June 21, 2008 | Commentary on Immigration, Democracy and Human Rights

Immigration Reform: A Two Way Street

Immigration. Lately, speaking this one word alone is akin to stirring up a hornet's nest. Nonetheless, our country needs to do something. Illegal immigration persists, and the natural question is: What will we do?

Much of the solution -- securing our broken borders, properly supplying our border patrol agents and enforcing our laws -- is clearly a domestic concern.

But we also need to realize that part of the solution to illegal immigration will be found beyond our borders.

We often overlook the root of the problem. In short, what drives individuals to risk their lives, to run into a foreign country with no more than the clothes they're wearing?

Let's look at our neighbors to the south. A large number of immigrants entering our country are natives of Mexico. A quick survey at the Mexican economy reveals a number of clues as to why its economy continues to falter, forcing many of its citizens to look outside their countries for a better future.

According to The Heritage Foundation's annual Index of Economic Freedom, co-produced by The Wall Street Journal, Mexico's economy scored 66 of a possible 100 (with zero being "least free" and 100 indicating "most free"), making it the world's 44th freest economy out of the 157 countries ranked in the Index. Of significance, it also ranked ninth out of 29 Western Hemisphere countries, well behind Canada, the U.S., Chile and El Salvador.

Recently, my colleague James Roberts and I published a paper looking more closely at why Mexico's economy continues to lag, and how that's driving illegal migration. The findings are stark. Despite making some progress in the last few years, Mexico continues to suffer from high levels of corruption, nepotism and violence. There's also excessive regulatory red tape and a number of powerful monopolies and duopolies. All told, it's easy to see why Mexico is struggling to remain competitive in an increasingly global market.

For far too long, Mexican officials have looked the other way as the country's poorest citizens headed north, putting off any meaningful reforms to seriously address corruption and privatizing sectors in their economy. With billionaires like Carlos Slim Helu enjoying a cozy relationship with Mexican lawmakers, it's no wonder reforms in Mexico have been slow and unsteady.

By privatizing just a handful of sectors in Mexico's economy, the country would create more jobs. That would ease the desire of many Mexicans to leave their country. To make this happen, the Mexican government should open its nationalized oil, natural gas and electricity sectors to private investment and participation.

The United States has always opened its arms to newcomers, and we will continue to do so. Still, it's up to Americans to decide who may enter and when.

As we continue to promote economic freedom here at home, we would do well to also press our neighbors to the south to follow our lead. If they will, they may just help us solve the vexing problem of illegal immigration

Israel Ortega is a Senior Media Services Associate at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Israel Ortega Contributor, The Foundry
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First appeared in Atlanta Latino