Richard Reeves

Mexico: The 51st State

LONDON -- Across the English Channel, young men are massing near the beaches of Dunkirk, desperately seeking boats and boatmen to carry them across to England before it is too late.

This is not 1940, when British boats large and small bravely crossed the choppy channel to rescue more than 300,000 of their own soldiers trapped by Hitler's army. This is now, and the brave young men are refugees, from Asia and Africa and the poorer parts of southern Europe, who want asylum and, more important, work in Britain.

And back home in the United States, along the borders of Texas and California, young men from Central America are doing the same thing. And this is not the 1840s, when the armies of Mexican Gen. Santa Anna and American Gen. Zachary Taylor faced off across the Rio Grande.

In Washington, the new president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, spoke to the U.S. Congress last Thursday, in both Spanish and English, urging the Americans to let his people come, give migrant workers, and illegal immigrants too, documents to make them legal residents of the United States. Afterward Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., came out and spoke a truth that seems harsh to many: "The bottom line is that the fences are going to go down between these two countries. And it is in the interest of both countries that we make it work."

I had no idea Sen. Lieberman was such a visionary. That vision may not be popular now -- perhaps it never will be -- but the truth is that Mexico is going to become part of the United States because the countries need each other -- or more precisely, and for obvious reasons, they cannot break away from each other. There they are, across 1,946 miles of river, desert and roads, and here we are.

Fox dreams of joining his country to the prosperity of the United States, as Santa Anna fought, unsuccessfully, to keep the potential of Texas and California when they were legally part of Mexico. That's obvious. But what's in it for us? Peace and more prosperity. We can't afford to have a poor and comparatively unstable country on our border. It is just too much trouble -- and there is more trouble latent in the countries south of Mexico. To Guatemala and then on to Honduras and Nicaragua, Mexico is not so much on the way to the United States as it is the biggest and richest country in their immediate part of the world. And we need those people, because they are younger than our aging population and because they are willing to do jobs Americans will no longer do.

That is what is happening all over the world. That is why young men from Pakistan and Nigeria are standing by the channel at Dunkirk. People are on the move everywhere, and it is economic movement, not political. The only way a developed country, the United States or Britain or France, can block those young men is by force and not by law.

"Experts agree," wrote The Daily Telegraph in London last week, "that if illegal immigrants -- and asylum seekers working illegally -- were somehow prevented from working in the United Kingdom, they would not come. Certainly, stopping or reducing welfare payments has had little impact. ... Moreover, the UK economy has a near insatiable demand for labor."

Those experts are right, and their expertise is universal. Law, culture and religion are secondary.

In the late 1970s, as Mexican-Americans became a majority of the population of San Antonio, Texas, the city's cultural center put out a booklet that explained to Mexicans what was different about the Anglos. Part of it read like this:

"FUNDAMENTAL INSTITUTIONS: Anglo -- The people are the government; Mexican -- The people against the government.

"FUNDAMENTAL VALUES: Anglo -- Control of oneself, of others, of nature; Mexican -- Harmony. Within oneself. With others. With nature.

"RESPONSE TO STRESS: Anglo -- Immediate and constant action, modify the environment to meet our needs; Mexican -- Passive endurance and resistance, modify ourselves to meet the environment."

But this is not about such things -- if it were, there would not be tens of millions of Irish-Americans and Italian-Americans. It is about work. We have it, they want it, so they will come -- unless we are willing to resist forcibly, and by that I mean militarily as a police state. That is how it has usually been, and how it will always be now with the development of available and affordable global transportation.

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