A “Provocative” Perspective On the Immigration Crisis Facing America and Neighboring Countries
by Al Notzon
Around 1985 I was invited to be on a State Department trip to Mexico to discuss the problems the country was having in Mexico City, Monterrey, and Guadalajara, their three largest metropolitan areas. The cities’ concern was the rapid growth of population in all three cities. In most cases, the immigrants were uneducated Indians from the hills and rural areas surrounding all three cities. Most of the immigrants were assimilated into the slums in all three cities and were competing for the limited number of jobs for people without skills or training. Because of this, many were taken advantage of and placed in undesirable or unsafe working conditions or worked for food and board and in conditions of serfdom. In addition many were used as the front of criminal activities either as messengers or in hazardous situations. Many were able to survive through prostitution or captured in sex trafficking schemes. Some very few were able to succeed and when they did, they sent money back to their families or eventually came home as “successes”.
These immigrants became the impetus for others to seek that same success without understanding the high percentage of “unsuccessful” immigrants who never returned. Our role in the State Department trip was to explain the concept of regionalism to the planners and economic developers of the nation, states, and cities we visited. As the Executive Director of the Alamo Area Council of Governments, a regional planning organization, I met with architects, urban planners, and university professors as well as elected officials and explained the concept of voluntary associations of local governments and economic development.
Taxation at the time in Mexico
As we learned in our discussions with representatives at all levels of government, taxes were collected at the local level, but all money was sent to the Federal Government of Mexico and then they would determine the best use of those funds and returned a portion to the States and Cities to be used in specific ways. The President of Mexico at that time wanted to develop initiatives at the local level and proposed to only have a portion sent to the Federal Government and have a system where a percentage of the taxes would be retained at the local level.
The interesting part of the discussion in Guadalajara was that the City was proposing that 60% of these retained taxes would be obligated by the City for economic development in the rural areas. I was astounded that the central city would take some of their taxes and share them with the surrounding cities and counties. That had not been my experience because each level of government wanted to make sure that it received a fair share of tax revenues. However, after talking to the architects and urban planners, they understood that the immigration and subsequent overutilization of social services, health care, transportation and education were negatively affecting wages and limiting the economic opportunities and development of the central city.
The planners knew that the continuing immigration, primarily of single individuals, would not allow them to have intact families as the backbone of their growth. They believed that in order to limit immigration they would have to provide money to the rural cities and villages surrounding the central city. Providing these funds to the rural areas would allow their residents to remain with their families and at the same time have sustainable jobs, achieve their ambitions and raise their families in their home rural area. This ideal solution slows immigration because the individual immigrants would not have to leave their homes or families in order to achieve their goals.
In 2014 illegal immigration involving Central America, Mexico and the United States is continuing. If it is not addressed, we will perpetuate a system which empowers the cartels, endangers lives, and disrupts families. There are many interests which will fight any attempt to change the current system: The cartels have people paying them protection money/ “coyote” money to either stay in their countries of residence or put them on the “immigration trail”.
Political interests transfer their “problem” to other countries and they retain control of the remaining population. Political interests in the US see the continuing numbers of voters as ways to capture the “political” future. One might ask WHY the United Nations, the World Bank, the Export-Import Bank or US Aid efforts have not addressed the problem. That is a valid question since their mission statements would make them the logical organizations to solve the economic development issues of developing countries. WHY have they not done so?
The Catholic Church has been helpful in reminding us that this is a humanitarian crisis and that we should be following Christ’s model of the Good Samaritan. This reminder, if only limited to the border, addresses the symptom and not the cause and can exacerbate the problem, since it reinforces the view of immigrants that the only way to achieve their goals is through immigration. Spending increasing (and unsustainable) amounts of money on enforcement, prevention and social, educational and health services for the illegal immigrants is playing into the hands of the cartels. The illegal immigrants have to endure the hazards and dangers of the trip as well as put their lives in the hands of the cartels who need “mules” and distraction at the border. The humanitarian issue at the border still leaves us with divided families and impoverished countries of origin.
WHY would anybody oppose keeping families intact and have locally controlled but outside monitored development banks? WHY would anybody oppose creating jobs so that people can remain with their families, or programs which improve their infrastructure and expand the educational opportunities in rural areas? WHY would anybody oppose building a moral society in which individual efforts are rewarded, people are secure and safe in their homes and their government and police force are honorable and ethical?
ANSWERS: Corrupt politicians, corrupt policemen, corrupt judges, unethical businessmen who profit by exploiting others and nations who divert funds from their people to their friends and allies. I also have to include the churches who send the wrong message by not correcting members of their church who flaunt their support of laws which violate the non-negotiable issues of life and family at the local, state and national level. Also in opposition will be those who benefit from the current system (bankers, realtors, money launderers), those who only want to address the symptom and not the cause, and those who will not look beyond the current “crisis”.
WHY have our economic development programs not provided the impetus needed to help the “developing” countries? WHERE has the money which has been provided gone? CAN political corruption be controlled? CAN multi-national law enforcement efforts control the cartels? CAN money be provided directly to “local” development banks which are accountable to the people and have oversight from the funding sources?
On law enforcement, it is clear that if we just look at the cartels, which are multi-national, our solution has to be a multi-national effort to disrupt, isolate and eliminate the cartels. Any solution has to have national components as well as state and local law enforcement involvement. The cartels have maintained their power through fear and intimidation, by infiltrating or co-opting local, state and national law enforcement organizations and buying the loyalty of judges and elected officials at all levels of government. All of us are horrified at the idea of returning these refugees to their dangerous home areas, but not addressing the problem of the danger means we have not addressed the danger for those family members who remain.
I can recall growing up in Laredo and seeing that our largest export was not any product, but some of our best and brightest young people. This applies to these developing countries who are losing their future to other countries. We in the Catholic Church need to be the Good Samaritans and not just see those who come to our borders, but also those in need in our neighboring countries and how we can work with them to increase their standard of living, their educational and development opportunities as well as providing safety for their families in their own country.
Role of the Church
WILL the Church consider putting together a task force of bishops, priests and educators as well as bankers, economic developers and experts in law enforcement? This task force should develop a strategic plan to address each of these issues: Economic Development and Education can be done at the local and state levels of each country, and could be addressed in a comprehensive way, but it might be smarter to model different approaches in one or two countries such as Honduras and Guatemala. However, for law enforcement, because of the nature of the problem, it must be done in a comprehensive way, involving all the affected countries.
The parable of the Good Samaritan requires us to take action in all the affected countries.
Mr. Al Notzon is the Chairman of the Board of Texas Leadership Coalition, an educational non-profit organization led by Catholic laymen in San Antonio, Texas. Prior to his retirement, he was the Executive Director of the Alamo Area Council of Governments with forty years experience. + + +