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February 23, 2005

New Foreign Aid: Migrant Labor to Public Works

Even as we spend hundreds of billions supposedly bringing democracy to Iraq, we ignore our trading partner Mexico. Instead, we've outsourced needed foreign aid to migrant workers exploited in our fields and factories. Money sent home by immigrants has become critical to economic development in Mexico:

Mexico - where people compete with oil as the country's chief export - received some $17 billion in remittances, almost twice the amount of just four years ago.

Óscar Chacón, of the immigrant advocacy group Enlaces América, calls the phenomenon a quiet revolution led by an expanding network of more than 500 mom and pop organizations that are filling in where more than a decade of free trade and foreign investment has failed to narrow the gap between the rich and poor.

Unfortunately, this money is distorting politics in Mexico, where those sending the money are wielding disproportionate economic and political influence compared to Mexicans who stay in their country. It's an irony that not only does the United States promise more economic prosperity for Mexican immigrants, it actually promises more political influence back home. And the result is predictable:
The more people go, the more money flows back. But the more money that flows back, the more people go.
Until of course everyone has fled the poverty left behind.

If the US wants to stem illegal immigration to the US, the simplest approach would be to devote even a tiny fraction of the money spent on Iraq to helping our neighbor to the south modernize its economic and assist the Mexican poor to gain an economic stake in that economy, rather than needing to flee to the US in economic desperation.

Posted by Nathan at February 23, 2005 07:05 AM