There are two primary reasons that people migrate between countries. Every immigrant has both motivations, although the degree to which each one influences varies. Reason #1) The person wants to leave their origin country. Reason #2) The person wants to enter their destination country.
Sounds simple, and maybe a little insultingly so. However, if you want to have a comprehensive discussion on immigration in this country (beyond, "We have laws and everyone needs to obey those laws" or "why don't they just learn English?"), we need to explore how these two motivations work in real life.
In 2006, we don't seem to have much of a problem with Poles or Russians or Germans clamoring to get in. The main issue in 2006 is Mexicans (and if you live in South Florida, Cubans). Why do they want to leave their homes? Well, the easy answer is that their home sucks. Jobs may not be available, goods may not be available, cops might be corrupt. But why not stay in Mexico and go work in CancÃºn? Or Cabo San Lucas? Or hop in a boat and go to Cuba? Instead, they come into the USA and make their way to Tucson or Los Angeles or Atlanta. Why?
The simple answer is that it's attractive here. There are jobs and the streets are (relatively) safe. You may not be able to survive on minimum wage, but if you're willing to live in a 2 bedroom house with 15 of your close friends and relatives, you can do it. In fact, that sort of lifestyle might be considered luxurious. In fact, just being able to turn on the kitchen sink and drink the water without getting tapeworm is something short of miraculous. So it's easy to understand why they would want to be come here, too. But why have we made it so attractive for them?
I mean, sure, we demand clean water, too. But what we also demand is dollar menus at McDonalds. And we demand that our bed is made at the Motel 6. And, oh yeah, we demand that the Motel 6 charge no more than $39.99 a night. And while those are not excuses for taking advantage of underpriced human labor, and while those don't force businesses to hire new immigrants and illegal immigrants, there's certainly pressure put on these companies to hire people that won't charge much and won't make a fuss about working conditions.
The Truth is, if you ran a grocery store and you needed someone to sweep up the storeroom, who would you prefer to hire? If you only spoke English, would you rather hire someone who only spoke Spanish if they were willing to work for the same price? Even if they were willing to work for a dollar less? If we had more English-speaking US citizens willing to do these jobs, there would be no demand for Mexicans. And if there were no job available, the torrent of people crossing the border might turn into a trickle.
Enforcement won't work. We can see that with our nebulous "War on Drugs". Interrupting the transportation of drugs does nothing to stem the demand pressures. Eventually the law-enforcement dam springs a leak and drugs come through. The only way to solve the influx of drugs and of poor immigrants is to lower demand. And don't think that cracking down on employers will do the trick. The demand is there because of a lack of potential employees. Fining companies won't correct that.
Here's my modest proposal: Every family should have at least three children. (Currently, the US average is 2.09) The oldest will inherit the family estate. The second will seek out work in the world and start out with a blank slate. And the third will be destined to remain poor, working for minimum wage or less in menial, but necessary, jobs.
Of course, if you think you have a better way to drum up a workforce, please post your ideas. Mexicans aren't coming here against our wishes. They're coming here in response to an invitation. It's not sent through Evite, and it doesn't have calligraphy on the front. But the large number of jobs open to them is as good as one of those.
It occurs to me that one long-term solution is to raise the standard of living in Mexico enough that its people won't go risking their lives in the desert to get a job polishing the insides of a toilet. But that still won't answer the question of who will do those things. Maybe the answer is to dump all of the restrictive immigration policies and open our doors wide open. If they can find a job, great! If they can't - time to move on. In that sense, an amnesty program might be on the right track, except it would be a one-time event.
Or maybe the answer is to get rid of low-paying jobs entirely. At the grocery store and at Home Depot, you can check yourself out - no more cashier or bagger! If we automated jobs - think of a robotic janitor - there would be no need to look for a low-wage employee. And if we dump industries like farming altogether, nobody will look here for jobs picking oranges or harvesting sugar. They'll go to China or even Mexico. And we can turn that land into shopping malls and Infiniti dealerships and buy all our produce from overseas.
I'm not being snarky. I'm looking for solutions to the root causes of illegal immigration. You won't fix it by putting the new Sons of the Confederacy at the Mexican border. And you won't fix it by putting the screws the each family that hires a Mexican nanny. If you really want to prevent unskilled workers from crossing the border, make it so US companies don't need unskilled workers in the first place. Or just let it be, and look for ways to help your new American brethren become citizens.