Recently in U.S.-Mexico border Category
The Obama administration is trying to defuse a trade skirmish with Mexico by proposing to allow long-haul Mexican trucks access to the U.S. after banning them from U.S. roads in March 2009. Like many industries in which U.S. workers feel pressure from non-Americans willing to do the same work for less pay, U.S. truckers are upset, judging by the negative reaction from Teamsters president James Hoffa. But did he have to dredge up the bogeyman of border violence to make his case?
the proposal by the Transportation Department was denounced by the Teamsters union, which represents long-haul truckers and fears that expanded Mexican trucking within the United States will threaten jobs.
"I am deeply disappointed by this proposal," the union's president, James P. Hoffa, said in a statement. "Why would the D.O.T. propose to threaten U.S. truck drivers' and warehouse workers' jobs when unemployment is so high? And why would we do it when drug cartel violence along the border is just getting worse?" Mr. Hoffa also raised safety concerns.
The Teamsters make a stink, and Democratic politicians don't know what to do, not wanting to take a strong position on the issue that will upset either labor or immigrant rights constituencies, or both.
In situations like this, business has the last laugh. Transnational corporations move capital and goods more or less freely across borders, and move management from country to country with relatively little trouble. But workers are stuck in the countries they were born in, either fighting to cross borders in contravention of business-oriented immigration laws or fighting to send workers just like them back to the countries they escaped from. Why is the assumption about low-wage migration always that when workers have more options and more freedom, workers will lose? Why do workers always end up pitted against each other across borders instead of working together, while corporate profits keep rolling in? It doesn't have to be this way.
There's a cosmopolitan, classically liberal element of business that is aligned with an open borders immigration policy. But business in the U.S. has generally been focused on increasing the flow of high-skill, high-wage workers, ceding control over conservative messaging to nativists. Business has not pulled its weight in recent years in promoting liberal immigration reform, it had delivered a paltry number of Republican politicians for any compromise bill and has by now lost even those. Business's families aren't being separated every day, business isn't getting locked up and deported, business isn't dying in the desert. Business is doing just fine under the status quo.
When the Teamsters play to nativist sympathies to keep immigrant workers out of the U.S. or stuck in the underground economy, they are ultimately not doing any favors for U.S. workers.
(Check out Mexico Trucker Online for "straight talk about Mexico and Mexican trucks.")
When I was in college, 3,000 miles from where I am today, I was really stunned and distraught to read that many Border Patrol agents were Mexican-American. Though I knew very little about border dynamics at the time, I was struck by the lack of ethnic compassion and recognition of shared immigration stories. Deciding and then undeciding to do thesis research on the topic, it's ironic that by the force of fate, I ended up living and working on the border 3 years later and once again thinking about this tension.
What I initially found puzzling now makes a lot more sense. Although the explicit aim of the BP is to intercept illegal immigration, my conversations with BP agents have led me to believe that they are not consciously nativist in their aspirations. Rather I've found that they're focused on their personal goals for the job, "securing America" and "securing their jobs", their versions of doing good and doing well.
Even though Nogales is a more tranquilo border city than the ones in the news (Tijuana, Juarez), I don't usually linger too long near the line because as a guera (light-haired, light-skinned), I'm recognized as an American (which I am mostly), assumed to have money (which I don't really), and solicited for a taxi, taxi or to buy pharmaceuticals or souvenirs "for your boyfriend", as I'm told in impressively unaccented English. This interaction, sort of amusing and novel the first time I crossed 5 months ago, lost its appeal pretty quickly and I've trained hard to maintain an as-uninterested-as-possible expression on my face to reduce the solicitations to buy stuff. It's sort of worked. It also helps that I'm chaparrita (short) so I blend in more if I travel alone.
A few days ago I had the chance to linger for a longer while and observe the pedestrian traffic on the Mexican side. I wasn't exactly surprised by what I saw, since I have been a foot pedestrian for a while now, but standing there and doing nothing but watching, I became newly aware of the contrasts and different degrees of privilege before me, all coexisting for brief moments as they pass and don't pass each other. These are the people that I share foot space with on the Nogales border:
- The most privileged crossers: American-passport carrying retirees venturing into Mexico on an excursion to try burros (burritos), buy cheap medicine among the sea of pharmacies and perhaps a mask or some animal horns (no joke, I saw retirees carrying this as a souvenir a few weeks ago).
- The second most privileged crossers: Mexican-Americans with US passports, mostly residents of the border on the US side, going to visit their families, work, conduct business, and carry out the million other activities that link the two sides. I think of this group as the second most privileged because they tend to have less disposable income than the retirees and are often treated rudely by Customs officials for being Mexican.
- The semi-privileged crossers: A little known but large group totaling several million border residents who after proving their ties to Mexico (through business, employment, family, property, or other ties), i.e. that they are only entering the US for a temporary stay, applied successfully for border crossing cards that entitle them to enter the US, 25 miles inland, and up to Tucson 65 miles away in Arizona, for a period of 30 days. This group, a huge chunk of border traffic, is semi-privileged because they have to jump through a lot of hoops to cross legally, and even when they do their movement in the US is limited.
- The non-crossers: The majority of Mexicans do not qualify or cannot afford visas to the US and cannot cross through legal means. (Mexicans who hail from areas south of the border do not qualify for the border crossing cards.) Those who want/need to cross but can't are forced to cross illegally. When I lingered, I watched about 25 crossers in camouflage dark green, blue and black clothing. It wasn't clear to me which of them were preparing to cross and which had just been deported. Some carried Homeland-Security issued plastic bags with clothes in them. I'm not sure whose clothes they were. Although I was intensely curious, I respected their privacy and held back from asking questions since they were either about to embark on a possibly deadly journey or had been forcibly returned from one.
I feel like it's so obvious, but I still need to point out how incredibly unfair it is that people like me can cross on a whim, that the hierarchy of border crossers exists and that the "non-crossers" have to risk their lives to cross. On a return visit to the border on Friday, I snapped these two shots. The first is a small section of the wall in which Nogalenses have attached crosses to mourn the Mexicans who have died crossing. You can't see it in the picture but the crosses bear the names of the dead.
And this is the graffitied sentiment on the wall generated by unequal border policies and the resulting deaths.
For those who don't know Spanish, the graffiti reads, "BORDERS, SCARS ON THE LAND."
In an ideal world, I would advocate for the erasure of borders. In the real world, I want to push for a sensitization of borders to people's needs and wants, to be with family, to work, to travel, to move more freely.
The border crossing card that allows the semi-privileged crossers entry into the US may be the model that we need to build off of. This card could possibly increase Mexicans' and other foreigners' access to the US and create reciprocity between US immigration policies and the freer immigration policies of countries that allow us unlimited entry. Obviously the border visa card would need to be revised - 25 miles and 30-day restrictions just don't cut it - but it is a start. The border visa card could even win over conservative Americans. Its laser technology means authorities can regulate who is entering, and because it allows people to come and go, it is likely to reduce "illegal" immigration. This is by far not the only solution, but one that seems fairly obvious for this border resident.