McKinzie: In support of immigration without open national borders |

McKinzie: In support of immigration without open national borders

William McKinzie
Valley Voices

A recent Valley Voices column by Claire Noble supporting open national borders cited some selective quotes and history to imply that those favoring legal immigration are racist.

Was Hugo Chavez, the founder of the United Farm Worker’s Union, racist? What about Ralph Abernathy, Martin Luther King Jr.’s successor at the SCLC? Or Senator (and Democratic presidential candidate) Walter Mondale? 

How else to explain the three of them leading a march in 1973 to the Mexican border to protest illegal immigration?

The answer is simple: The poorest Americans suffer the most from unskilled illegal immigration, and Chavez, Abernathy and Mondale were for the poor. How is a low-skilled American supposed to compete on wages with the desperate illegal immigrants from the Northern Triangle?

While Central Americans drive today’s immigration crisis on our southern border, the tortured history of immigration from Mexico is instructive. The Mexican Revolution sent the first sizeable waves of Mexicans to the United States in the two decades after 1910. 

This triggered the establishment of the U.S. Border Patrol in 1924. Racism reared its ugly head with the Census of 1930 which for the first and only time had a racial descriptive “Mexican” listed. That information was then used to deport somewhere between 400,000 to 2 million Mexican-Americans, of whom an estimated 60% were American citizens.

The Bracero program of 1942-1964 created a legal employment path for Mexican immigrants and sojourners. The negatives of this program included a decline in both citizen farm worker employment and the farm wage rate. The UFW was organized by Chavez in 1962 and organized labor put an end to Bracero in 1964.

The last bipartisan immigration legislation was the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986. Its three components were: tougher border control (with a plan to increase border agents by 50%); amnesty for 2.7 million illegal immigrants who had lived in the United States for five years or more; and penalties for employers hiring illegal immigrants.

The amnesty happened, the border control hiring did not, and penalty enforcement was spotty. With the prospect of amnesty, and the start of the Mexican drug wars with the demise of Colombian cartels, the illegal population doubled to 7 million in the 1990s, peaking at 12.2 million in 2007.

Mexico’s economy actually grew faster than the U.S. over this time period. But, in 2008, the United States Congress provided Mexico with $1.6 billion for the Merida Initiative to bolster Mexican law enforcement and judicial systems with notable effect.

So what does the Mexican experience teach us when it comes to contributing factors of illegal immigration? 

  1. Drug violence matters more than economics, but economics is a close second.
  2. Amnesty, while necessary, unless accompanied by border enforcement (including crucially a beefed up judicial system) encourages more illegal immigration.
  3. Unskilled immigrants harm the poorest citizens.

We need to embrace and help the regimes of the Northern Triangle. That means a Merida Initiative-style intervention with real (and accountable) money to bolster the law enforcement and courts of those countries. It means free-trade initiatives. And it means securing the border, the great failure of IRCA and a source of our current polarization.  

Sadly, the Trump administration is going backwards on all but the border, because he credits winning the presidency to outrageous claims demonizing illegal immigrants.

The Democrats credit their takeover of previously purple California with the Republicans sponsoring 1994’s Proposition 187 (later found unconstitutional) that denied social benefits to illegal immigrants.

The Democrats have pounded the “racist” label on Republicans in California ever since with great success, now holding all statewide offices, supermajorities in both statehouses, both U.S. Senators and 46 of 53 members of Congress. The Democrats believe this same immigration playbook will turn the U.S. politically into California.

But what of the poor of California? They have gone from 1.5 million in 1994 to 7.5 million in 2017, and as a percentage of the population, they are the highest of any state in the U.S. (over 3% higher than Mississippi).

How has unskilled illegal immigration helped the poor of California?

It is past time for politicians and wannabes on both sides to stop using our immigration tragedy for the polarization of the country, and instead unite us in addressing its underlying causes beyond our borders and creating a sensible system providing the skills we need and protecting the most vulnerable among us.

William McKinzie is a resident of Edwards. Email him at

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