|This Caguama (1liter beer) may present a solution (See bottom)|
So, instead of throwing my own 2 cents' worth into a bucket that already has a few billion cents in it, I'll just talk about my experience with Mexicans who've done it. The following are a few points I've noticed.
Determination. After being caught and sent back three times, I would give up. Especially since if I had to pay what amounted to a few months' pay for the service of being taken across and picked up on the other side. I've heard $1000 USD, and that it's usually borrowed money. I've known a few people who were going back for round 3 or 4. That money could feed their family in Mexico for half a year. I don't know how they manage to make the whole thing profitable. In one case, judging by the under-nourished look of the man's children, I don't think he did. He was pumped and ready to go again, though. Of course, there are thousands who succeed, bring their family and even buy a home. Those stories are enough to motivate the others who don't get any use out of it. It's kind like slot machines for addicted gamblers.
The lure of the American Dream, or an prospect of making it "rich" is stronger than just about any obstacle or risk. One writer stated that the only thing the construction of a 20-foot wall along the border would accomplish is an increase in production of 25-foot ladders in Mexico. (R. Longworth, Caught in the Middle.) Politics aside, I believe this is an accurate reflection of the determination involved.
Worse Prospects Back Home. If I remember correctly, I believe the new laws in Arizona were proposing 40 days in jail for people discovered in the U.S. without a valid visa (I'm not sure if I have the details right or what the final outcome was.) While I agree that it's harsh, I don't think it compares to the possibilities of imprisonment in Mexico. A friend of my wife was in jail, innocently, for almost 10 years; most significantly WITHOUT TRIAL. We only recently discovered his release when he contacted her on facebook. If I understand correctly, Mexico doesn't have the "innocent until proven guilty" legal concept, and, it seemed in his case that the opposite was assumed. (I believe President Calderon has taken steps to change this, as well as implementing a public, witness-questioning type process for trials. If so, I hope it makes a difference.) In Mexican jails you also have to pay for your food and tip guards. Family members have to visit to leave money. Many inmates, are for this reason, compelled to make handy-crafts to sell and pay for their keep; the guards sell the crafts outside and keep a share of the cash. (One of the most famous hammock producers on the Yucatan Peninsula is actually a prison; foreign tourists innocently seem to think it's a nice way to fill idle time; I know I did at the beginning.) So, how does the prospect of 40 days in an American jail stack up to this?
On top of that, many of these people come from a life of utter poverty. They don't see much to loose. Back on the farm, they always had corn, beans, squash and meat, not to mention as much fruit as they could eat. But they didn't have Kentucky Fried Chicken, Blackberry cell phones or satellite T.V. I guess even a modest income in the U.S can get them these luxuries of the rich. For others, the prospect of one day being able to take the kids to Disney Land would give their family special status. They once knew a rich family from he city that had gone ...
Bragging Rights. Now, I can't say for sure, but I don't think 40 days in an American jail would daunt most of the people who head across the border. I actually suspect it might serve as another source of bragging rights; I can here it now: "The gringos caught me and gave a free bed and food for 40 days!" I've heard this kind of bragging. The guy who I mentioned above, who had been caught and sent back 3 times was telling his story (of course, no jail involved) to a group of men and boys, sitting around with beer. As he spoke with the pride and authority of true drunk, a 14-year-old boy looked on in awe, with sparkle of hope in his eyes. That was 4 years ago. I'm sure that 14-year-old is in the U.S. by now.
Not all the braggers are drunks. I've met some very fine, upstanding, lower-middle class family men speaking with true pride of their cross border risks, all for the sake of their dear family (these are more the Disney Land types).
National Identity Confusion. For some reason, Mexicans who successfully establish themselves in the U.S. (legally or illegally) often do not want to be considered Mexican, or even Mexican-American, or Mexican-background. I remember on a trip to Detroit once, to the Mexican neighborhood, one hispanic American was offended when my dad mentioned the word Mexican (he was definitely Mexican, as opposed to Colombian, for example.) I've heard of many similar cases. These people teach their kids that they are American, not Mexican.
Here in Playa del Carmen I met a Mexican family whose daughters had been born in the U.S.
"Some day," explained one of the little girls, "I want to go back to my Homeland, and get to know my people." She hadn't been there since infancy. She placed a special emphasis on "mi patria" referring the United States. All of this was in Spanish, and she couldn't speak any English. Also, everything about the family, from their clothes and way of addressing people, to gestures and expressions was purely Mexican (which, for me, is a good thing.) But these girls had been taught to believe that they were not Mexican.
I would think that for Americans this desire to assimilate should be seen as a good thing. But, again, I'm not American. Personally, I think it's ridiculous; if I could say I had Mexican heritage, I would do so with pride. (I do show off my Mexican citizenship card to disbelieving Mexicans; but it's not quite the same is really being Mexican culturally.) Once people are born and raised in the U.S., and that is really their culture, then of course it makes sense to identify themselves with that nationality. But, ironically, some Mexican-background Americans I know who have fully assimilated American culture are among the few who look back with pride to their Hispanic roots. Others are scathingly aggressive to their former people.
Now that I'm pretty much done, I'll throw in my one-cent's worth. (It's not even really worth two.)
In the case of American policy makers, on either side of the political spectrum, I feel like one of two things is true; either they've had no contact with these people, and they know virtually nothing about them, or, they know, but pretend that they don't because it's more important to please their respective voters base. I suppose both are possible. If they knew something about how these people thought, I would guess that they could come up with some sort of policy that would work at least little better.
My one-cent opinion: they should gather a few of the illegal immigrants, sit down with them with a few caguamas (pronounced "ca-WAma" - see the picture at the top) and really get to know them. It might not solve the problem, but I'm sure it would take them farther than they are now.