted to refuse the money and now the federal government has had to suspend the auctions until a decision is made about what to do with the proceeds.

On the Mexico side of the border, the "coyotes", who charge Mexicans a fee to be transported across the border have been forced to raise their rates for such service. This may be due to new policies allowing the border patrol to seize property from the coyotes. The coyotes are then inflating their fees for profit margins. Crossing the border has also become more dangerous. The coyotes are now choosing more remote routes on which to transport people. These routes are more removed from population centers and needed supplies. Both of these factors have left thousands of migrants to fend for themselves. Thus, the death toll from robbery and exposure to the elements has risen dramatically.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service in cooperation with the Drug Enforcement Administration has pushed legislation that treats illegal immigration in the same manner as drug trafficking. The attempt to make illegal immigration a part of the "war on drugs" has created a much more dangerous situation to immigrate under and has created harsher punishment for the coyotes.  This puts many in a desperate situation who are hoping to cross the border and make a livable wage, most of which is remitted back to their families in Mexico.

The coyotes now face an equation with greater risks and smaller profit. In some areas drug lords are replacing the coyotes by offering safe passage to immigrants willing to smuggle drugs for them. In many instances, the immigrants are more fearful of the drug lords than they would be of the border patrol or the coyotes.

The more I talk to the people in these areas, the more I believe that our federal government is too far removed and too well insulated from the realty of the effect of its policies. We have to find a better way to approach the issue. The first question I had to look into was how did this situation evolve? In talking to people and reading the history of what is going on, it seems that it really began when greed-driven American commodities brokers began to negotiate with the early Mexican government leaders to keep a supply of cheap farm labor and cheap produce. Then I looked into the evolution of the situation and found that as time went by, it grew harder to make an honest living in Mexico with corruption in their government. This level of corruption would lead to revolution out of necessity. Our countryís practice of taking advantage of this situation created an artificial supply and demand scenario. We created a supply of jobs in this country at a livable wage by Mexicoís standards while simultaneously creating a demand for more workers willing to work for wages considered less than adequate by American standards. The ability to find a less violent answer to this survival issue has prevented a revolution that is long overdue and has kept a source of low wage/high output employees in the Untied States.

We have a lot of different options for breaking the cycle of exploitation that has evolved in places like Naco. The most radical solution is to impose sanctions and barricade Mexico from trade with the rest of the world. This option doesnít always work and often makes problems worse before they get better. We could attempt to fund and supply a rebellion in Mexico, but there is no way to tell what kind of government will replace what is already there. We could ask our businesses to pay fair wages and do background checks on citizenship status but profit margins often override fair play. The only answer that doesnít involve bloodshed that Iíve seen is a law that requires all goods brought into this country to come from factories that pay U.S. minimum wage. A fine could be imposed on companies who do not pay their employees the minimum wage. The fine should equal the amount of back wages owed to the employee, which would then be reimbursed to the employee. In order for this to work the employees need to have easy access to the U.S. Consulate to report violations. The financial incentives of such a law will give employees in factories all around the world a good reason to risk reporting their employers. A law of this nature would pass readily in a court of public opinion, but it would face an enormous hurdle with almost every lobbyist in Washington, with the noted exception of the union lobbyists. These lobbyists need a law like this to help prevent jobs from leaving the United States. At our current minimum wage it still makes sense for corporations to invest in jobs in foreign markets, as few here would be willing to work for so little. In foreign markets the minimum wage bolsters economies and creates reasonable survival wages while forcing other companies in the affected regions to compete. Thus creating stable economies and curtailing the prime incentive for illegal immigration.

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