Once again the U.S. government has gone back to hurling threats at undocumented immigrants, this time on the Mexican border. During a visit to Nogales, Arizona, the attorney general warned immigrants, “This is a new era. This is the Trump era," and said that illegally crossing the border is a very serious offense which will take high priority in legal prosecutions. The speech was more intense than the administration has yet shown.
Throughout the speech, the attorney general covered a key topic but provided little context. He mentioned how transnational gangs, drug cartels, human traffickers, and counterfeiters aim to bring down the legal system of migration. This is the reality: with a legal vacuum, illegality holds power over the U.S. immigration system. The criminals are the ones who run the show.
Washington has said that it welcomes skilled immigrants and will turn away those less qualified. In late February, the U.S. president explained that what is needed is a system that, as a basic principle, allows entry to those who can "financially support themselves."
The speech made no mention of the idea that has been in place since World War II when the Bracero Program was enacted with the goal of supplementing the U.S. workforce that, at the time, was instead fighting on the front lines. It was an official, regulated and temporary program bringing Mexican workers to the United States.
The end of the program in the mid-'60s and subsequent cyclical crises in Mexico during the '80s and '90s brought about undocumented migration.
The need for labor persisted and both the U.S. and Mexican governments turned a blind eye, thereby leaving the passage of workers in the hands of criminals. It goes without saying that this crossing is made under inhumane conditions with enormous risk. The number of undocumented migrants who perished while attempting to cross the border rose to its peak toward the end of the 1990s.
The Trump administration is ignoring the reality taking place, for example, across agricultural farms in California, where field labor is mostly Mexican and many of those workers are undocumented. There is fear among agricultural producers that one day in the near future, when there are more threats or those threats are acted on, there will be no more Mexican workers.
Instead of making threats, authorities should take off the blindfold and accept reality: it is foreign labor – Mexican foreign labor – that makes up farm workers all across the United States. The path ahead must include immigration control being placed back in the hands of officials, and away from criminals.