I was reading this post at Brenden Loy’s Irish Trojan in Tennessee blog entitled You Got Enchilada In My Kung Pao Chicken about illegal immigration from Mexico and marveling at the variety and vehemence of feelings that Americans have on the subject. What caught my attention was this sentence at the end of a particularly vehement comment form a particularly vehement commenter.

FACT that the US is simply out of workers. Think about that. We. Are. Out. Of. Workers. THIS is what’s driving Mexicans to come to the US illegally, and just as with marijuana and cocaine, all the enforcement in the world will never stop the flow—ever.

I’m not sure one way or another if illegal immigration is the same as the drug problem or that the US is really out of workers, but the phrase about Mexicans being driven to the US caught my attention. Not simply driven, also attracted by the prospect of making more money than they can at home. There is no similar problem with illegal Canadians because there is no general lack of opportunity in Canada driving people out and better opportunity attracting them to the US. There is unemployment in the north western states like Montana right now but no shanty towns full of dubious Canadians on the outskirts of Helena.

In the 50s in New Hampshire there was an illegal Canadian worker problem. Lets call them ‘frostbacks’. Everyone in those parts employed French Canadian choppers to fell trees – as they had for over one hundred years. I doubt any of them were documented and interestingly they, like Mexicans, were Roman Catholic and had large families – part of the need that drove them south, perhaps. Be that as it may, everyone agreed that the best New Hampshire choppers couldn’t fell as many board feet in a day as the French Canadians. New Hampshireites are hard working and proud – they don’t say something like that because they are too lazy to try. But a funny thing happened. My father bought a chain saw. The neighbors came to see it and they all agreed it was a modern marvel. Then their neighbors came to see it and pretty soon everyone had one and the French Canadians were gone. They were just as driven by economic need as they ever were, but there were no jobs. Not because the law was suddenly enforced, but because they were made redundant by technology.

Lots of things could change America’s illegal immigration problem and like the vehement commenter I’m not very hopeful any law is going make the difference. What I am sure of is that part of the problem is the lack of opportunity in Mexico just as another part of the problem is the excess of opportunity in the US. If Mexico were prosperous, Mexicans wouldn’t want to come to the US any more than Canadians do. A quick look at Wikipedia shows that poverty in Mexico has come in for some serious attention:

After the 1994–1995 economic crisis, probably the most severe in the country’s history, 50% of the population fell into poverty. A rapid growth in exports propitiated by NAFTA and other trade agreements, and the restructuring of the macroeconomic finances initiated during Zedillo’s and continued during Fox’s administration had significant results in the reduction of the poverty rate. According to the World Bank, extreme poverty was reduced to 17.6% in 2004. Most of this reduction was achieved in rural communities whose rate of poverty declined from 42% to 27.9% in the 2000–2004 period, although urban poverty stagnated at 11%.

They are definitely trying, I’ve even seen Mexican garlic in the supermarket here in Australia. But there is clearly room to do more because most of those Mexican illegals are people who have the gumption to get themselves into the US and find a job. The demand for labor in the US may be as voracious as the demand for cocaine and marijuana, but if Mexicans start doing as well as Canadians they will stop coming. And us clever Yankees will design robots to do the work we don’t want to do. We will have them manufactured in China, buy them at Wal-Mart, and find ourselves forced to take them through the self check outs under the beady eyes of other robots designed to ensure we pay. On the other hand, we might just hire illegal Guatemalans like they do in South Florida.

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