Photo: ThePrint

By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS

The real root of the surging migrant problem along the U.S.-Mexico border is unscrupulous employers who are exploiting both lax immigration laws and undocumented workers, former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Christopher Landau said late last week.

No one is holding American employers to account for their willingness to hire millions of unauthorized immigrants,” Landau said in an editorial published in the New York Times on Thursday, April 1.

And while the growing humanitarian crisis on the border has certainly been exacerbated by the Joe Biden administration’s confusing, and sometimes contradictory, messages to would-be migrants, Landau, who served as ambassador to Mexico under the Donald Trump administration from 2019 to 2021, said that “the biggest factor driving such flows has gone largely unaddressed: the willingness and ability of American employers to hire untold millions of unauthorized immigrants.”

“The vast majority of the people are coming (to the United States) for the same reason people have always come here: to work (or to join their families who are here to work),” Landau said.

“The vast majority of the people are coming (to the United States) for the same reason people have always come here: to work (or to join their families who are here to work).”

…Former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Christopher Landau

“As the most recent U.S. ambassador to Mexico, I am not at all surprised by the border surge: It is a reprise of the humanitarian crisis that engulfed the border shortly after President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) took office in Mexico in December 2018.”

Landau went on to point out that the AMLO administration “came into office pledging to adopt a more ‘humane’ approach toward migration and wound up unleashing an inhumane situation at the border.”

“It was only after President Donald Trump threatened to impose tariffs on cross-border trade that the Mexican government reversed course, and from then on, the two countries cooperated closely to reduce the flows of third-country migrants across Mexico,” Landau said.

“Unless there is a serious effort, through mandatory E-Verify and other relatively simple means, to ensure that persons hired to work in the United States are eligible to do so, our country will continue to entice unauthorized immigrants and reward unauthorized immigration.”

“Unless there is a serious effort, through mandatory E-Verify and other relatively simple means, to ensure that persons hired to work in the United States are eligible to do so, our country will continue to entice unauthorized immigrants and reward unauthorized immigration.”

…Former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Christopher Landau

E-Verify, which was established in 1996 by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is a web-based system that allows enrolled employers to confirm the identity and eligibility of their potential employees to work in the United States.

Notwithstanding, since it is voluntary, many U.S. employers do not use it, prefering to hire undocumented workers for lower wages with little or no benefits.

Landau said that “would-be migrants, like other people, are economically rational: They weigh the benefits of living and working in the United States against the costs and odds of successfully making the dangerous journey across Mexico and into our country.”

“As we have witnessed, shifts in enforcement policy by Mexico or the United States that alter the journey’s likelihood of success greatly influence migrant flows,” he said.

“This is a domestic matter that fell outside my jurisdiction as ambassador. But it was certainly awkward for me to ask my Mexican counterparts to crack down on unauthorized migrant flows when our own government had not meaningfully addressed the major engine of such flows.”

Landau — a highly respected Harvard Law School graduate who clerked for two Supreme Court justices, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, argued eight cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and was himself short-listed for a Supreme Court seat in 2020 — said that at the core of the recurring migrant problem in the United States is the lack of E-Verify enforcement, a nonpartisan issue.

“Congress, regardless of the party in control, has never taken the simple step of making E-Verify mandatory for all employers,” Landau said.

“Nor has the federal bureaucracy — again, regardless of which party controls the executive branch — shown much zeal for enforcing the law against employers. The Department of Homeland Security points the finger at the Department of Justice, while the Department of Justice points the finger at the Department of Homeland Security.”

Getting past the vicious cycle of blame-game buck-passing will be crucial in finding a lasting and viable solution to the problem, he said.

“Until we meaningfully hold employers accountable for the people they hire, and disincentivize them from hiring unauthorized immigrants, I am not optimistic about our ability to contain unauthorized immigration,” said Landau.

“It is no answer for employers to argue that there are certain jobs that citizens or legal residents will not do. If raising wages will not do the trick, and we really do need immigrants to perform these jobs, then such workers should be brought in legally with work permits and be subject to the full protection of our laws. There are programs in place to do just that, like the H-2A and H-2B visa programs, which permit employers to hire foreign workers to perform temporary agricultural and nonagricultural services or labor in the United States on a one-time, seasonal, peak load or intermittent basis.”

“Obviously the U.S. government has far greater power to regulate the conduct of employers within its own borders than to solve deep-rooted social problems abroad. Indeed, the United States has been talking about improving conditions in Latin America for more than half a century, with precious little to show for it.”

…Former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Christopher Landau

It is precisely the blurred incentive program for employers to use temporary worker programs that is helping to fuel the current border crisis, Landau said.

Landau said that it is “discouraging to see the Biden administration characterizing the ‘root causes’ of unauthorized immigration as poverty, corruption and violence in Mexico, Central America and elsewhere and vowing to address the issue by attacking these problems.”

“These are certainly ‘push’ factors, but they are nowhere near as powerful as the ‘pull’ factor of jobs in the United States readily available at wages unimaginable in these other parts of the world,” he said.

“Obviously the U.S. government has far greater power to regulate the conduct of employers within its own borders than to solve deep-rooted social problems abroad. Indeed, the United States has been talking about improving conditions in Latin America for more than half a century, with precious little to show for it.”

As long as the United States continues to “incentivize unauthorized immigration by turning a blind eye to the employment of millions of unauthorized immigrants” within its borders, Landau said that it “cannot claim to have a ‘humane’ policy.”

“Such migration is big business for criminals; it encourages impoverished people to turn over their life savings to the human smugglers who control the routes. The transportation is hellish. Migrants find themselves jammed into locked, and sometimes abandoned, tractor-trailers like those recently discovered in Mexico’s Veracruz State with up to 233 people aboard. Last month, 13 people died when an eight-passenger SUV packed with 25 unauthorized immigrants collided with a big rig just over the border in California. Migrants are routinely subject to rape, assault and other crimes. And unauthorized immigrants who ultimately succeed in reaching our territory are consigned to live and work in the shadows without the full protection of our laws.,” he said.

“Migration, as our government likes to say, should be safe, legal and orderly. Now let’s act as if we really mean it.”

…April 5, 2021

Leave a Reply