to the economy, society, demography, and politics of
Mexico and Central America. The issues are notoriously difficult to manage, in part because the means
for responding to them are so diffuse. The domestic
imperatives on each side of the border often run contrary to what would be needed to secure the international cooperation necessary to deal with the issue. A
border fence may make sense in domestic U. S. politics,
but it surely complicates the process of securing cooperation from Mexico.
Central questions for California, therefore, are
whether and how it can mobilize its considerable
resources—at the local, regional, state, federal, and
international levels—to help turn immigration once
again into a positive resource, rather than allow it
to become a growing (perceived and actual) burden,
and a source of worsening societal divisions.
Searching for Consensus
If California’s political and civic leaders were to focus
on identifying the state’s interests regarding national
immigration policy, they would likely find a number
of points of at least latent consensus that could galvanize what is needed to break Washington’s legislative impasse.
First, most Californians believe that current U.S.
immigration policies are badly flawed. They perceive
that current policies tend to reinforce labor shortages, interfere with scientific and technical progress,
keep families separated for extended periods, provide income to coyotes, cause risks and even deaths
to immigrants, facilitate labor exploitation, allow
what often seem like sudden and uncontrolled surges of immigration, present severe fiscal challenges
to locales and states with large clusters of unauthorized immigrants, lower the average educational level
and productivity of the workforce, and significantly contribute to flouting and thus eroding the rule
of law. These results are the opposite of what most
Californians want. 14
Second, because of its aging population and
broader demographic profile, as well as the increased
educational level of its residents, California, in coming years, will likely require more immigrant labor,
both skilled and unskilled, not less.
Mexico will face strong pressures to export
workers for another decade or so, but given its changing demographics, within about 15 years the number of Mexicans entering the workforce may well
begin to fall. The creation of jobs in Mexico should
increase and the pressures for migration should
begin to diminish. 15 The policy challenge in dealing
with Mexican immigration is essentially a question
of managing this flow until emigration pressures
there subside within the next 15 years.
Third, Californians with divergent perspectives
share an interest in transferring to the federal government more of the costs of providing education,
health and other social services to undocumented
immigrants. 16 As undocumented immigrant concentrations spread to several other “gateway” states, California’s political leaders should be trying to build a
multistate coalition in support of such transfers.
Fourth, many thoughtful Californians appreciate that all will benefit if those immigrants who do
establish long-term residency, whether authorized or
not, become healthy, educated, English-speaking, tax-paying, property-owning, law-abiding naturalized
citizens, contributing positively to the state’s development and welfare. The successful incorporation of
immigrants into the economic, social, political, and
cultural future of California requires, in turn, investing in the education of immigrants and their children at all levels: expanding efforts to support adult
English-language instruction; promoting naturalization, voter registration and suffrage; facilitating immigrants’ access to credit and other financial services;
licensing immigrant motorists and ensuring that they
are covered by automobile insurance; and supporting
community-based agencies that provide social services to immigrants. 17
These imperatives should be high on California’s
agenda, not out of charity but from enlightened self-interest. California’s economic competitiveness and
social cohesion for decades to come will depend significantly on the educational and vocational attainment of its foreign-born population and their children,
and on their identification with and contributions to
the communities where they reside.
As David Hayes-Bautista predicted 20 years ago,
and Dowell Myers has recently documented, it is in
the Baby Boomer Generation’s self-interest to invest