Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Should the U.S. be more like Mexico?

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
updated 6:52 AM EDT, Fri July 12, 2013
Immigrants to Mexico from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras protest Mexico's immigration law on April 26, 2011.
Immigrants to Mexico from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras protest Mexico's immigration law on April 26, 2011.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette hears some nonsensical solutions to the U.S. immigration problem
  • He says one of the worst is that U.S. adopt a harsh immigration policy like Mexico's
  • Navarrette: Mexico's bad economy, other woes are related to keeping immigrants out
  • He asks whether we want a nation people want to leave, and where immigrants are despised

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette.

San Diego, California (CNN) -- As the immigration debate moves to the House of Representatives, Americans are fully engaged. Is it too much to ask that they also be fully informed?

Not many are. They have strong opinions on a subject they don't really understand. They know what they believe, but they long ago stopped asking themselves why they believe it. Worst of all, as bad as the immigration problem is, some of the solutions they propose range from the nonworkable to the nonsensical.

One proposed remedy sticks out as the nuttiest of all. In fact, if you love this country, it's actually quite offensive.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

Consider the interaction I had recently with a friend who follows politics. The son of a Pennsylvania coal miner and a graduate of Yale Law School and Oxford University, my buddy wanted to put in his two cents about immigration -- and how to fix a broken system. A moderate Republican, he doesn't support the bill that the Senate passed by a vote of 68-32, and he is looking for something better. He doesn't mind the idea of legalizing at least some of the undocumented, but he wants the United States to secure the border first. He's reasonable, but this issue troubles him -- and so do some of the proposed remedies.

As for his solution, my friend blurted out: "Why don't we just do whatever Mexico does? I mean, they must be doing a good job of keeping out illegal immigrants. Why not adopt their policies?"

Ay Chihuahua. Not this again. I hear this argument, or variations of it, at least three times a week from readers. I've heard it from audiences when I give speeches. I've heard it from callers when I host radio shows.

Agreeing to disagree on immigration
Political Gut Check - Immigration
Bush: The immigration system is broken

It's either someone's idea of a joke or what some people consider a major breakthrough.

Here's the back story. Accounts in the media over the last several years have detailed how badly Mexico treats immigrants from Central America who try to enter illegally through its southern border on their way to the United States. The border is often fortified, and the trip can be dangerous.

Mexican immigration officials sometimes look the other way and let the migrants cross the Mexico-Guatemala border because they assume that they're only passing through on their way to the United States. But when there is the chance that the Central Americans might stick around and find work in Mexico, attitudes harden -- both on the border and in Mexican society at large. And the standards for becoming a citizen and punishments for infractions are much harsher than those in the U.S.

How's that for irony? It seems that Mexicans are no more keen on losing jobs to Guatemalans, Hondurans or Salvadorans than Americans are about losing them to Mexicans. It goes to show that people are the same all around the world.

There is no denying the hypocrisy of Mexicans who insist on a secure border to the south but would prefer a porous one to the north. On trips to Mexico City to meet with government officials, I've raised that issue.

But that doesn't let Americans off the hook for the role they play in this drama. U.S. employers willingly and eagerly hire immigrants from Mexico -- and Central America -- to do jobs that Americans won't do. The American household has never been more dependent on illegal immigrant labor that provides middle-class Americans with nannies, gardeners, housekeepers, senior caregivers and all the other comforts of what used to be an upper-middle-class lifestyle.

Should the United States aspire to be like Mexico? Is that really the solution to our immigration woes?

Sure. Let's do that. It's worked out really well for Mexico over the past century or so.

We're talking about a country that people try to escape, where opportunity is scarce and where the population is divided six ways from Sunday -- rich vs. poor, country folks vs. city dwellers, light skinned vs. dark skinned, the educated elite vs. the poor illiterates who serve them. We're talking about a country where people routinely prey on one another, and where many of them seem to think that they can't have anything unless they take it from someone else.

We're talking about a country that takes in about $25 billion a year in remittances from expatriates living in the United States, and has no real national economic policy beyond that and tourism. We're talking about a country, parts of which remain mired in the Third World and an economy that -- while it has shown new vibrancy in recent years -- remains second-rate, and where immigration is kept to a minimum and where foreign investment in key industries such as petroleum is restricted. And last, we're talking about a country that remains plagued by nativism and racism toward immigrants who are considered inferior to the native-born.

Is that a model worth emulating? Should we be like Mexico?

No, thank you. Not on your life. Not for this Mexican-American. About 100 years ago, my grandfather, and his parents, chose the United States over Mexico because it was a superior country. During the Mexican Revolution, this was thought to be a safer country with more freedom and opportunity. That is still the case. Now some of my fellow Americans want me to, in essence, choose Mexico over the United States, as if our neighbor could teach us how to behave toward immigrants.

Sure, we Americans have our problems. And our immigration system is broken. But, believe it or not, it is still the envy of the world. Immigration is one thing we do right. Let's remember that.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette Jr.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:44 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Simon Tisdall: Has John Kerry's recent track record left Russia's wily leader ever more convinced of U.S. weakness?
updated 12:40 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Mel Robbins says Nate Scimio deserves credit for acting bravely in a frightening attack and shouldn't be criticized for posting a selfie afterward
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Dr. Mary Mulcahy says doctors who tell their patients the truth risk getting bad ratings from them
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Peggy Drexler says the married Rep. McAllister, caught on video making out with a staffer, won't get a pass from voters who elected him as a Christian conservative with family values
updated 7:43 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
David Frum says the president has failed to react strongly to crises in Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, encouraging others to act out
updated 4:57 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Eric Liu says Paul Ryan gets it very wrong: The U.S.'s problem is not a culture of poverty, it is a culture of wealth that is destroying the American value linking work and reward
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Frida Ghitis writes: "We are still seeing the world mostly through men's eyes. We are still hearing it explained to us mostly by men."
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Chester Wisniewski says the Heartbleed bug shows how we're all tangled together, relying on each other for Internet security
updated 3:26 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Danny Cevallos says an Ohio school that suspended a little kid for pointing his finger at another kid and pretending to shoot shows the growth in "zero tolerance" policies at school run amok
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT