Solving Income Gap is Missing Link to Immigration Reform

May 06, 2010

By Dr. Robert A. Pastor

In a May 1 op-ed in the Washington Post, Bruce Morrison and Paul Donnelly make a compelling case for the need for a better system than E-verify to ensure that only legal workers secure jobs in the United States. Morrison, a former member of Congress from Connecticut who chaired the House Subcommittee on Immigration from 1989 to 1991 and served on the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, and Donnelly, who served as communications director for the commission, are indeed no strangers to the complexities of the issue.

While Morrison and Donnelly say that developing a secure, biometric system of national identification is a critical but difficult step to reduce illegal migration, they fail to mention that the only long-term solution to the problem is to narrow the income gap between Mexico and its northern neighbors, because undocumented migrants do not come seeking jobs in the United States. In fact, 93% of them have jobs before they leave their home countries -- they come to the United States seeking higher wages.

When Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, its sponsors knew that its fatal flaw was an inadequate identification system, and they were right. The number of undocumented migrants soared from a few million to 11 million today, and the demand for counterfeit social security cards grew at an even faster rate. Some propose that we enhance the social security card, but that would be as mistaken as using drivers’ licenses. Both cards serve vital and different purposes. We want everyone on our roads to have a driver’s license, whether they are here legally or illegally, but if we deny driver’s licenses to undocumented workers, we only make our roads less safe. Similarly, we want our hard-pressed social security system to provide checks to the elderly, and we don't want to use it to separate people who seek jobs legally from those who don't. We need, in short, a national biometric ID system in order to deal with undocumented migration, national security threats, electoral integrity, and to combat identify fraud.

But there is simply no way to halt the illegal flow of immigrants from Mexico to the United States until Washington joins with Ottawa and Mexico City to construct a North American Investment Fund to build infrastructure in the south of Mexico and connect it to its northern neighbors. This is not only the missing link of comprehensive immigration reform; it is also the missing link of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Only with a comprehensive development strategy in North America will we ever see Mexico join the first world and North America become a formidable competitor to China and Europe.


Dr. Robert A. PastorDr. Robert A. Pastor is a professor of international relations and co-director of the Center for North American Studies and the Center for Democracy and Election Management at American University in Washington, DC. He has written or edited 16 books and many articles about international relations, including "A Century’s Journey: How the Great Powers Shape the World" (Basic Books, 1999) and "Exiting the Whirlpool: U.S. Foreign Policy Toward Latin America and the Caribbean" (Westview, 2001). Dr. Pastor is now completing a new book called "The North American Idea," which offers a vision and a blueprint for a new relationship between the United States, Mexico, and Canada.


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