Law and Illegals

The illegal immigration problem with Mexico resides on both sides of the border. One key to solving it is a greater respect for the rule of law, south and north.

A culture of corruption and lawlessness ranks high among Mexico's challenges. President Vicente Fox has repeatedly promised, during his first year in office, to take up this challenge. A few days ago he spoke in Tijuana of the need to stop shakedowns of immigrants crossing back into their homeland for the holidays by bribe-minded Mexican border guards.

But dodging the law happens north of the Rio Grande, too. The recent indictment of Tyson Foods executives by a federal grand jury makes that clear. A sting operation unearthed the readiness of at least some officials at the giant meat processor to pay their own well-disguised bribes, of sorts, to smuggling middlemen to ensure a flow of low-paid immigrant workers into their plants.

The government charges that Tyson employees even conspired to supply illegal workers with false documentation, like fake Social Security cards. The company says there were just a few bad managers operating outside corporate policy against hiring illegals. Federal agents, however, say they uncovered a corporate culture that condoned such activities.

The truth should come out in court. But there's no doubt that some US employers are deeply complicit in the illegal immigrant problem. Hotel and restaurant firms have already been convicted of violating immigration law.

Whether in US corporate offices, or on the streets of Mexico, the rationale for trying to skirt the law is the same: economic necessity. The jobs are north, go get them. The workers are south, go get them. But borders still have meaning, and that meaning has been underscored by the increased threat of terrorism.

Mexico and the US must renew efforts to build a stronger legal structure to control and make safer the flow of humanity across their border. Presidents Fox and Bush should be able to do that. And both men should take up the work of convincing their citizens - individual and corporate - that respect for law is a big part of getting this job done.

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