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Commentary: Keep America's 'store' open to immigrants

  • Story Highlights
  • Ruiz: If American Dream were a product, it would be the gold standard
  • Everybody wants to buy the product, but "stockholders" wary of chaos, he says
  • Ruiz: Mexicans are the most avid customers, and will buy despite any hardship
  • Says U.S. must keep integrity of its welcoming brand, accept their energy, allegiance
By Rudy Ruiz
Special to CNN
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Editor's note: Rudy Ruiz founded RedBrownandBlue.com, a site featuring multicultural political commentary. He is host of a nationally syndicated Spanish-language radio show and wrote a guide to success for immigrants ("¡Adelante!" published by Random House). He is co-founder and president of Interlex, an advocacy marketing agency based in San Antonio, Texas.

Rudy Ruiz says the American brand as a haven for immigrants should not be diluted or devalued.

Rudy Ruiz says the American brand as a haven for immigrants should not be diluted or devalued.

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (CNN) -- You invent a product. You brand it. You market it like crazy. With a lot of hard work, determination and a little luck, you find yourself with a winner on your hands.

Everybody wants what you've got. They'll pay any price. They'll camp all night outside your store. They'll travel from anywhere -- risking their lives, dodging bullets, swimming across troubled waters and climbing barbed-wire fences. People will learn a new language, even leave family and heritage behind, all for a shot at what you've made a fortune selling.

But then, a big problem emerges: A block of stockholders doesn't want to sell the product any more.

Those stockholders are hoarding it, afraid supply is dwindling. They complain it's too costly to manage the crowds and it's getting chaotic in the bargain basement.

So you hire more security guards, build barriers and fences. You award lucrative contracts to surveillance companies, hike prices, downscale production and restrict product benefits. But still, wide-eyed customers think you're the best.

Your efforts backfire. They have the effect of a velvet rope and an oversized bouncer in front of a hot nightclub -- the more unattainable, the more exclusive your product seems, the more people want it.

A black market flourishes. Desperate people break and enter. The angry shareholders call it stealing, although customers do their best to pay even while they receive a fraction of the product's benefits.

You blanket the store with guards to keep away the unwanted customers, but they won't take a hint. The same faces keep reappearing at your door.

It turns out the neighboring store is even less welcoming. It's saddled by bad management decisions, low employee morale, and infighting. Some of your neighbor's disgruntled ex-employees are even sneaking into your store, like pirate profiteers, to sell harmful, illegal merchandise to your legitimate customers.

Bullets fly. Windows shatter and there's blood in the aisles. But people keep coming. The image and product you created long ago remain the most appealing on the market.

Welcome to America. Our product is "The Dream." Its benefits are freedom, equality, opportunity, mobility, legal and human rights, and more. The face of our brand is Lady Liberty, a beacon for the world, welcoming generations of immigrants into our fold.

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Our most loyal source of new customers has become our neighbor south of the border. And this isn't just a metaphor for our immigration crisis. It's a true tale backed by data.

Recently, the Pew Research Center released a study proclaiming: "Most Mexicans see better life in the U.S. -- One in three would migrate."

So much for brand loyalty.

In a country passionate about its culture and traditions, it's a sad manifestation of deep disenchantment that so many of Mexico's native customers are eager to defect. But the study clearly quantifies the pervasive dynamic driving our immigration crisis.

The study states that because of "crime, drugs, corruption, a troubled economy ... Mexicans overwhelmingly are dissatisfied with the direction of their country. ... Most believe life is better in the United States." In 2009, 81 percent of Mexicans describe crime and 73 percent describe illegal drugs as huge problems. Fifty-seven percent believe immigrants enjoy a better life in America, up from 51 percent in 2007. Most believe friends and family "have largely achieved their goals" in America. Read the Pew report (PDF)

The data reinforce the power and authenticity of America's brand in sharp contrast to competitors. Altering America's image as a haven for immigrants -- devaluing the product -- and decreasing accessibility is what marketers call going "off brand."

Try as you might to curb demand for America's promise, it just won't work. Gucci represents luxury. Wal-Mart defines discount. And America will always be awesome.

By comparison, our neighbors have a long way to go and lately are even going backwards. The good news for America is that our brand remains untarnished. The bad news for recalcitrant shareholders is that customers will just keep coming.

From that vantage point, the America store should stop playing the victim and start leveraging its brand equity. Stop building fences and hiring guards and start managing inventory, improving customer relations, and legitimizing, developing and empowering our immigrant customers.

Properly integrated into the team, they'll help us produce at prices that can compete, not only with our neighbors, but with the giants we're battling for market leadership around the globe. That will only make our store, our product, and our dream stronger than ever.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rudy Ruiz.

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