Illegal immigration is usually a hot button issue in American politics, but it’s especially prominent during this presidential election.
There are compelling arguments both from those who want stricter enforcement of immigration laws and those who want to remove most barriers to immigration.
People on the right point to the adverse effect illegal immigration has on wages, the presence of illegal immigrant criminals on the streets and in prisons, collection of welfare benefits by illegal immigrant-headed households, and the potential risk to national security of having migrants entering the country without proper screening.
People on the left raise a persuasive humanitarian narrative. There may be criminals who come into the country, but most illegal aliens are just looking to make a better life for themselves and their families.
That narrative speaks to us because it taps into the aspiration we all have, regardless of our ethnicity or nationality. The desire to be successful and make a good living.
And while the argument that permitting illegal immigration is humane successfully draws on our human sympathy, I want to challenge it–and do so as someone who’s actually lived in Mexico on the border (Tijuana) for several years.
I’ve learned from my experiences that not only are people not going to die of hunger if they don’t cross into the US; the countries immigrants come from would be better off if they stopped using the US as an escape valve for their problems.
If you go into Mexico, you’ll see that it really isn’t that different from the US. It doesn’t look as nice and everything is more compact, but aside from that there’s isn’t a whole lot different. There are rural areas and there are urban areas. Yeah, maybe you have to buy a gas tank and heat up the water 10 minutes before you shower. But there’s electricity, running water, gas stations, supermarkets. The lowest-earning workers may only make $100 US a week, but they still have wifi and cable. And they only pay $100/month in rent.
Also, there are lots of available jobs. Every plaza I go to has shops, stores, and restaurants looking for employees. Every factory I pass is hiring. Granted, these are obviously minimum wage jobs. But getting hired for them really isn’t that big of a challenge. Most of these positions don’t require more than proof of middle school graduation and a copy of your photo ID.
Landing something better requires hard work, but it isn’t impossible either. There’s free public schooling. Private schools, whose education is comparable to your average US public school, have tuition starting as low as $80 a month. There’s an abundance of large universities, small colleges, and night schools. Nearly every corner has an accredited institution where you can get the equivalent of a GED in about a year.
College educated people make at minimum about $500 a week for a starting position with a good company, which goes pretty far when you take into account the relatively low cost of living. Like I mentioned above, you can find a two-bedroom apartment or condo in a safe neighborhood for as little as $100 a month. You’ll probably never pay more than $200 for a two bedroom unless you go into the affluent areas. Or you can just buy a three-bedroom house for $30,000.
Basic healthcare, prescription medicine, and dental care are way cheaper than in the US (a fact that actually attracts a lot of Americans). And if you like going to the movies, a ticket costs only $3.00.
In short, you can live comfortably. Are there people dying in the streets? Sure. But there are native-born Americans dying in the streets of the United States, too. There are always people who make poor life choices and don’t manage to get by no matter how many resources are available to them.
Take one of our family friends–Yolanda. She’s a 50-year-old twice married single mom who’s always struggling financially. And she’s always struggling because she can’t hold a steady job. She had a nice opportunity selling cell phones for a while but quit because she didn’t get along with her coworkers. Later, a friend vouched for her at her place of work and got Yolanda a job with Foxconn. Yolanda quit after her first night because it was too much work.
It’s not surprising that Yolanda’s always talking about how she wants to go into the US illegally and how “racist” Americans are for wanting to “keep her people out.” She says she can’t wait to qualify for a tourist visa so she can get in and then not leave. Of course, at the rate she’s going, she’s never going to qualify for a tourist visa.
People like to take the easy way out. They look for the path of least resistance; once they’ve found it, they say there’s no other way to do it.
That’s very much the story of one of my wife’s friends, Sandra, who’s a stripper/prostitute at one of Tijuana’s most prominent brothels. In addition to her profession, she makes extra money by having affairs with multiple married men at the same time (obviously none of them know about each other) and having them pay for all her stuff–her car, her rent, her groceries, daughters’ school tuition.
She says she’s doing it all for her daughters (even though she sent her daughters to live with her mom for over a year so they wouldn’t interfere with her lifestyle). That she has no other choice. That there’s no other way for a single mom to make a good living. Funny that she tells this to my wife, who as a single mom provided for our daughter for six years by cleaning houses and working as a seamstress.
If you have your mind set on doing things right, there’s always a way. You can achieve the American Dream in Mexico. It might take more work, but it’s no impossible by any means.
I think of one of my friends, Daniel. He grew up in a humble, single parent home. When he got back from his Church mission at the age of 20, he started selling burritos on the street to pay his way through school. He learned how to take care of the legal stuff for businesses (registering them, filing taxes, etc.) and set up his own company offering these services to micro businesses and entrepreneurs.
Now he has three branches throughout the city, provides a comfortable lifestyle for his wife and daughter, and has enough free time to serve as Stake President presiding over nine congregations in the LDS Church.
Joel is another guy I admire. When he found that his salary just wasn’t enough to cover the bills, he got on the internet and learned all he could about eCommerce. He created an online shoe store that delivers all around Tijuana. Joel’s a person who didn’t let the lack of a college degree or significant capital stop him. He got on his feet, hustled, and found a way to succeed.
Ultimately, we’re the only ones responsible for how far we get in life. Most people aren’t born into ideal circumstances. But the lack of ideal circumstances doesn’t justify breaking the law or cheating the system in search of them.
Most people who go to the US illegally are hardworkers looking for a better life. Imagine what they could accomplish for themselves and their countries if they remained in their place of origin. The additional effort necessary to thrive would impel them to greater personal progress; instead of settling for washing dishes in LA, they might finish high school and pick up a trade in their home country. Then go on to start a business that would create jobs for others.
Immigrants like to come to the US because the hardwork of generations past has created an incredible, prosperous economy–the greatest in the world. But it hasn’t always been this way. From the colonists to the settlers of the great plains and the Mexican Cession, people had to pay the price to create something great from nothing.
Likewise, hardworking men and women all over the world can take the raw materials of their countries and create thriving economies where they already are. You can help to create a better Mexico; a better Guatemala; a better Nicaragua–or wherever. It’s just a matter of lifting where you stand.