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Consider NAFTA a Border Control Tool : Immigration: Expansion of job opportunities in Mexico is the only long-term answer.

October 22, 1993|JANET RENO | Janet Reno is attorney general of the United States.

As attorney general, I am committed to enforcing our laws. I am determined to protect our borders against those who would ignore our immigration laws. In the coming months, I will announce a variety of new ideas for policing California's border with Mexico. Fresh strategies, additional personnel and new technologies will make it possible to more effectively restrict illegal immigration.

The bottom line, though, is this: Mexicans come to America illegally because they seek work. It's that simple. We will not stop the flow of illegal immigrants until these immigrants find decent jobs, at decent wages, in Mexico.

Our best chance to reduce illegal immigration is sustained, robust Mexican economic growth. That is why passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement will help me protect our borders. NAFTA will create jobs in both the United States and Mexico. The Mexican jobs will be filled by workers who might otherwise cross illegally into America. If NAFTA passes, my job guarding the border will be easier. If NAFTA fails, my job stopping the flow of illegal immigrants will become even more difficult.

Let's shove aside the political rhetoric and look at the facts. Study after study--by both independent experts and NAFTA opponents--shows the direct link between free trade and reduced illegal immigration.

In 1986, the respected Commission for the Study of International Migration concluded that the creation of new and better jobs in Mexico is the only long-term way to reduce illegal immigration to the United States.

A University of California study in 1991 found that free trade with the United States and internal economic reforms would reduce illegal immigration from Mexico, perhaps by as much as 250,000 to 1.1 million people.

Even a NAFTA opponent at the Economic Policy Institute concluded in 1991 that NAFTA would reduce illegal immigration from Mexico by as many as 1.6 million people by the year 2000.

The failure of NAFTA would worsen the problem of illegal Mexican immigration. For example, major agricultural reforms are already under way in Mexico. They'll take place with or without NAFTA. The reforms will cause many Mexican workers to leave their rural homes. With the jobs created by NAFTA, these workers will get jobs in nearby cities. If NAFTA fails, Mexican urban centers will not be able to absorb the influx of farm workers. That will mean even greater pressures on our borders.

California is crucial to NAFTA's success. The last years have been hard ones for Californians. Economic forces from within and beyond California's borders have turned viciously against the state. Under such conditions, many people are tempted to pull back and retrench.

I do not believe this is the course Californians will choose. California was built by people who were willing to change. They embraced new technologies and industries, from motion pictures to aerospace to computers. Californians have eagerly competed against all comers, from both at home and abroad, to create one of the world's great economies.

Now, during this time of great uncertainty, Californians must decide whether to support NAFTA.

The facts leave no doubt: NAFTA will create jobs in Mexico, and it will create jobs in the United States--good jobs at high wages. It will be especially good for California.

California's yearly exports to Mexico and Canada already total almost $14 billion and support nearly 190,000 jobs for Californians. These markets for California goods are growing: California trade with Mexico has tripled since 1987; the state's trade with Canada has doubled in the same period.

Mexicans already purchase more goods from America, per capita, than either the Japanese or the Europeans--even though Mexican wages are much lower. As NAFTA causes Mexican incomes to rise, California's exports will rise right along with them.

NAFTA will tear down Mexican trade barriers that now discriminate against California firms. If NAFTA is ratified, California companies will expand their Mexican market for such high-ticket goods as satellites, computers and industrial machines.

These are the facts. Sometimes, though, facts can be obscured by the fear of change--by the worry of the worker afraid for his job, by the fear of the college graduate apprehensive about her future. This fear is understandable; change is always hard.

NAFTA does mean change for America, but it is change for the better.

California will be at the forefront of that change. Californians today will do no less than they have done before: They will embrace change and reject the siren call of those who want to retreat, not compete. By supporting NAFTA, California will help provide the only real, sustainable way to substantially halt illegal immigration.

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