The case for opening the border between U.S., Mexico

Special to The Times

An important fact of contemporary American life is the intimate connection between the United States and Mexico. Millions of Mexicans live here; more come every decade. The United States depends on the labor of people from Mexico, whether they are part of assimilated families who have been here for generations, legal immigrants with proper papers or men and women who have jumped the border by the hundreds of thousands every year, drawn by the prospect of work not available at home, a better life and family ties.

Three new books, each in their way, contribute to a better understanding of this dynamic and of what the border is. “Hard Line” by Ken Ellingwood, a Los Angeles Times border correspondent from 1998 to 2002 and now based in Jerusalem, tells stories, some frightful, including an account of 14 Mexican workers who, with little water, died in the blazing heat in May 2001 as they crossed the border into Arizona’s southern desert.

Mark Cameron Edberg’s “El Narcotraficante” looks at “corridos,” Mexican folk songs that comment on the news of the day and tell tales of that other cross-border traffic, narcotics. Edberg’s style is academic, still his subject is engaging and the George Washington University associate professor provides English and Spanish texts. To get the full effect, though, it’s useful to hear them sung.


In “Wetback Nation,” former NBC News correspondent Peter Laufer describes the realities of cross-border migration. But he goes beyond Ellingwood’s compassionate exposition to advocate opening the border to Mexicans who want to work here, citing the futility of current policies. His arguments:

* “Further enforcement along the border? Unworkable. Neither the funds nor the national desire exists for such an attempted solution.”

* “Create an autonomous zone, an independent political entity along the border? Politically impossible for both the United States and Mexico ...”

* “Militarize the border and create a two-thousand mile Berlin Wall? Politically impossible.... Besides, it wouldn’t work.”

Allowing “the free passage of Mexicans who wish to come north is the only reasonable and long-term solution,” Laufer writes. “Open the border to the people who are coming no matter what we do -- people we want and need, no matter how much we may say otherwise.”

After these workers can move back and forth freely, he argues, border authorities can concentrate on keeping out “the bad guys” who move among them. The millions of illegal immigrants from Mexico who live among us will no longer be “wanted criminals,” he writes, but wanted and invited guests who in return will “likely be willing and active participants in helping keep those who endanger the United States out of the country.”


We can act or be overwhelmed by events, Laufer concludes. “Now or later,” he predicts, “the artificial line separating Mexico from the United States (and Mexico’s former lands) will disappear.”