THE ARIZONA DAILY STAR
October 11, 2003
The Wall Street Journal Friday reported an immigration story that clearly
illustrates the law of unintended consequences. With the great buildup of Border
Patrol resources mandated by the the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant
Responsibility Act of 1996, the flow of illegal immigration was plugged first
along the California-Mexico border and then in Texas.
The result of increased enforcement was that immigrants resorted to crossing the
Arizona border. The desert has claimed hundreds of immigrant lives.
The Journal story by Eduardo Porter points out two other consequences of this
increased enforcement policy. First, the price of crossing surged. Smugglers
charge as much as $1,800 a head. Second, because of the desert peril and
increased prices, illegal immigrants who previously would return home to Mexico
after seasonal work in the states today remain in the north.
Porter told the story of Cristobal Silverio, a farmworker from a small Mexican
village who illegally immigrated to Stockton, Calif., where he works in the
fields. He came to the United States six years ago. He intended to stay a couple
of years and save enough to return home and build a house. In 1997, just before
increased enforcement began, Silverio paid $400 to a smuggler to cross.
Silverio no longer returns to Mexico except for the trips to fetch his wife and
children. Thus, two of Silverio's children have been born in the United States.
One was born prematurely and had to spend months in a hospital incubator,
running up a medical bill of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Silverio could
not and did not pay that bill.
Douglas Massey, co-director of the Mexican Migration Project at the University
of Pennsylvania, told the Journal that in the early 1980s, the average stay of
an undocumented Mexican worker was three years. By the late 1990s, it climbed to
nine years, he said.
Because two of Silverio's children are Americans, the family receives more than
$950 a month in welfare payments. Rep. Nathan Deal, a Georgia Republican, is
sponsoring a bill that denies citizenship rights to the children of illegal
immigrants born in the United States. Deal's northern Georgia district has
attracted thousands of Latino immigrants. In fact, his district has four times
more Hispanics than blacks. These illegal immigrants work in the carpet mills at
Dalton and a chicken processing operation in Gainesville.
There's some irony in Deal's bill, which seeks to punish illegal immigrants for
having children. Dalton's carpet industry would completely shut down if the
town's illegal immigrant community disappeared.
But then irony pervades U.S. immigration policy, which in concentrating on
keeping immigrants out of the country also keeps them in.