Why is illegal immigration still an issue? That was a question posed by a Washington Post writer this week.
To many in the interior of the country, on the coasts and in the north — anywhere away from the border and not entrenched in agriculture — that sentiment might just ring true, in light of an immigration study released Monday.
The Pew Hispanic Center, a Washington-based think tank on Latino issues, released a study early last week that says immigration to the country from Mexico and Latin America — especially illegal immigration — is at its lowest levels in modern history. The study finds a number of factors to be rooted in the cause, including enhanced border enforcement, through manpower and technology.
But the most telling factor, the one that should raise the ears of all Americans, is the fact that this land of milk and honey, where so many men and women would brave treacherous circumstances, even death, to get here to work, is no longer a destination. An improving economy in Mexico, and one in the United States still trying to recover in fits and starts, are keeping illegal immigration at bay, sending away in droves an underground work force on which this country thrives.
The numbers tell it all: About 12 million people — half of them illegal — have immigrated to the U.S. over the last 40 years. Between 1995 and 2000, about 3 million Mexicans immigrated to the U.S. and fewer than 700,000 returned home. Between 2005 and 2010, though, about 1.4 million Mexican arrived, and an equal amount went home.
This is a telltale sign of the times. But while the state of the California and U.S. economy is no surprise to anyone, it really drives home the severity of the labor problem to know that the clandestine, second economy that operates in this country is struggling.
On the surface, for many Americans without a true understanding of the conditions of legal — not undocumented — migrant labor, this all comes as good news. For us on the border, the study illustrates an issue farmers and other businessmen have been seeing get worse for the last five-plus years.
There just aren’t enough legal migrant workers to harvest all the crops this nation and this Valley are capable of growing. Mechanization has only come so far. Despite the cries to the contrary, Americans are not rushing into the fields to harvest.
Illegal immigration reform, and at the very least a viable, possibly incentivized guest worker program, is absolutely vital. Remember, agriculture is still king in this county, but someone’s got to harvest the bounty to get it to market.
So yes, immigration reform is still needed, perhaps more than ever. The problem is, it’s always a political football, and just when it’s time for serious discussion, that discussion gets delayed because it’s too hot-button and complicated to deal with in an election cycle.
It’s divisive for all the wrong reasons, and yet the Imperial Valley, at the center of the issue, suffers because of it. We still hold out hope, though, that reform will come.
Illegal immigration numbers are down.
The sobering fact is the U.S. appears to no longer be the land of milk and honey.
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