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Immigration -- and US foreign policy

By Robert E. McGarrah / November 22, 1985



THERE is little doubt that increasing numbers of Latin American immigrants are threatening political and economic freedoms of American citizens. But there should be much doubt that a Simpson-Rodino law would effectively eliminate those threats. Fines or imprisonment for American businessmen hiring illegal aliens and beefing up the United States police forces on the Mexican border are punitive remedies. Ironically, they would jeopardize mutual security interests, because they would alienate Hispanic Americans from other Americans. Moreover, they would exacerbate our already serious problems in Latin America by widening politi- cal-economic gaps.

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Indeed, those gaps are the major causes of the rise in illegal immigration and threats of Soviet-Marxist expansionism and default in Latin American payments for US loans to finance badly needed US exports. Before changing US immigration controls, Washington leaders should examine their effects on foreign and domestic security policies for American people.

America has always been a haven for oppressed peoples. US initiatives 40 years ago spread worldwide America's dual revolutions: (1) peoples' rising expectations for freedom and better living standards; (2) rising capabilities of industrial and governmental organizations to stimulate and respond to those expectations. The US launched the United Nations, the Marshall Plan, the Bretton Woods Agreement, the International Monetary Fund, and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. US industries internatio nalized their organizations and operations; they developed jet airliners and electronic equipment to bring all nations closer.

However, since the mid-1960s, the US government has concentrated more on military-economic than on civil-economic investments in relations with Latin American countries. Their arms imports (mostly from US industry) increased from $390 million in 1972 to $2.8 billion in 1982. US arms and covert support of insurgent forces in Chile and Central America have done little to stop peoples' expectations from rising, but a great deal to prevent Latin American industries and governments from responding to those e xpectations. Unfortunately US leaders still seem unaware that more US guns have meant less ``butter,'' skyrocketing inflation and stagnating growth, and widening gaps in living standards of the US and Latin America. Perhaps their myopic preoccupations with military force to constrain or deter Soviet-Marxist expansionism explains their ignorance of the link between US increased arms interventions abroad and increased illegal immigration by Latin Americans in the US.

Put another way, Washington seems unaware that because of its initiatives after World War II, Latin Americans have joined the American revolution: If the US will not do more to increase capabilities of their industries and government to provide political freedoms and improved living standards, then Latin Americans will, by legal or nonlegal means, confront American industry and government with their rising expectations.

It follows that the most effective means for US leaders to reduce illegal immigration by Latin Americans and to contain Soviet-Marxist expansion are to expand US public and private investments for civil-industrial improvements in Latin American countries. These would greatly reduce pressures for Latin Americans to emigrate illegally to the US, because more Latin and North Americans would do more business together on mutually agreeable terms for political freedom and economic development. There would be almost no reason for Latin Americans to respond to Fidel Castro's appeals for their concerted default on loans to threaten collapse of US banking and currency systems. Nor would they be pressed to appeal to the Soviets for financial, military, and technical assistance.

There would be few problems in financing a US shift to civil investments for peace and security at home and in Latin America. Washington would need only to transfer public funds now being managed by the US ``security establishment'' so they could be managed to improve Latin American education, transportation, energy, and employment growth. Complementary investments by US private business and industries would soon more than match those public funds, as they did under the Marshall Plan to redevelop politi cal freedoms and economic opportunities in Western Europe and Japan.

The major challenge is for Washington to understand the advantages and muster the political majority and will to reform US foreign policy so that illegal Latin American immigrations are no longer necessary, and both North and South Americans can join together peacefully in their revolutions for freedom and better living standards to guarantee the security of American democracy.

Robert E. McGarrah is a professor of management at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.