Saturday, February 28, 2009

Drugs, Guns & Jobs

Every time we drive up Interstate 10 toward Phoenix and points north, we stop at the rest area north of Casa Grande where there is a marker commerateing the Gadsden Purchase, ratified in 1854. This "purchase" finalized the border with Mexico and cleared the way for the construction of the southern route of the transcontinental railroad. It also brought into the United States a population of Mexican families who lived on this land and whose descendants remain there. These people also retain close ties to family remaining on the Mexican side of the border. The Tohono O'odham tribe (then known as the Papago) was split by the new border.

A decade ago we made the decision to move to the southern part of this area, approximately 30 miles north of the current border with Mexico. At the time we were told that we might be visited by men passing through on their way to find work and not to lock the car because, if stolen, it would suffer less damage if a drug runner could just take it without breaking a window or bothering you. Over this decade we have had no problems with either class of travelers.

However recently the atmosphere has changed. We had enjoyed regular visits across the border for wonderful lunches or dinners, just on the other side of the border fence. That is no longer recommended. In fact, our favorite restaurant is now closed and there have been gun battles in the streets. How and why has this come to be?

I believe that there are two basic, interlocking reasons for the current state of affairs: 1) the recent nativist attacks on immigrants and 2) the U.S. drug policy. Until a short while ago the human traffic had 2 coexisting components, the aspiring workers and the drug runners. But then a combination of nativist attacks on immigrants and the crash of the housing boom caused many immigrant families to wish to return to Mexico and certainly decreased the desirability of the US as a source of jobs. But, because of the increased enforcement of immigration laws, it is now harder for illegal immigrants to return home. That is one reason so many have brought their families north, because they cannot easily go home and then return for the next season's work.

This leads me directly to the other portion of the northward traffic, the drug runners. Drug runners exist to fill the market for their product in the U.S. It is just a fact of the market economy, the product goes to where the buyers are. And since the product is illegal in the U.S., guns, in fact, assault weapons (illegal in Mexico), are now part of the package. So we have a population of unemployed young Hispanic men (and women) and a thriving market in drugs, supplied from south of our border. This would seem to lead to a large supply of possible recruits for drug gangs, recruits that are distributed throughout the U.S. And we have plenty of gun stores with owners willing to sell assault rifles to anyone who will pay them. A recent sting operation by the Justice Department arrested more than 750 people nationwide.

Why have things gotten this bad? In all of the well publicized raids by the Homeland Security Dept, was none of this operation discovered? The immigration raids on homes around the country were billed as part of a search for dangerous immigrant fugitives. In fact, to assure the flow of money for the program from Congress, easier targets were chosen. The vast majority of those arrested had no criminal record, and many had no deportation orders against them, either. It was far easier to raid factories, especially after the owners had helped them by supplying all of the personnel records, than to track down dangerous felons. So the immigration war on immigrant gangs never happened and we have the situation that we, and Mexico, now find ourselves in.

The well reported violence south of the border is now reaching into Arizona (and I presume into California, New Mexico and Texas as well). Phoenix has had a bout of kidnappings and home invasions over the last year. The Phoenix police have formed a special unit to combat the problem. But they do not seek the publicity that Joe Arpaio, sheriff of Maricopa County does. He is famous for his racial profiling stops, jailing people who cannot immediately prove their citizenship (can you?), marching prisoners across town in shackles and keeping them in inhumane conditions. While this type of violence has not hit our region, another side of the violence coin has. Gangs are waiting for immigrants along their routes and robbing, raping and killing these people. When the border patrol representatives are asked whether there were any special operations being conducted to deal with the spike of robberies, rape and other incidents of violence, the response is that they couldn't say for sure [Nogales International, Feb. 27, 2009]

Fortunately our immigration and national security policies are being reevaluated by the new administration. The policies should be aimed at protecting all people, not at assuring the flow of money from Congress. We must now work with Mexico to stop this war that we have given them.

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