Maybe Mexico Should Try Open Borders First

By Ric Oberlink
Volume 11, Number 3 (Spring 2001)
Issue theme: "George W. Bush, last Republican president? And does it matter?"

President Bush visited Mexican President Vicente Fox at Fox's ranch in San Cristobal, Mexico this past February. Among the issues they discussed was Fox's support for an open border between Mexico and the United States.

Currently, no nation in the world allows unlimited immigration. If an open border is such a good idea, then Fox should just go ahead and open the Mexican border, not only to the bordering nations of Guatemala and Belize, but also to the rest of Latin America and even to Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, China, Somalia and every other nation.

In the meantime, the United States can increase its efforts to secure its borders and penalize employers who knowingly hire undocumented immigrants. Mexican cooperation at the border could help us limit entry here to those who use legal avenues. After two or three decades of observing Mexico's experiment with an open border, citizens of the United States could decide if they like the experiment and wish to emulate it.

The economy of Mexico is much more similar to that of its Latin American neighbors than to that of the United States. It would be less disruptive, therefore, for Mexico to open its southern border than it would be for the United States.

There is a $25,000 gap between the per capita GDP of the United States at $33,900 and that of Mexico at $8,500. Thus, the poorest countries in the world are more closely matched to Mexico's economy than Mexico is to the U.S. economy.

Even if one compares the disparities in relative rather than absolute terms, it follows that President Fox should be willing to accept immigrants from almost anywhere. If Fox thinks the United States should allow unlimited immigration from a nation whose per capita GDP is one-fourth as large, he should allow unlimited immigration from similarly situated countries. Guatemala, El Salvador, Indonesia, and China all have per capita GDPs that are proportionally much closer to that of Mexico than Mexico's is to that of the United States.

It is true that Mexicans will work for lower wages than native-born Americans. That is why rich industrialists support massive immigration. This is not new. Samuel Gompers warned of "corporate employers who desire to employ physical strength at the lowest possible wage and who prefer a rapidly revolving labor supply at low wages to a regular supply of American wage earners at fair wages."

Of course, Bangladeshis will work for lower wages than Mexicans will, so Fox should allow them to immigrate to Mexico. If every nation chooses to compete in the global economy with a never-ending spiral of declining wages, then each country should import people who will work for lower wages. Eventually, the labor market will stabilize with Third World wages and Third World working conditions.

Mexico deports thousands of Central American and other illegal immigrants each year. Recently, five Guatemalans were killed when the bus in which they were being deported overturned. Fox has yet to announce that Mexico will quit apprehending and deporting illegal entrants from Central America.

It is generally true that an improving Mexican economy will decrease some of the pressure to immigrate to the United States. However, the gap, as evidenced by the difference in per capita GDP, is so huge that it will make little difference in the near future. Still, millionaire Fox could help on this score, and he doesn't need to look too far. His family ranch is virtually the only employer in San Cristobal. President Fox could start by boosting the wages of the ranch laborers who currently make $8 per day.

About the author

Ric Oberlink is an environmental consultant for Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS). This op-ed appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune on March 7. Copyright 2001, Union-Tribune Publishing Co.