by Edwin D. Reilly, Jr.

for the Sunday Gazette             


When last we engaged, I wrote that I’d tell you my solution to the problem of illegal immigration—as soon as I thought of one. Here goes.

Once there was a war, a very unpopular war. It almost started over a skirmish along the disputed Mexican border during the administration of Andrew Jackson, but he would have none of it. He had seen enough war even though his reputation was made when his forces won the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815. Actually, the Treaty of Ghent ending the War of 1812 had been signed on December 24, 1814, but news of the peace did not reach New Orleans until February. In those days, the low horsepower Internet moved messages at the rate of about 10 kilobits per fortnight. Snail mail!

Three presidents followed Jackson and then, in 1845, along came another administration and another skirmish, and the new president decided to give those Mexicans a Polk in the eye, principally to fulfill our Manifest Destiny. Despite the temporary setback at the Alamo, superior force defeated the Mexican army and in 1848 the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo gave us undisputed control of Texas and, for an imposed payment of $15 million, close to half of Mexico’s former territory. Half!

That was enough to give us California and all or parts of what eventually became the states of Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Wyoming. The war and its outcome was vociferously opposed by young Congressman Abraham Lincoln, and a month before the end of the war, President James Polk was censured by Congress for "a war unnecessarily and unconstitutionally begun by the President of the United States." (Sound familiar?)  And as late as 1885, as former general and president Ulysses S. Grant composed his critically acclaimed Memoirs on his deathbed, he wrote “to this day I regard the [Mexican] war as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.”

The annexed territories contained about 8,000 Mexican families. Some moved further south to what was left of Mexico; but the great majority remained in place and were declared citizens. And as is still the case, their children and a child born of any woman who happens to be in this country, legally or otherwise, is automatically a Constitutional “natural born citizen” who, upon reaching age 35, is eligible to run for president.

Now, fast forward to the present day. Even at half its original size, Mexico, a country of 109 million people, is the fifth largest country in the Americas and the 14th largest in the world. So why do so many Mexicans want to enter the United States? Because it is slightly cooler on our side of the border? Because of the simple human desire that so many of us have to at least visit, if not stay, in their ancestral homeland, the lands of their great great great great grandparents? Well, most Mexican immigrants do settle in the Southwest, but no reader is likely to buy the theory just espoused. Almost certainly, the reason is economic.

As evidence, consider this: Our northern border with Canada is just as porous as, and even longer than, that of our border with Mexico. But Canadians are not streaming into our country to get warmer or richer; their standard of living is comparable to ours. Judged by per capita income, Canada is the 19th most prosperous country of some 200 in the world, only 13 rungs below our own rank of six. (In case you are wondering, those ahead of us are Luxembourg, Norway, Switzerland, Denmark, and Iceland. Just below us, from seven to ten, are Sweden, Ireland, Japan, and the United Kingdom.)

Now, Mexico, on the whole, is not a poor country. It is the 45th most prosperous in the world, quite a bit above average, and its citizens have an average per capita income equal to that of Russia. Ah, but 45th is 39 steps below that of the US. Nowhere else in the world are there two countries with a border anywhere near the length of ours with Mexico and Canada for which the disparity in rank is that large.

More evidence: The 27countries that comprise the European Union allow any resident of one of them to move to another just as easily as we might move from one of our states to another. The fact that their citizens come in slightly different hues and collectively embrace 23 different languages is of no concern. They are all members of the same race—the human race.

But consider these examples of how similar their rank is in per capita income:  Netherlands 14, Belgium 15, Germany 16, France 17, and Italy 22. Another unifying factor is that 13 of the 27 countries use the Euro, and in due course, more will certainly follow.

So, one way to curb illegal immigration from Mexico is for the United States to reduce the disparity in our respective per capita incomes. But this would require a great deal of American investment in Mexico, building industries and organizations that create jobs. There is not much chance that Congress would embark on the massive subsidies that would be needed to encourage this, but even gradual steps would help.

In fact, there are two trends that are tending to reduce the cited disparity. One is that Mexican-Americans in the US send $20 billion per year back to kin in Mexico, an income stream second only to that country’s oil revenue. Another is the astounding fact that fully 25% of all Americans living abroad live in Mexico. (My definition of an astounding fact is one I learn while doing research for my opinion pieces.)

A faster way to minimize income disparity would be to just buy Mexico. Since $15 million bought half of it in 1848, one might think that the 2007 equivalent of that, a trillion dollars perhaps, would be enough to buy the rest of it, with one proviso: When we “bought” half of Mexico, there was a national government left to give it to. This time, there wouldn’t be, so we’d have to allocate the money to the governors of their respective states in accord with their populations (or better, inversely to their current wealth).

<>We would have to consolidate the new lands into fewer states, of course; two senators for each of 31 current Mexican states, 62, would be a bit much. In accord with a population proportionate to our own, the newly annexed lands would deserve only 36 senators. A better alternative would be to keep the current 31Mexican states but amend the Constitution to grant only one senator to each of the net 81 states. That would save the salaries of 19 senators, make it less likely that we’d ever elect a president who loses the popular vote, and lead to a new flag whose union would contain nine rows of nine stars, forming a perfect square. How fitting. Its very preamble states that the Constitution was ordained and established “in order to form a more perfect union.” Case closed.



Edwin D. Reilly, Jr., who shares a birthday with General Grant, lives in Niskayuna and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Gazette opinion page.

Postscript:  Perhaps because the Gazette failed to put a question mark after the title, two readers, not being famiilar with my sometimes being playful, believed that I was serious about annexing Mexico and read me the riot act in letters-to-the-editor.