My friend Tamar Jacoby of ImmigrationWorksUSA joins former Mexican Foreign Secretary Jorge Castenada in writing in today's Washington Post about what could be the biggest area of division in the coming reform debate - how to handle future workers. Some are proposing to put off discussions of this topic until the economy improves or to set up a commission to deal with the issue. Here is what Jacoby and Castenada have to say on the subject:
When the economy begins recovering, U.S. housing starts will climb, restaurants will fill up again, Americans will take the vacations they've been putting off and more. Revitalized businesses will once again need foreign workers for jobs that increasingly educated Americans do not want.
Meanwhile, in Mexico, for five to 10 more years at least, the working-age population will continue to grow faster than the number of decent-paying jobs, and young workers will continue to want to go where they can make a better living. It's supply and demand -- to the benefit of both countries.
The United States can recognize this reality and harness it -- or pretend it doesn't exist and live with the costs of denial. If these workers cannot enter the United States legally, they will find ways to enter illegally, no matter how much border and work-site enforcement is in place, no matter how dangerous the trip or how high the price. Hoping that people will stop coming is as illusory as thinking that those already in the United States will pack up and go home.
The bottom line is that the only way to stop illegal outflows from Mexico is to legalize them, adapting the law to reality, not the other way around.
Some have suggested a "third way": creating a commission to determine how many workers are needed in the United States. But it's hard to see how that would work. Discredited as markets are today, they're still the best way to match supply with demand. Though markets must be regulated, they don't work very well when they're micromanaged. Will a commission be able to determine how many Mexican workers are needed from month to month -- and then ensure that only that number enters the country? Not very likely.