Vice President Joe Biden is now calling for Congress to approve a $1 billion aid package to Central America. The aid is supposed to improve border policing, build community centers and prevent future waves of illegal immigration like the one last year, when thousands of Central American children arrived at our country’s southern border.
But money won’t solve this problem – or any problem with our immigration system.
Unless we address the fundamental errors in our current immigration policies, the United States will always struggle with similar floods of immigrants entering the country illegally.
This is an especially important issue for New Mexico, which has an estimated 70,000 undocumented immigrants and is expected to receive thousands more in the coming years.
My organization was recently invited to testify before the U.S. Senate in support of immigration reform, and I was honored to have the opportunity to remind lawmakers of America’s immigrant legacy. It is a story of waves of immigrants who looked to America as their own promised land. Immigrants with these dreams of a better life for their children formed the foundation on which our nation was built.
Today, more than 11 million immigrants who are in the country illegally live in the United States, making up about 5 percent of the labor force. Because of restrictive immigration policy, they are left to make a tough decision. These men and women have a strong desire to contribute to our nation, and they bring with them a culture of hard work and aspirational dreams.
These are not bad people; it’s bad law.
My grandfather came to this country as a bracero, at a time when America needed men to grow its food. As our GIs were winning battles in World War II, he was one of the thousands who came in droves to harvest the bounty of our farms and orchards, keeping troops fed.
After years of farm work, my parents invested their entire savings in a small motel in central Washington state. They quickly moved up on the economic ladder.
It is a testament to this nation and its free market system that so many of us who started out with nothing achieved prosperity.
As in my grandfather’s story, immigration is a response to world economic conditions. There is more immigration when the U.S. economy is strong and Latin American economies are weak.
Mexico’s growing economy has been a major factor in the recent drop of unauthorized immigrants. According to the Pew Research Center, there were 5.9 million Mexican unauthorized immigrants in 2012, compared with 6.4 million in 2009 and 6.9 million in 2007.
The numbers are falling.
But we can’t wait for our neighbors in the Americas to achieve economic success. Solutions to reducing unauthorized immigration must legally recognize and account for the innate human thirst for rewarding work and a better life.
If our policies — and those of nations such as Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador — take this into account, then everyone will be better off.
Our nation should continue to welcome opportunity seekers. They will help build a better nation, as immigrants have done for generations. A more robust legal immigration system would positively affect our economy, improve our nation’s security and decrease pressures on the border by dramatically reducing unlawful immigration.
We must also encourage other nations to adopt the same market-friendly policies that made America great.
Low taxes, government transparency, respect for property rights, and sound money: All of these were key features that helped the U.S. become the greatest country in the history of the Earth. They can help families in Latin America, and elsewhere as well.
We won’t end the problem of unlawful immigration with aid packages. Rather, the United States must do what it does best: Be a welcoming example for the rest of the world.
America, and any country that wants to follow its lead, will win if it creates many more success stories like my grandfather’s.