DR. JORGE BUSTAMANTE On the Border BY MARY LENZ Austin IN THE SAGA of use, abuse, dependency, and denial that characterizes U.S. policy toward Mexican migrant labor, Canyon Zapata is a symbol of inconsistency. Jorge Bustamante, who observes the Canyon from his vantage point as president of the Colegio de la Frontera Norte in Tijuana, has gone to great lengths to document the inconsistency in an attempt, he says, to demystify reality. Bustamante, a Notre Dame-educated sociologist who spoke last month at the University of Texas Law School in Austin, raises an interesting question about the 1986 immigration law and U.S. policy toward undocumented workers from Mexico in general. Why, Bustamante asks, if the U.S. is truly concerned about controlling its borders, does the Immigration and Naturalito exist? Canyon Zapata is an important place, given statistics on undocumented immigration. Researchers everywhere estimate that at least half of all Mexican undocumented workers come to the U.S. through Tijuana, which records something like 34 million legal crossings per year. Bustamante says researchers have also found that 75 percent of the people who cross at Tijuana gather in Canyon Zapata before they make their break for the North. The Canyon is a homely place, bare of anything except patches of grass, marked at the base by a small, rugged arroyo. It is also lively. Vendors hawk their wares from ramshackle stands. The restaurant or Comedor “El Illegal” serves hot food. Priests from Mexico hold Easter pageants. Church groups from San Diego come down to preach and sing hymns to the migrants. Mother’s Day parties are held for the Moms of the Undocumented. The INS even holds Christmas parties in the Canyon to let everybody know there are no hard feelings. All Canyon Zapata lacks to complete the picture of a rollicking Mexican plaza is a fountain and a bandstand. The inconsistency? Canyon Zapata is on U.S. soil. The taco stands, the balloon sellers, the Christmas and Mother’s Day fiestas, the coyotes, the hundreds of people waiting for night to fall are already in U.S. territory, in plain sight of the INS and Dr. Bustamante’s Maly Lenz is a freelance writer living in Austin. LOUIS DUBOSE Jorge Bustamante researchers. “In this place, you find the most intensive crossing of undocumented immigration from Mexico to the United States. This has been the case for the last decade,” Bustamante said. “How come the country that claims to have lost control of its borders knows the place where 75 percent of the 50 percent of the total volume [of undocumented Mexican workers entering the U.S.] crosses through for the past decade and it’s still going on?” Bustamante and his researchers spent the past three years taking photographs every day of the people who gather in Canyon Zapata. The colored slides, three per day taken at several intervals before sunset, are blown up and the people counted and categorized by sex, age group, and style of dress. Over the past three years, the number of people in Canyon Zapata has not varied significantly. There is a seasonal drop down to 150 to 200 a day in November and December, rising higher and higher during spring and summer, up to 550, then to 1100 per day, generally peaking in September. The immigration reform act took effect in the fall of 1986 and INS immediately released November and December figures at the low point of the migration cycle to prove the law was working. In fact, numbers in the Canyon began to climb again in January, following the normal cycle. “The law has made absolutely no significant impact,” Bustamante said. In addition, researchers found that Mexicans who travel north to find work are not starving peasants but better skilled and better educated workers with money to travel. “You no longer have what used to be called in Mexico an escape valve from poverty and unemployment. What you have now is a human capital drain,” Bustamante said. In the 1960s, similar research showed most undocumented workers wound up in agriculture and came from rural Mexico. Today, Bustamante said, something like 60 percent of the undocumented take jobs in industry and services. Only 40 percent work in agriculture, and most of those work in Texas. The only factor that has ever slightly reduced the flow of undocumented workers, according to Bustamante, is inflation. “Contrary to our expectations, in 1982 when we began the national crisis [including] devaluation of the peso, rampant unemployment and many things including the earthquake in 1985 all that made us hypothesize that out migration was going to be higher. But we were finding the opposite. The numbers were slightly lower every year. . . . The cost of immigration was skyrocketing higher and that was limiting the number of people that were able to afford to go to the border,” Bustamante said. Bustamante argues that the Mexican migrant issue is an issue of supply and demand between two nations. Undocumented workers are part of an international labor market and their regulation should be handled internationally, with negotiations and agreements carried out between the two countries involved, he said. “The U.S. has not lost control of its borders. The U.S. needs that labor force,” Bustamante said. “It boils down to the function of a sluice gate that regulates the labor market. When the labor market needs the labor, it goes up. When it doesn’t need the labor, it goes down. I’m not saying it’s a conspiracy. . . . That is politics. That is reality.” The United States officially continues to consider regulation of the labor flow “as a law enforcement problem. The same people are defined as a problem by one and as a solution [to labor needs] by another. Well, that contrast is part of the problem,” Bustamante said. 12 OCTOBER 14, 1988
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