Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Throwing Softballs and Rocks

The final segments of this morning's show featured the Imminent Ambassador of Mexico, Andres Rosenthal, who is in Houston speaking today for the Houston World Affairs Council.

We discussed the agenda for the administration of new Mexican President, Felipe Calderon, and some possible solutions for issues common to the US and Mexico. Immigration was tops on the list, but the connective tissue of the conversation naturally included the economic and educational policies of Mexico.

Just after closing the show, I received a phone call from a listener (who remains nameless) asking why we were “throwing softball questions” to the guest, and why we weren’t tougher on the Ambassador.

The caller wanted to know why we didn’t bring up the issues of undocumented Mexicans “stacked six deep in a cheap apartment, eating rice, and sending all their money back to Mexico.” The caller knew this because he operates Class-C apartments, which he upgrades to Class-B, but says “the Mexicans” will roach-out his units by allowing too many people to live in space designed for far fewer.

His rant continued; why didn’t we ask about American workers--like the caller’s son, a chef, who must work for a job at $20/hour because of the influx of chefs from Acapulco, who force down the median wage because of their willingness to work here for less pay.

After his clock un-wound, I simply asked, “why didn’t you call-in to ask him yourself?”

That’s the thing about Radio.
It’s only as good as the participation.
I have always encouraged you to be a part of the show.
Some days we get takers, and some days we don’t.
Matters not to me—I will always have content for you, with or without calls.

This listener’s comments were a little like hearing from an armchair quarterback…after the game is over.

I took the man to task, too—I take offense at stereotyping, and his description of a bunch of Mexicans clustered in a small apartment eating rice so they can send money back home, while rooted in truth, was offensive in its depiction. The reason the US and Mexico have an immigration problem is simple economics: there’s more work here than there; there’s better pay here than there.

Like membrane osmosis, where higher concentrations diffuse across to weaker concentrations, Mexican workers are simply going where the jobs—and the money—are more plentiful.

If the caller had been listening, he would have recognized solid answers to the question raised about how Mexican President Calderon was addressing the issue of immigration: Better education, better jobs, less corruption south of the Rio Grande, and a fostering of an economic environment that retains talent in Mexico.

Yeah, I got that answer with a “softball;” imagine what the Ambassador might have said, had we tossed him a rock: “What are you going to do about Mexicans coming here and taking our jobs?” which was how the caller posed it to me.

The guy's question was mis-directed, actually.
It’s not Mexico’s responsibility to address US wages.
It’s not Mexico’s responsibility to tell cooks from Acapulco to not go to the US for better pay.
It’s not Mexico’s responsibility to tell expatriates, don’t you go up there to Texas and stack a half-dozen of you in a one-bedroom apartment.

The immigrant issue is not going to be easily solved—not while xenophobes like this guy promote harmful stereotypes, and address the problem emotionally. The reality is that while there are 11.5-million illegal immigrants in the US, most of them are, in fact, contributing to the economy and our tax base as they spend their earnings here.

There isn’t enough manpower—or busses—to physically round them all up and send them packing across the border. That's just not a realistic answer.

Just as the problem really is one of economics, the best solution will likely also be economic in nature:
Create a mechanism to harness the earning power of such immigrants.
Create a mechanism to tax dollars remitted to families in Mexico.
Create financial penalties for employers who knowingly hire illegal foreigners—and put it into a fund for enforcement of whatever US Immigration Policy ends-up being.

The other reality that my stone-throwing caller failed to acknowledge is that most of the immigrants from Mexico (excepting the criminal element) are the cream of that culture, driven by a higher desire to achieve and excel.

They can't do that there, so they come here to realize their dream.
I think it's something called "the American Dream..."

That is the element we want woven into the fabric of our country, which derives its strength from the diversity of our conjoined cultures and heritages.

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