Three men cling to the garbage. From the hill, on this warm winter day, the piles of waste look considerable. But they are deemed scarce for the many archaeologists of misery. A “corrido” (Mexican folk song) breaks the silence. “You came too late,” a canned voice, located in an unidentified place, in a landscape of limp and grimy buildings with worn paint, announces.
“There’s no work,” César Ballesteros, 34, complains. “I’m looking for something to sell and to buy some tortillas,” he explains, using his hand as a peak because the sun bothers his eyes. Even looking at the United States is an ordeal.
César is on one side and the journalist on the other. In between, a fence that separates two countries. The tough Mexican awakening, facing the American dream, the promised land of stars and stripes. This stretch of fence allows you to talk without shouting, face to face. A prison-like picture.
Down there is Rancho Escondido, a suburb of Tijuana inhabited by 10,000 souls. Up here, the California desert mountains, the vast nothing of the so-called San Diego border sector. Never before was “so near and yet so far” more appropriate.
Ironically enough, César Ballesteros is wearing a gray shirt with a legend on his chest: Army. “This situation is very ugly. High crime, you cannot go out at night. We have the drug traffickers here. ”
“And what about trying to jump the fence?”
“Of course I tried to jump the fence! The immigration authorities caught me and sent me back. Four times.”
He says his family lives in California. Five children. He married at 15 and already has a 17-year-old child. “I was also there, but I got into trouble. I was driving drunk.” Now he doesn’t have the $5,000 the smugglers asked for to take him to the other side.
This is not a good time to try. In 2010, for the first time, the number of people that returned to Mexico was higher than that of those entering the United States. The remittances received by this country from its immigrants plunged compared to the $25 billion in 2007-08.
The rich neighbor’s economic depression has become an unexpected factor that regulates one of the hottest topics in American daily life. The crisis has partly alleviated the absence of promised immigration reform. Politicians, with President Obama in the lead, prefer to look to the other way because special interests are pressuring them. Last Thursday, President Calderón visited the White House. They talked about trade routes and the threat of drugs. About immigration, nothing.
David Shirk, a professor at the University of San Diego, believes that over the past two decades the approach, focusing on the border wall as the only potential solution, has been wrong. “Some time ago, there was a cycle,” he explains. “People would come for five or six months and return to Mexico. Ever since NAFTA in 1994, this has stopped. Even before 11-S, a repressive policy began to develop with the construction of the wall. ”
A couple of years ago there were 12 million (so-called) undocumented aliens. Today, although that figure has lowered to 10.9 million, it still alarms. And more so when unemployment is at 8.9 percent and almost 14 million “full” citizens have no job.
“Between 2008 and 2010, 6,250,000 Americans lost their work during a period when 1.1 million immigrants entered, of which 35 percent were undocumented,” said Ira Mehlman, media director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which is one of the most active groups in the petition to suppress the aliens.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform owes its founding to John Tanton, who has earned a racist reputation with his articles. He’s linked to the scenes of nationalism and white supremacy, which try to preserve American culture. On more than one occasion he has made comments against Latinos. He is listed as a promoter of racial hatred by progressive groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Mehlman’s organization has developed its own numbers to show that “immigration only benefits immigrants.” According to their calculations, legal and illegal immigrants cause an expense to the taxpayers, coupled with federal, state and local dues, of about $113 billion a year. Californians are the most affected, with $20 billion.
When making the calculation, they include what comes from Americans not having access to jobs taken by foreigners, as well as medical expenses, education and social assistance. “In Los Angeles, 44 percent of children who attend school do not speak English. American parents, if they want a good education for their children, have to take them from public school and pay for private school.”
But they make no reference to the benefits brought by the aliens, their productivity and consumption, or, for example, the taxes that “those others” also pay.
Mehlman rejects the idea that immigrants have the worst jobs because Americans won’t take them. “What we don’t want are the low wages they accept.” The strength of his word cracks when we are reminded that employers — generally white people — might be more responsible for this than the employees.
His thesis gets little support outside his environment. Professor Shirk argues that the only reason for hiring illegal immigrants is to cut wages and, therefore, cut business costs. “If the black market disappeared and undocumented immigrants were legal, prices would skyrocket.”
“It is very important that the workplace is competitive,” Ruben Barrales says. He’s a Republican with Mexican parents, a former collaborator with George W. Bush, who now works as president of the Chamber of Commerce of San Diego. “In the hypothetical case of the disappearance of illegal immigrants, the cost of everything would rise in the United States,” the he added. Sitting in his office overlooking the bay, Barrales has no answer when asked if he knows how many of the 3,000 companies associated with his institution use illegal immigrants.
“The price is set by customers,” Pete Navarro, head of a construction firm, replies. “I submit a budget, my competition has another and the customer decides. We have to cut the costs somewhere to win a contract.” He illustrates the issue with his own son. “I offered for him to start from the bottom and make $9 an hour. He said no, even when he could own the business in a few years.”
Navarro, a conservative, believes that the last good thing made in this regard was the proposal promoted by Ronald Reagan back in 1986. Regulation was over and more than 3 million citizens got their documents: “It was a shame not to include then the tools for the future.” Both he and Barrales agree that future reform must incorporate visa allotments based on the current economic and employment needs. In the recent boom, the number of permits granted was far below the need.
The vast majority of the nearly 11 million undocumented —more than eight million — comes from Mexico. To this number we have to add the estimated 12 million compatriots who live legally, and 28 million Americans with Hispanic backgrounds, the “Amexicans”. It is from this set that emerges, in the words of Professor Shirk, “the fear of white America.”
Mehlman, who ruled out xenophobia as his inspiration, acknowledges that the origin of his family goes back to immigration. But, he emphasizes, such a time cannot be compared to the current, where it’s very easy to navigate. “Then there was integration,” he says.
Again, Professor Shirk answers: “Although we consider ourselves a nation of immigrants, we hate immigrants, it has always been that way and it is still is with every generation to come.” He states that the Know-Nothing Party of the 19th century stigmatized immigrants because of their poverty and lack of education. Two centuries later, one of the Federation for Immigration Reform’s proposals aims to choose those who wish to enter based on their education and ideology.
“Many did not believe the Irish would be part of the social fabric of this country,” Shirk points out. “In the bars there were signs saying ‘No dogs or Irish allowed’.”
A little over half hour’s drive from the fence at Rancho Escondido, a group of men are scattered on the parking lot of a San Diego mall. They all have brownish skin. They are waiting for someone to come and offer them a job: gardening, moving, construction. Anything.
They are those who one day made the leap. We see the Guatemalan Vicente Morales, who has been here illegally for five years now. Or Guillermo Gutierrez, a Mexican from Tijuana, and illegal, of course. Making the trip cost him over $2,000 three years ago. “Now it’s much more expensive,” he warns.
The smuggler took him to Los Angeles after three days and two nights walking through the desert. “People ambush you; they left me with only the clothes on my back.”
“It is not easy, the construction bust has been hard,” he says. A 4×4 stops. A white citizen gets out. The brownish-skinned run toward him; he looks at them to choose. He picks the biggest and strongest one. The supremacy of muscle.
* Translated By Patricia González Darriba
* Image from Google