Illegal Immigration and its Effects on the USA Dynamic

Part One – US National Interests

by Phil Manning                                                                                                                            guest author

It is my intention to write a series of articles outlining my views concerning the damage illegal immigration does to the US economy, social network, infrastructure, and ultimately our national interests.  During the last two decades there has been (and continues daily) a clamor in our news media and political classes about illegal immigration.  Most of this clamor is merely exclaimed in mini sound bites or headlines that do not fully express any real understanding of the issue of uncontrolled illegal immigration but merely suit the agenda of the postulating entity.  Here now are my thoughts on illegal immigration starting with the effects on the US national interests.

My contention is that it is in our national interest to have a stable ally on our southern border much as we do on our northern border.  By stability I mean in the sense that these countries on our borders enjoy representative government, viable and sustainable economic institutions, social and cultural values consistent with Judeo-Christian mores, and a legal system that protects the rights of citizenship.  Our northern neighbor meets these criteria and contributes to our national interests as we do to theirs.  Our northern border is unguarded while having a reasonable amount of control while supporting the sovereignty of both countries.  The same cannot be said for our southern neighbor as it is a country racked by violence, corruption, inadequate use and management of its resources and its government does not reach a reasonable level of representation for the majority of its citizens.

Some may question why Mexico’s internal dysfunction is of concern to the average American?  To this I would contend that if we had a more stable neighbor in Mexico our illegal immigration problem would not be as significant if their citizens were getting their economic, political, and social needs met.

Consider the free access of trade US and Canadian citizens have with each other, our mutual dependence in economic trade, national defense issues, law enforcement, and our comfortable tolerance of our individual cultural differences.  In plain language we generally appreciate each other and maintain a vibrant relationship with consistent mutual respect.  “We get along well”.  In order to support this opinion I will submit some facts not generally known outside the homeland security community.  Roughly half of the ship borne container trade arriving in the east of the US comes up the Saint Lawrence Sea Way and is off loaded in Canada, checked for security and customs compliance, and then transshipped by rail into the US.  In which countries could this occur considering all that it entails in terms of laws, regulations, and economics?  The case could be made that this is how the European Union operates.  However, our situation is unique in that the U.S. and Canadian relationship spans more than a century of cooperation.  Furthermore, the U.S. and Canada benefit greatly by being neighbors considering how intertwined their automotive and energy industries are.

Another important fact in the special US/Canada relationship is our mutual national security defense partnership.  Outside of the defense community few Americans know or cannot fully appreciate the fact that the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) exists and how close the cooperation is between the US and Canada.  The commander of NORAD is always an American military officer of four star rank and the deputy is always a Canadian of three star rank having command authority to include over US military personnel.  During the 9/11 attack the US NORAD commander (General Eberhart) was away from the Colorado Springs based headquarters (and conversely the command center at Cheyenne Mountain Command Center).  As notifications of the attack came into NORAD Lieutenant General Findley (Canadian) presided over the Command Center and with full and recognized authority directed the aerospace response to the attack.  The bottom-line was that a Canadian military officer led the combined response by ordering the launch of US Air Force interceptor aircraft, as well as Canadian Armed Force’s interceptors, and had the authority to issue shoot down actions by US Air Force fighter aircraft.  It was LtGen Findley who ordered the diversion of international arriving aircraft during the chaotic hours that day into Canadian airfields both as a precaution against further attacks and to prevent the possibility of an inadvertent shoot down on a non-threat airliner.  In the after action reviews General Findley was lauded for his extraordinary cool decision-making and leadership. 

Let’s now consider our southern border neighbor and our relationship with Mexico.  We have a partially guarded border with inadequate control that has resulted in significant problems of security and law enforcement (particularly for US communities near the border) and daily regulatory problems involving trade.  It is a given that many of these trade regulatory problems are related to illegal traffic of narcotics and our efforts to control this crime but can also be traced to the regulatory imbalance between our transportation systems – both trucking and railroad.  And then there is the crime endemic to Mexico.  According to a Mexican government study in 2012, 15% of Mexicans report having been a victim of crime in the past year, a figure which among countries is only higher in South Africa.  In 2010 Mexico’s homicide rate was 18 per 100,000 inhabitants; the world average is 6.9 per 100,000 inhabitants.  Drug-traffic and narco-related activities are a major concern in Mexico.  Mexico’s drug war has left over 60,000 dead and perhaps another 20,000 missing in a nation of roughly 115 million inhabitants.  The Mexican drug cartels have as many as 100,000 members.  By contrast the USA homicide rate, as documented by the Center for Disease Control in 2011, is 3.7 per 100,000 inhabitants.  I cannot dispute that the US appetite for illegal narcotics contributes to this criminal catastrophe but placing fault without effectively dealing with the crisis is of little value.

Consider Mexico’s political, economic, and social situations.  Historically modern Mexico has been ridden with corrupt and inept political parties that have never addressed real governance and rule of law.  I cannot point to a single country with a perfect political system, certainly not ours, but in contrast Mexico’s is more dysfunctional than most in the industrialized world.  Economically Mexico has substantial natural resources in energy and agriculture but has mostly failed to capitalize in these areas due to inadequate transportation infrastructure development (modern road, rail, and port systems), corruption and mismanagement in the state-owned energy sector.  On a positive note it is expected that in 2014 Mexico will successfully revise their constitution allowing foreign investment in their energy sector once again that will lead to greater growth and exploitation of their oil industry.  Corruption at all levels of Mexico society is systemic and saps untold wealth while providing nothing but a continual “no win” situation for the average citizen.  Socially generational poverty has resulted in a permanent large underclass steeped in despair and who for many their only hope is to “head north”.

Cooperation for national defense between the US and Mexico is improving but languished for many decades in mistrust by the Mexican armed forces and a sense of unabated US frustration.  It may seem like a sick joke but the primary defense plans of the Mexican Army are still centered on reacting to an US invasion from the north.  We can no longer view the 1916 Mexican-American War as the underlying cause considering that the US invasion was an incursion to counter cross border bandit attacks on the US.  These bandit attacks were conducted by Mexican elements to instigate our involvement in the then modern Mexican revolution.  The US Northern Command, which has area of responsibility for North America, has made great efforts in reaching out to the Mexican military over the past seven years with some success but there is still much to be done.  Primarily the Mexican Navy has proven to be the most agreeable to cooperation while it will probably take a generation before Mexican distrust begins to subside.  My military experience working with foreign allies’ notes that the Mexican armed forces are far from being remotely modern and equipped but because the US has a lot of experience in nation building, which includes military and security development, we can assist them.

In closing I point to the need for the US in addressing illegal immigration to review what is in our best interests having a stable and secure neighbor on our southern border.  We must review our past relationship and develop a strategy to influence Mexico to address their problems that lead to the US being a solution for many of their citizen’s problems.  As to the argument that we the US should not meddle in other country’s affairs I say that a reasoned and clearly articulated strategy that is in our best interest and addresses our neighbor’s values and interests is a better course of action.

Author’s bio:  Phil Manning is a retired Air Force officer who has been stationed in Central America and traveled throughout South and Central America.  His experience has included providing and overseeing military security cooperation efforts in Honduras, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia.  He currently holds a Department of Defense Top Secret security clearance as a civilian contractor in Colorado Springs, CO where he works as a project manager and has supported DOD, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Air Force Space Command, US Northern Command, NORAD, and Army Space and Missile Defense Command.

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