Guest Worker Bill Has Mexicans Lining Up

Mexican migrants excited about the prospect of a new guest-worker plan are linging up at theArizona border in anticipation.

The shelter’s manager, Francisco Loureiro, said he has not seen such a rush of migrants since 1986, when the United States allowed 2.6 million illegal residents to get American citizenship. This time, the draw is a bill before the U.S. Senate that could legalize some of the 11 million people now illegally in the United States while tightening border security. Migrants are hurrying to cross over in time to qualify for a possible guest-worker program – and before the journey becomes even harder. “Every time there is talk in the north of legalizing migrants, people get their hopes up, but they don’t realize how hard it will be to cross,” Loureiro said.

South-central Arizona is the busiest migrant-smuggling area, and detentions by the U.S. Border Patrol there are up more than 26 per cent this fiscal year – 105,803 since Oct. 1, compared with 78,024 for the same period a year ago. Along the entire border, arrests are up nine per cent.

Maria Valencia, a spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said the rise in detentions did not necessarily mean more people were crossing. She attributed at least some of the additional detentions to an increase in the number of Border Patrol agents. “We’ve sent more technology and agents there, and I think that’s had an impact,” she said. But Loureiro, who has managed the shelter for 24 years, said the debate in the U.S. Congress has triggered a surge in migrants. In March, 2,000 migrants stayed at the shelter – 500 more than last year. Many migrants said they were being encouraged to come now by relatives living in the United States.


Since the United States tightened security at the main crossing points in Texas and California in the 1990s, hundreds of thousands of migrants have turned to the hard-to-patrol, mesquite-covered Arizona desert, risking rape, robbery and murder at the hands of gangs and now facing armed U.S. civilian groups.

We’ll soon see, it seems, whether those who say their chief concern with floods of Mexican migrants entering the country is their illegal status really mean it. I suspect that they will not be much happier with a flood of legal “guest workers.”

Of course, if the program does not get passed, there is virtually zero chance that all these people are going to go back home. While the ramped up enforcement efforts Loureiro describes will likely catch some sizable number of them, most will get through. When people are willing to risk death to go from the abject poverty of their homeland to get across a border to make next to nothing illegally picking vegetables, you have a force that is unstoppable by civilized means. Or even uncivilized:

Grupo Beta agent Miguel Martinez mans a checkpoint 30 kilometres south of Sasabe, where he warns of the dangers of the desert, such as bandits armed with knives or guns who order migrants to strip naked, rob them and sometimes rape them. He also tells about the volunteer border-watch groups that have sprung up in Arizona. “Right now there are migrant hunters who are armed, and you should be careful,” Martinez told a group travelling in a rickety van missing some of its windows.L

At Grupo Beta’s office in Nogales, Raul Gonzalez, 44, said he walked in the Arizona desert for five days before turning himself in when the blisters on his feet started bleeding and his left leg swelled up. Like most migrants interviewed for this story, Gonzalez said he was robbed at gunpoint just after crossing into the United States. “The guides and the robbers are all the same,” he said.

Gonzalez said the first time he sneaked into the United States, he did it through Tijuana, across the border from San Diego. He said he worked illegally at a printing shop in Chicago for 15 years but got homesick before he could settle the paperwork for legal residence. Despite the robbery and his failed trek, Gonzalez said he would try again once his feet heal. His bricklayer’s salary of about $60 a week in the western state of Jalisco simply is not enough to provide for his four children.
“It’s hard to cross,” he said. “But it’s harder to see your children have little to eat.”

Somehow, the people robbing men like Gonzalez seem a hell of a lot more “undesirable” than men like Gonzalez.

Update: Bryan Preston is disgusted:

But anyone with three brain cells might see the flaw in that law right away: Once they’re here, they can get fake papers that can prove they’ve been here for 15 years instead of the actual 15 minutes. Having already braved the journey and broken our laws to get here, does it make sense to think they’ll just tell the truth to the first ICE officer they happen to run across? Of course not. They’ll break additional laws to stay here.

But of course, almost no one on the Republican side has those necessary three brain cells to rub together, so they don’t see this coming. Give credit to the Democrats, who do have those brain cells and are smart enough (and cynical enough) to see the influx of illegals as yet another potential ethnic voting bloc. And give the unions credit for seeing the new laborers as bodies to fill their rapidly dwindling ranks.

John Hinderaker agrees,

I’m sympathetic to all of those who want to come to this country for opportunity–although I’d be a lot more sympathetic if they came legally. But it seems to me that the current rush to the border is more evidence that before we even think about other changes to our immigration policies, we need to secure our borders so that we can control who is coming and going. If we don’t have control over our borders, any “policy” we pretend to implement is meaningless.

Vilmar at Right Wing Howler is less nice:

For those of you old enough to remember what happened in 1986 when we gave the first blanket amnesty to illegals, our borders were flooded with illegal trying to make their way in so as to get in under the deadline and win a ticket to riches via the US taxpayer.

Lately we’ve been thanked for allowing those scumbags in when they hit the streets in protest demanding new laws allowing even more of these rat bastards to stay in the US.

Of course, our Congress-critters, those yellow-bellied c**ksuckers who are supposed to uphold and defend the Constitution of the US, do so by saying that the crimes illegals commit in violating our laws by entering here without papers are not really crimes anymore.

But we’re not talking about illegals here but legal migrants. That’s what a guest worker is. Will some take advantage of their entree to create sneaky forged documents and become citizens? Probably. But there’s not much stopping them from doing that now.

It’s true that any immigration policy will fail if we can’t control our borders. My preference, certainly, would be to be able to pick and choose who comes in and have a basis for tracking them. I’m not at all sure that it’s feasible, though, given the sheer size of our borders. Not to mention the ability to hide rather easily if one makes it across and is willing to work in an underground economy.

Still, somehow juggling these perhaps mutually exclusive goals–border control, lots of cheap workers, not rewarding law breaking–is what the public seems to want. Like Kevin Drum and Joe Gandleman, though, I’m pretty sure we can’t deliver those things simultaneously.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Guns and Gun Control, Science & Technology, Uncategorized, US Constitution, , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. LJD says:

    So if this IS to be a legal guest worker program, why aren’t the Mexicans applying for the permits through INS rather than continuing to jump the fence in Az?

    If they are jumping fence in anticipation of their reception in the US, they are still ILLEGALS, regardless.

    Both parties need to grow some balls and start deporting people who don’t belong here. Those that want to work and contribute to this country can fill out the forms and wait in line.

  2. Steve says:


    “His bricklayerâ??s salary of about $60 a week”

    Maybe we should change the law so that we take away the penalties for the employers and if you can’t prove your legal status then the minimum and maximum wage is $1.00/hr.

    “When people are willing to risk death to go from the abject poverty of their homeland to get across a border to make next to nothing illegally picking vegetables, you have a force that is unstoppable by civilized means. Or even uncivilized”

    I heard the exact same words in 1986 and the band aid didn’t fix anything back then. Here’s an interesting question, “Why aren’t the Canadians coming across illegally?” Obviously, because their economy is better and there isn’t an incentive to risk it.
    Other possible answer:
    a. They hate us so much they would rather die than live in the US
    b. The northern states aren’t as tolerant of diversity as CA, AZ, NM or TX
    c. Canada has more natural resources in order to build a better economy
    d. English speaking Canadians ARE coming across but we just can’t recognize them as illegal
    e. We like Canada better and so historically we have helped them to build their economy but we haven’t done anything to help our southern neighbors.
    f. Hispanics like the climate better in the US while Canadians like the climate better in Canada

  3. Steve says:

    BTW, your comment page states

    “You may post without including your e-mail address and/or a URL if you desire”

    but when I tried to post my comment without giving my email address it gave me an error from which there was no obvious recovery process. Luckily I had copied my text into Word to check its spelling (it’s easier than your local spell check) so I didn’t have to retype it and then I gave a bogus address and it took it. Otherwise, I love your site.

  4. Bert says:

    There’s nothing wrong with mexicans. Most, like 95%, are hard-working people trying to make it. That’s a fairly american trait. What DOES make the situation difficult is the decades-long collective failure of MEXICO to reform to the point where they can offer their people jobs that are worth a damn. We’ll never find out how many people die in mexico every year from lack of medicine etc. ’cause they’ll never publish it. We’ll never find out if their government is RUNNING the drugs that come into the US, because they’ll never publish it. Mexico has problems. BIG, stinky problems. The only way to help them to pull their socks up is through some friendly, firm pressure in the form of administrating OUR side of the border in such a way that it doesn’t matter if they get it right or not, it will still reduce the impact on OUR citizens. We’d like to help, sure, but it’s like giving lunch money to a wino: You know where your 5 bucks is going to end up, and the guy will still be sleeping on your stairs….