Guard the US-Mexico border with paper, not walls

Guard the US-Mexico border with paper, not walls
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President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Official testifies that Bolton had 'one-on-one meeting' with Trump over Ukraine aid Louisiana governor wins re-election MORE’s “beautiful" wall-to-be on the border with Mexico reminds me what the border between San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico, was like in 1988.

A short distance west of the San Diego/San Ysidro Port of Entry, the Tijuana River crosses the border from Mexico into the United States, then flows west to the Pacific Ocean. That was the 20th century flashpoint of illegal crossing along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Every day a thousand or more Mexicans plus Guatemalans, Hondurans and Salvadorans would gather on the Tijuana side of the river to wait for dark. When the sun went down, they ran into the United States, overwhelming a handful of U.S. Border Patrol agents.

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This part of the border, 15 miles between the ocean and the San Diego mountains, was the principal entry point for up to 10,000 illegal crossers a night who made it through the gauntlet of Border Patrol officers and American bandits.

The 10,000-per-night estimate of successful crossers is an extrapolation of Border Patrol data based on a three-to-one ratio of successful crossers to those apprehended.

Author Joseph Wambaugh wrote a bestseller non-fiction book, Lines and Shadows, about the nightly combat between American bandits and a special unit of San Diego police on the border to protect border crossers from the seriously evil bandits who thought nothing of killing for a $20 bill.

The exodus of Mexicans to “El Norte,” the North, was portrayed by some as an “invasion.” Then-Gov. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) claimed that in lawsuits in federal courts; the courts dismissed the suits, declaring illegal border crossers were not “invaders” in the military sense.

Illegal border crossers peaked in 2000 and have declined in the months and years since. The reason is not better border enforcement; several decades of declining Mexican birth rates and more jobs in Mexico are among the causes.

In 2000, in one of my early New York Times News Service articles, I argued that the future portended fewer illegal border crossers because there would be fewer and fewer Mexicans willing or needing to make the trek north. I wrote: “The supply of willing Mexican emigres to the United States will shrink in coming years. Within a (few years), the number of Mexicans illegally entering the United States will diminish to the point of endangering the production of our food supply.”

Thus, history and truth undercut Washington officials who take credit about illegal border crossings hitting record lows.  Moreover, visa-overstays now account for most new illegally present people.

Notwithstanding the dwindling number of Mexicans making the trip north, some still come; there is work — in agriculture and construction, in hotels, restaurants and other sectors of the hospitality industry.

The largest presence of illegal border-crossing workers is in agriculture. We know that because the U.S. government conducts the National Agricultural Worker Survey (NAWS) and it shows that half of all agricultural workers in the United States are working illegally.

Additionally, declining masses of Mexicans affect more than agriculture, construction and hospitality; there have been serious shortages of cowboys in the Cowboy State, Wyoming. Ranchers there have had to legally import original cowboys, or Vaqueros, from Mexico.

In construction, Texas is the best example of labor shortages. Contractors there publicly lament the shortage because it is costing them business and revenue, and delaying hurricane recovery.

California agriculture, however, is suffering more than contractors because all agricultural crops depend on seasons, weather and labor. Simply put, there aren’t enough Mexicans showing up at 4:00 in the morning to be hired.

The California Farm Bureau Federation reports that its recent survey "showed that more than half of responding farmers had experienced employee shortages during the past year. The figure was higher among farmers who need to hire employees on a seasonal basis — 69 percent of those farmers reported experiencing shortages.” California farmers hire an estimated 473,000 employees during peak season; the farm bureau observes that as many as 50 percent to 70 percent of those are illegally working.

Despite millions of Americans complaining they can’t find work, there is plenty of work for those willing to do the jobs — to roof houses in 110-degree heat in Phoenix or Las Vegas or in Houston’s stifling humidity, or standing on sunny California freeways waving red construction flags for $35 an hour. There are hundreds of thousands of jobs picking strawberries, grapes, citrus, avocados, asparagus and other crops, if one wants to earn $10 to $15 an hour.

With not enough Americans willing to go where the jobs are, Congress must see to it that farmers are a priority and have a utilitarian work-permit system to fill the jobs necessary to feed us. Congress must create one.

No “wall” is needed, only simple work permits. It’s not complicated, and it’s a start.

Raoul Lowery Contreras is the author of “The Armenian Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” (Berkeley Press, 2017) and “The Mexican Border: Immigration, War and a Trillion Dollars in Trade” (Floricanto Press). He formerly wrote for the New York Times’ New America News Service.