Domestic issues complicate US global ties
Washington — A growing number of serious US domestic problems are overlapping international boundaries and complicating America's relations with other countries. The farm crisis -- caused in part by booming agricultural output abroad -- has been the most vivid example this week in Washington. Farmers, governors, and farm-state legislators have turned up the pressure on Congress and the White House for new, costly help.
But other examples abound. Look, for instance, at these four supercharged issues, all with foreign roots, which are intruding into domestic politics here and in the 50 state capitals.
Drug trafficking: New York Gov. Mario Cuomo complains that half the felonies committed in his state are the result of the illegal trade in cocaine and heroin from South America.
The surging dollar: As the American greenback gets stronger and stronger against other currencies, howls of protest are coming from manufacturers, exporters, unions, and the Farm Belt. American jobs are being lost, they charge, as overseas traders bid the dollar ever higher.
Illegal immigration: State governors say Washington's inability, or unwillingness, to halt the flow of millions of undocumented workers to the United States is costing them billions for education, welfare, and other services. They want federal compensation.
Foreign trade: Anger in Washington has gradually risen over a number of years about the Japanese import-export balance. This week, when the Reagan White House refused to resume talks with the Japanese on telecommunications trade, it reflected growing frustrations in Congress and the states on a range of trade issues with Japan.
For much of its 200-year history, the United States has enjoyed a geographical isolation, and an economic independence, that helped it avoid such international complications.
All that has changed. Growth of trade, jet travel, and rising populations are all putting unprecedented pressures on US borders. The nation's boundaries are proving porous to immigrants, illegal drugs, and foreign goods. Government has been slow -- some say irresponsibly slow -- to react.
On the issue of immigration, Florida Gov. Bob Graham complains: ``The failure of the federal government to enact and enforce immigration reform is a persistent national disgrace. While it endures, the future of the United States through the 1990s and beyond will remain in jeopardy.''
Governor Graham continues: ``Make no mistake. Today's illegal immigration affects America's ability to control population growth, to curb the traffic in drugs, to protect national security, and to maintain the respect of other nations. It touches . . . every community and every American.''
Today, one such issue after another is linked to developments overseas. If one talks about tax reform, for example, the question soon arises: What would reform do to America's ability to compete abroad? If one brings up the farm crisis, the issue turns into a discussion of the foreign-currency exchange rate and the level of exports. Bring up unemployment, and a senator may talk to you about illegal immigration. Mention crime in the streets of Boston, Chicago, or Miami, and a government official may blame foreign drug-runners.
Interdependence among nations has been a favorite topic of academicians for years, but its effects have come, nevertheless, with uncomfortable suddenness in much of America. Despite the current prosperity, workers, business, and government are rushing to adjust to these new times -- sometimes with great success, but often without.
Across the southern borders come two tremendous challenges. The flow of drugs, from marijuana to heroin, does more than addict rich and poor, young and old. The criminals running this illicit trade, flush with billions of drug dollars, threaten to corrupt legitimate businesses, as well as government, in high-traffic areas like Florida, Texas, and California.
The unprecedented tide of illegal immigration -- now estimated at about 1 million people a year -- is said by some experts to preempt a large number of jobs that could be held by unemployed American citizens.
Meanwhile, America's once-unchallenged supremacy in the auto industry has been eroded by savvy, efficient competitors in Japan. The US auto industry's future remains cloudy, despite profits last year of $10 billion. Elsewhere, East Asian nations pour out electronic goods, toys, and a host of other products at prices that US makers can't match.
Price competition has hit US farmers right at home. Growers were stunned in January when they learned that the world's largest grain merchant, Cargill Inc., was planning to import 25,000 metric tons of Argentine grain for US millers at prices lower than American wheat.
The Cargill deal was eventually canceled because of roars of outrage from US farm groups. But Cargill was not the only importer eyeing cheap foreign farm products.
A new study, released late Thursday by the congressional Office of Technology Assessment, says that in computer technology, considered pivotal to America's ability to compete economically, there is growing competition from abroad, especially from Japan. While the US information technology industry appears strong today, care must be taken that America does not fall short in areas of research and development, the study warned. It pointed out that in other nations, research is being handled through national programs with specific economic goals.
This new global reality has won the attention of officials at all levels of American government.
This week's meeting of the National Governors' Association in Washington at times sounded like a gathering of foreign-affairs specialists. Foreign trade, especially in farm products, was a major concern. So was the strong dollar and the federal deficit, which many governors blamed for unemployment problems in their states.
Looking toward the borders, the Governors' Association passed a resolution making clear the consequences of continued illegal immigration. It said:
``The federal government has the total responsibility to meet the basic needs of refugees and entrants (that is, cash, medical, social services, and special education costs) for the initial three years,'' said a resolution by the association. ``If the federal government is unwilling to sufficiently fund the necessary services, then it is incumbent upon the federal government to decrease the flow of refugee admissions.''
Despite the challenges, the US does appear to be making progress in some areas.
In the battle against drug trafficking, for example, US enforcement officials have stepped up their cooperation with other countries while becoming more effective at interdicting supplies entering this country.
And new laws that allow officials to seize the assets of drug-runners are proving helpful to officials, according to Associate US Attorney General D. Lowell Jensen.
During the past week, US officials demonstrated their get-tough attitude toward drug smuggling when they charged Mexican officials with failing to arrest a Mexican drug kingpin suspected in the kidnapping of a US narcotics agent. They also conducted car-by-car searches of Mexicans entering the US at border points to show their unhappiness with Mexican police.
Illegal immigration, although a difficult problem, may finally be acted upon by Congress in 1985 or '86. Sentiment to do something appears to be growing.