U-C: What I See

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Musings on trade, immigration, and faithfulness


With all of the energy around the immigration debate at the moment, many have asked for my opinion. I thought I would post a response I wrote to someone this morning. This is a very cursory reflection,

If you are Presbyterian, and interested in becoming a positive part of the immigration conversation in our church, please send an email to Dana at ddages@ctr.pcusa.org to ask for an invitation to participate in the Immigration network in the PC(USA).

So here are some quick thoughts that are based on my border experience over the last eighteen years:

First, the unspoken conversation underlying our broken immigration policy is our flawed trade policy. Until we create trade policy that makes a legitimate attempt to build up the infrastructure, local economies, and job opportunities that provide a genuine future in Latin American countries with whom we would like to trade, we will continue to see a border and an immigration crisis here in the U.S.

Current trade policy is designed to promote economic growth for multinational corporations by dropping trade tariffs, but the result is a policy that sucks most of the economic resources out of the Latin American country because the driving motivator for the corporations is always going to be access to cheap labor and cheap natural resources. The problem, of course, is that the money leaves the communities, and although the workers often do get a steady paycheck, none of the profits remain to be re-invested in the community itself. (Note that this is no different than the arguments taking place in many of our communities about “big-box stores” that wipe out local businesses.)

Though no one has really asked me, it seem to me that the elegant solution would be to insist that if we sign a trade agreement with any country, we will concurrently sign legislation allowing the free and open movement of workers back and forth between our country and theirs. (Think about the way it currently works between states in the U.S.) I would note that this is not only good theology, it's also Capitalism 101. The ability of the worker to move for a better job is supposed to create a pressure that will drive up wages, and a "rising tide will lift all boats." That's not what's going on with trade policy we're developing in our hemisphere, where we allow capital and products to cross borders, but not workers.

Some folks respond that then “everyone would come here.” That’s probably true, which suggests that we would be much more intentional about designing trade legislation designed to create sustainable communities from which the immigrants are originating, offering them a legitimate choice to stay where they are because they can actually support their families without migrating to do so.

Second, we could solve many of our immigration problems very quickly with a good, readily accessible visa program for any Mexican or Central American who shows up at our border with a passport and a clean bill of health. As far as I'm concerned, I'd even be willing to see a hefty fee of $500 to $1,000 to cover administrative costs, since migrants are typically mortgaging everything they own or entering into indentured servitude to pay several times that to smugglers in order to get across the border right now. Once those folks are fully documented, it means that they are paying taxes. This is how we solve a serious problem of lack of infrastructure that exists in many communities that have been overwhelmed by undocumented migrants. If we want hospitals, schools, community security and transportation systems that create good quality of life in our communities, the answer is to use the tax base to put those systems in place, the same we our country has been doing that for decades.

Further, the church community has continually insisted, and will continue to insist, that any documentation program must provide the ability to reunite families, allow workers the ability to move independently to look for work (so that they don’t become a captive, “slave” labor force for an employer who can threaten them with deportation), and the ability to work toward citizenship if they are solid members of the community.

Finally, until these macro problems are solved, churches must find out where migrants are and support them. To be without documents in our country today is to be at extreme risk. It will take great courage and serious commitment for our churches to stand against the “anti-immigrant” lunacy that currently is infecting our country and insist that we will live the gospel values of welcoming the stranger and caring for the dispossessed.

I hope that you, like I, have been moved by the sight of several million people who have been demonstrating peacefully over the past few months to let us know that they are here, they are doing critical work this country depends on, and they only desire to be full and productive members of our community.

Peace to you,