May 01, 2006

A Place for MexAmerica: Between the Border and the Wall

In my previous posts on the border and immigration issues, I concentrated not on what I might like to see happen in the best of all possible worlds, but very much on what I thought was actually feasible in today's political climate. There I came down in pretty much the same place as Michael Barone and Hugh Hewitt: "A High Wall and a Big Gate". I still think that's about the best compromise that can be achieved, and perhaps the compromise that will ultimately, once the dust has settled, be put into place.

However, the following proposal is more of something I think would be good, but is novel enough that its chances of implementation are hard to estimate. That is, build the Wall -- a physical border barrier large enough to deter all but the most ninja-like of border-crossers -- but build it substantially north of the actual legal border -- pehaps fifty to a hundred miles north, except in aras like San Diego where there are already major cities. In the space between the wall and the border (let's call it "the Zone"), permit an orderly inflow of Mexican citizens, who would be photographed, fingerprinted, and checked for criminal records in both the US and Mexico, but otherwise permitted to pass between the Zone and Mexico at will. Passage between the Zone and the interior of the US would be subject to the same regulations as the border today, except that with a wall those regulations might actually be enforced. Within the Zone US and state law would be enforced as usual, and US and state courts would function as normal. A local police force would be supported by local taxation; local social services would be supported by local taxation entirely, including a border-pass fee.

The idea would be that the Zone would be the laboratory for the mixing of Mexican labor and American capital, managerial skill, and American law and administration. Glenn Reynolds call recently for "annexing" Mexico -- essentially, reforming Mexico to bring it up to US levels of transparency. A good idea -- but the barriers to reform in Mexcio are huge and very deep-seated. The blogosphere has been dumping on Vicente Fox a great deal in the past few months, but the fact is that Fox has been substantially better than any previous Mexican president in this century; possibly, he has been the best Mexican president since Benito Juarez. The fact that so little has been done is more an indication of the size of the swamp rather than Fox's good intentions in wanting to drain it.

In short, if we want a reformed Mexico, perhaps the best way to get it is to let it be built on our own soil -- or at least a Zone that would have an extremely powerful demonstration effect for Mexico proper. We have seen that Mexicans working within Anglo-American legal systems, and in the American economy, have worked hard and enjoyed substantial success. Those who say we need a large supply of Mexican workers can move to the Zone and enjoy an almost unlimited supply thereof. Labor-intensive facilities such as nursing homes might find it a good place to locate -- lots of sunshine, too. Want affordable domestic help? Move to the Zone. In the meantime, Mexicans working in the Zone have the full protection of American employment and labor law, which would apply in the Zone just as anywhere else.

This proposal has obvious unresolved issues. The largest one would be that children born to non-Americans in the Zone would retain the citizenship of their parents -- if at least one were not American, they would not be entittled to American citizenship. This is a big change, but it is clearly within Congress's power to makee that change.

MexAmerica -- a zone of mixing between American and Mexican culture and people -- has been a reality ever since the first gringos moved to Texas. There's nothing wrong or unnatural about it -- it's a natural consequence of the mixing of two dissimilar cultures. It's just that there has been a clear expression of the great majority of Americans that we do not want all of America to turn into MexAmerica, at least without a chance to vote on it. Perhaps while assuring that the atter does not happen, we should spend some energy trying to find the appropriate legal and structural forms to accommodate the natural MexAmerica that has already arisen on both sides of the border.

Posted by James C. Bennett at May 1, 2006 06:36 PM
Comments

Hundreds of thousands of American Citizens live in this proposed "zone"; ranches, farms, entire towns placed beyond the effective border of the United States? How are their Rights protected? How is their property protected? You would make them second-class citizens withoin their own country. There are vital piplelines, power line, highways and railroads all-along the border regions, as well as US-taxpayer funded recreation areas and Big Bend National Park. And it would play right into the hands of the Reconquesta Movement by yielding 120,000 square-miles of America back to Mexico.

This is not "national security", it's xenophobia.

Posted by: Ted B. (Charging Rhino) at May 1, 2006 07:14 PM

I have some trouble understanding your objections.

We would want to exclude subsatntial population centers from the Zone. However, we might consider letting towns decide for themselves whether to be in the Zone or not. Many of the border towns make their living from the border and might find this proposal attractive.

You ask how US citizens in the Zone would have their rights protected. The answer is, by American state, local, and US police and marshals, and by state and federal courts, all of which would continue to enforce and apply US law in the Zone. Exactly what rights do the border residents have now that they wouldn't under this proposal?

The whole point of the Zone is to mix American capital, education, and entrepreneurship with Mexican labor and striving for betterment under American law and administration, thus creating the betterment opportunities that today act as a huge magnet to draw illegals throughout the US. Reform of Mexico itself is problematic and will take a very long time if it happens at all. We need a solution that we can create now, under our own control.

Since the US came to the Southwest a almost two hundred years ago, the de-facto situation in places like the Rio Grande Valley was something like this. The population was primarily Mexican-American, and most families lived on both sides of the border. The border scarcely existed in terms of migration control, and people came and went as they pleased. The reconquista was not an issue because the Texans had self-confidence in themselves, their history, and their idenity -- something which if we could restore in the nation as a whole would render the reconquista the absurdity any self-confident culture would find it to be.

This old MexAmerican system has broken down under the pressure of accelerated migration, and the pervasive presence of illegals throughout the interior of the US, from sources throughout Mexico and Central America. We can't go back to the status quo ante, but this proposal might recreate some of its more positive features.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at May 1, 2006 09:09 PM

Here's a counter-proposal: rather than effectively moving the border North, how about moving it South? Let the citizens of a Mexican border state such as Nuevo Leon vote on joining the U.S.!

Posted by: Peter Saint-Andre at May 1, 2006 09:16 PM

I have wondered if a zone like this might work on a smaller scale with Haiti, using the U.S. Territory of Navassa Island. The island's environmental status now probably precludes the prospect. But I think you may be onto something in the idea of using special forms of sovereignty to influence development.

What about creating a zone such as you propose on the Mexican side of the border, under some kind of NAFTA jurisdiction? The zone could have a new kind of North American law and joint officials to administer it.

Posted by: David Billington at May 1, 2006 10:44 PM

Peter and David:

In both cases the critical question becomes what kind of law (and law enforcement) gets applied. There was a movement, historically, to create a "Republic of the Rio Grande" in the 19th Century composed of the northeastern states of Mexico -- its flag resembled the Texan flag, but with four stars. However, in order to attract capital on the same scale and terms as in the US you really need Common Law administered by a reasonably effective and transparent government. The trouble with "a new kind of law" is that most investors will want to see how that works out in practice before putting much money at risk. Tried and true is a very useful feature of legal systems; particularly in a system like Common Law it allows the "wisdom of crowds" effect to add the benefits of diverse human experience.

There are already free zones on the Mexican side (most "maquiladoras" are in free zones of some sort) but they suffer from the same jurisdictional and transparency issues.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at May 1, 2006 11:21 PM

IMHO, all the proffered approaches to border control, immigration, and economic integration have rational, reasonable roadmaps for success. It's just that, as JB notes, the political reality compromises all of them. There's a substantial constituency for the status quo - irrationality and unreasonableness and all. Mostly because being American is now defined as prosperity and individual rights, not the shared civic disciplines [derived from the Anglosphere] required for liberty. This is part of the tribal history of America that may take another civil war to sort out.

Being an immigrant, without subscribing to those civic disciplines, is still entirely possible ... even a source of pride. As with the Depression, and its curtailment of European immigration to America, when US prosperity goes ... or national security requires a massive suppression of individual rights derived from law (rather than community) ... the immigration issue will get sorted out pronto. Such a sorting presupposes some terrible circumstances so, unlike the Israeli case, I think it'll be a while before we see the Wall or a Zone. Maybe this guy (read down in http://www.strategypage.com/qnd/urbang/articles/20060501.aspx) plans on speeding up the process.

Posted by: james mccormick at May 1, 2006 11:38 PM

Well, I hate saying it but a similar system was tried in South Africa. It was called apartheid and was not a howling success. Nor are the aftereffects. Having said that, I am afraid I cannot come up with a better solution.

Posted by: Helen at May 2, 2006 10:21 AM

James - What I am suggesting is not an economic zone along the lines of maquiladoras but a political zone with Canadian and American administrators working alongside Mexicans under laws and procedures that could be borrowed largely from the United States. The question is whether Mexico would be okay with this.

American capital accepts the legal and transparency risks of investing in places like China because there is so much money to be made and the risks are therefore acceptable. A zone in northern Mexico would have to prove itself before it attracts comparable inflows of capital, but if it is jointly administered by the three NAFTA partners and has to meet first world standards of administration and accountability, I should think American (and more importantly Mexican) investors might give it a try.

A special administrative zone in northern Mexico under trilateral control, maybe with a term limit of fifty years, would be a novel extension of NAFTA. Some Mexicans might regard it as an intrusion on their sovereignty, even if it is only temporary. But more conventional development strategies aren't working and Mexicans and Americans should have something unconventional to debate.

If I understand your point, it is that the long-term need is to close the development gap between Mexico and the United States. My idea may not be the best answer but I do think arrangements involving flexible forms of sovereignty are worth continuing to explore.

Posted by: David Billington at May 2, 2006 10:44 AM

Helen said: Well, I hate saying it but a similar system was tried in South Africa. It was called apartheid and was not a howling success. Nor are the aftereffects. Having said that, I am afraid I cannot come up with a better solution.

I don't really see how this proposal is comparable to South Afican apartheid. The US is over 15% Latino (actual percentage depending on how you count illegals and how many of them there actually are) and they now have and would continue to have complete equality with other Americans (considering affirmative action, they might be said to have greater rights.) And the new migrants into the Zone also have equality beofre the law, including the right to queue for citizenship on the same basis as anybody else. None of this was true for "township" residents, to whom I assume you are comparing the proposed migrants into the Zone. A better comparison in some ways would be Hong Kong, which was in effect a Zone of this sort between China and Britain. The same people who were poor and miserable when in China proper became prosperous and free once they made it to Hong Kong. The only rights they did not have were those of residence to Britain. That lack only became an issue when Hong Kong's freedom from Chinese rule started to come into question.

David said: A special administrative zone in northern Mexico under trilateral control, maybe with a term limit of fifty years, would be a novel extension of NAFTA. Some Mexicans might regard it as an intrusion on their sovereignty, even if it is only temporary. But more conventional development strategies aren't working and Mexicans and Americans should have something unconventional to debate.

If I understand your point, it is that the long-term need is to close the development gap between Mexico and the United States. My idea may not be the best answer but I do think arrangements involving flexible forms of sovereignty are worth continuing to explore.

David: If this were agreed to by the Mexicans, and it were to have a Common Law based legal code, it might work. A NAFTA auspices might make it more palatable; if the US were to lend at least a few square miles of its own territory to such a Zone I think that would make it a lot more acceptable to Mexico. One point of reference for such a legal code might be the NAFTA Chapter 11 tribunal system (this has nothing to do with Chapter 11 bankruptcy; it's a despute-resolution system) that provides a final means fo appeal for parties from one NAFTA nation who feel they have been unfairly dealt with in the courts of another NAFTA member.

One of the problems we face on the border is the enormous disparity of incomes and development levels between Mexico and the US -- one of the largest disparities across a land border anywhere in the world. This is a huge driver for illegal immigration. Fixing Mexico is a very long and problematic process. (Some people say sealing off the border would hasten the process. Maybe. Maybe from a hundred years to sixty.) Encouraging the independence of Northern Mexico (which as an independent state would have a substantially higher GDP and development prospects) is politically untouchable. A Zone of substantial size along the border is a potentially acceptable means of making that buffer state that could absorb Mexican labor and American capital and know-how. If Mexico administers it, it would have all the same issues of transparency and administration that Mexico proper has. So some way must be found to get around that. Exactly what those ways might be is a useful topic for discussion.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at May 2, 2006 05:07 PM

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution presents a bit of a problem to this part of your scheme.

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.

Posted by: Kyle at May 2, 2006 07:55 PM

Kyle:

There's quite a literature on this, most recetnly discussed on NRO Corner. The key phrase is "subject to the jurisdiction thereof". That phrase is generally agreed to exclude children born to foreign diplomats in the US, and is interpreted so today. Puerto Ricans who before 1917 were not citizens, after that, were, by declaration of Congress, without any other change in the status of the island. Experts differ, but agree that Congress has some leeway to control citizenship of children of aliens admitted under special circumstances. The Constitutional provision could also be exempted from this situation by treaty with Mexico.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at May 2, 2006 09:21 PM

This proposal is almost as offensive as it is idiotic.

A "zone?" You want some kind of buffer zone between the two countries? That has got to be the most stupid idea I've ever heard of. And I notice that you expect the US to surrender the territory, but not Mexico. Exactly what is the Spanish word for "surrender-monkey"?

Mexico is a failed country with a dead culture. Its ruling elite are pure-bred Spanish land grant holders, whose ancestors looted the gold and stole the land from the native peoples of Mexico. They established a European feudal system with a tiny pure-Spanish land-owning aristocracy (ladinos), a small mixed-blood middle class (mestizos) and a large impoverished native lower class (pueblos). It is a remarkably stable system, judging from how long it has lasted in Europe, but its inability to generate anything other than itself proves it to be stagnant, corrupt and exploitative.

Mexico has more billionaires than Saudi Arabia. What do they do with their money? They keep it. They do not invest in the infrastructure or even the people of their own country. In fact, the ladinos do not associate and will not shake hands with mestizos, much less pueblos. They have nothing but disdain for anyone who is not of their blood (la sangre). Exactly which parts of the US are you willing to turn over to exploitative racists?

Mexico has French or Napoleonic law, which means there is no presumption of innocence. In other words, if you're arrested, you're guilty. This system of course is designed for corruption. There are no reliable legal records in Mexico, to suggest otherwise is to be an imbecile. Exactly how many US citizens are you expecting to give up their individual and constitutional rights to form the "zone"?

Mexico has a socialistic economy, which produces no jobs, creates no opportunities and is marred with corruption and stagnation. 40% of the population doesn't even make 1/4 of what a poor American makes. Exactly how many US citizens are you willing to impoverish to form the "zone"?

Oh, and there are no gringos in Texas. Gringo is a Spanish word that means it's better to be white like the underwear than brown like the stain. The American and European immigrants who came to Texas did so at the request of the Mexican government. Many of them became Mexican citizens. There was a distinction between those of Spanish descent (Tejanos) and those of American or European descent (Texians).

But Generalisimo Santa Anna worked his way up through the military and somehow got elected President, whereupon he shredded the Constitution of 1824, proclaimed himself emporer, the "Napoleon of the West," and waged war. He met his Waterloo in a little town called San Jacinto, where the Texians and Tejanos kicked his army's ass and found him hiding, dressed like a woman. The people in Texas remember the Alamo; they also remember Goliad. But most of all they remember San Jacinto, where the forces of freedom and constitutional government defeated tyranny and dictatorship. Mexico has absolutely no legitimate claim to Texas and never will.

Legal systems matter. They matter a lot. Political systems matter. They matter a lot. Economic systems matter. They matter a lot.

Mexico, Central and South America, as well as parts of Canada, were colonized by Spain, Portugal, France, or Holland, and the legal, political and economic systems that were set up throughout Latin America are all based on the European aristocratic model, that is, exploitative.

The United States were colonized by England and have English common law. After the Revolution, it was the great genius of the Founding Fathers that they established a system that is decidedly anti-European, that is, representative. Our system is based on freedom, liberty, equality, individual rights, and limited government. If you don't think that matters, you don't have a mind.

There is a reason why Mexico, Central and South America, and Canada hate the US so much. It's the same reason why Europe, from which their systems descend, hates the US. Because our system works, and theirs doesn't. Because our system creates jobs, and theirs doesn't. Because our system makes money, and theirs doesn't. Nothing could be more obvious.

The border isn't simply a river or a fence in the ground. It is a very real dividing line between competing systems. Ours representative, theirs exploitative.

The mere fact that you would suggest establishing a "zone" between the two, as if to make the transition from the former to the latter less painful, shows only how truly ignorant and vacuous you are.

Posted by: GawainsGhost at May 3, 2006 12:17 AM

Hi Jim,

Long time no see. from "the other Archipelago."

Whatever the future of the "Zone" in practice, I think it touches on the bigger problem of how America -- both the idea and the reality -- grows to encompass more and more of humanity. For surely, it would be a good thing if more and more human beings in the world --whereever they are--come to regard themselves as Americans in every sensible way, for example, their political, economic and cultural values, and practice.

If Globalization is to become largely a global good, it must involve the expansion of that sphere that contains the "best human practices" to date, which perhaps the word America lays a greater claim to nowadays than many others. Indeed, if America is "the right idea" for the 21st century, it must be because it is an idea that all countries and all human beings can adopt as their own and adapt to their particular situation in the world. It must be because America has discovered solutions to common problems that are worth emulating. The bigger challenge for the Anglosphere may be how to expand such Zones outside of America. But inside it would be a big deal too.

Best regards
DJB
Philippine Commentary

Posted by: DJB Rizalist at May 3, 2006 02:35 AM

More relevant to your earlier posts: Dick Morris on the "High Wall / Big Gate" logroll as the political resolution to the problem.

Posted by: Lex at May 3, 2006 08:41 AM

Gwainsghost:
First: Canada doesn't hate the U.S. because
Second: it's annoying falsehood that in civil law systems that the presumption of innocnce and double jeopardy don't exist. Non bis in idem was a Roman law doctrine long before common law cme about. as forthe presumption of innocnce do read the 1958 French constitution.
Third: Roman law systems aren't catatsophic and has some advantages that common law lacks. For example it,s curious that common with its strong respect for the individual has no laws or legal concepts to protect one's honour and privacy other than libel.

As for the Mexican American war: it was America which committed the act of agression and Mexico defended itself legitimately. It was unfortunate that Mexico was under Santa Anna's leadership. A scoundrel if there ever was one. Had Santa Anna been a more competent soldier or had there been someone else in power, That part of Mexico would remained in Mexican hands and america blocked from sea to shining sea.

Finally, opposition to America isn't always about jealousy nor soured frustration. There was a time when Europe dominated the world and contributed much. I'm convinced it can once again but it'll have to reform itself. Some complaints are legitimate; some can be debated and other rejected outright for kookiness

Posted by: xavier at May 3, 2006 01:24 PM

Gawainsghost said The mere fact that you would suggest establishing a "zone" between the two, as if to make the transition from the former to the latter less painful, shows only how truly ignorant and vacuous you are.

Ah, you've been reading How To Win Friends and Influence People, I see.

Exactly how many US citizens are you expecting to give up their individual and constitutional rights to form the "zone"?

Exactly what percent of my post did you read before you started commenting? Obviously not 100%, or hardly any -- either that, or you have the comprehensive ability of bedbug.

However, just for the record, I'll say again -- the proposed Zone would be part of the US, and under US law in every respect, enforced by US authorities, except that it would be under a distinct immigration regime.

If you've read any of my writing, you would know that I don't need to be lectured with an exposition of the problems of Mexico, and the historic roots of the success of Anglo-American society. I have writen it better, and with references to boot.

The very points you raise about the deep-seated nature of Mexico's problems drive two inescapable conclusions:

1. Reforming Mexico will be a long, difficult process at best, and therefore

2. Large numbers of Mexicans will rationally choose to come to the US, where they can flourish in the absence of the dead hand of the Mexican system.

We can do something about the "pull" -- by building a read border-control system, we can raise the costs of coming into the interior of the US substantially. However, we can't do anything about the "push" -- the problems of Mexico. By offering a place where would-be border-crossers can work under US law and in the US system, we can mitigate the pressure on the border substantially.

read what you critique a little more carefully. And remember that this blog has civility standards, and you are close to being banned as a blogroach.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at May 3, 2006 02:39 PM

You must not get out much. The Zone is already here, but it extends a lot farther north of the border than 50 miles.

Posted by: Steve Sailer at May 3, 2006 10:57 PM

Jim seems to be suggesting compressing the zone from where it is presently, to a 50 mile width, Steve.

This is a useful idea to stimulate discussion. Obviously the problem is the economic draw that the US presents to relatively impoverished mestizos, whose own governments in central and south america are too corrupt to provide economic opportunities through personal freedom and rule of law. I like the idea of trying to create a prospering "buffer zone" to reduce the stark economic differences at the border.

Instead of going abruptly from bad to good, in terms of economic opportunity, you go from bad to so-so to good. It might be asking a lot of present near border residents to go from good to so-so, however.

The inconvenience to US citizens who have to cross the "wall" routinely to conduct ordinary business would seem to present a problem. Counterfeiting of official documents will get better as enforcement gets toughter, so the cost of distinguishing citizen from non-citizen would conceivably go up. In spite of the best of intentions, it would be an increased burden to citizens living within the zone.

Posted by: Al Fin at May 4, 2006 06:57 AM

It's not clear that US citizens living in the Zone would enjoy worse standards of living; to some extent, they would benefit from having a large amount of low-cost labor available. Low-wage workers in the Zone would be at a disadvantage, to the extent there are any such US citizens left (the market for low-wage labor is already saturated with illegals near the border.) But the point is, with this proposal, Americans would have more of a choice -- those who say open borders are a good thing can go live in the Zone and reap the benefits thereof; everyone else can stay north of the Wall and see how that works.

True, US citizens in the Zone would have to go through customs when they went north of the wall. (US citizens already go through customs going from US soil in the Virgin Islands to US soiil in the mainland, so it's not an unprecedented situation.) However, there is already a great deal of traffic on legitimate business between Mexico and the border towns like Nogales, Arizona -- this traffic would not be going through the wall crossings. And since everybdy who wants workplace crackdowns swears that forgery-proof biometric ID is available right now, surely US citizens in the Zone can get a wall pass that will let them go through the short line:)

Posted by: Jim Bennett at May 4, 2006 06:22 PM

"As for the Mexican American war: it was America which committed the act of agression and Mexico defended itself legitimately. It was unfortunate that Mexico was under Santa Anna's leadership. A scoundrel if there ever was one. Had Santa Anna been a more competent soldier or had there been someone else in power, That part of Mexico would remained in Mexican hands and america blocked from sea to shining sea."

Xavier, you are a bit shaky on some of the facts. Mexico's "self"-defense was no more legitimate than its claim to Texas. East Texas was Caddo land in the east and Keres and Lipan Apache land in the west. And by the time Santa Ana came along, Texas was not in Mexican hands, legitimately or illegitimately; it was in Comanche hands, and the Comanche were boasting that they only tolerated Spanish settlements as a source of fresh horese (to steal, not buy).

"There was a time when Europe dominated the world and contributed much."

This is quite true, even where it concerns Mexico and the Spanish. The one undeniable improvement to Mexico that the Spanish brought was transforming Mexican religion into a form of Catholicism - still satisfyingly gory, but symbolic gore in this new form. That is simply a huge achievement in human rights. They kept the Corn Goddess too. What's not to like? However... unfortunately they also brought their concepts of government, and after 2,500 years of various attempts and versions, it ought to be pretty clear what is wrong with Latin-style government. And that is the real issue in this discussion.

Posted by: Jim at May 5, 2006 03:11 PM
Post a comment









Remember personal info?