Kelly: Undocumented immigrants lack skills to assimilate

In an interview with NPR, White House chief of staff John Kelly said he believes undocumented immigrants crossing the southern border of the US do not assimilate well because they are poorly educated.

Posted: May 12, 2018 4:36 PM
Updated: May 13, 2018 4:54 AM

Our nation has a lot of serious problems. Living in a bad "neighborhood" is not one of them. But if we continue pretending it is -- arguing over border walls, deporting good kids brought here as infants by their parents, and deploying our military along the southern border -- we run the risk of making it so, or of at least failing to take full advantage of our geographic bounty.

The United States is blessed to have as neighbors two peaceful democracies that share our values. Canadians and Mexicans have contributed enormously to the American story since the earliest days of our republic, and remain steadfast friends despite having legitimate grounds to harbor the kind of irredentist resentment that stokes tension along many borders around the world. The United States acquired vast swaths of territory (my home of Arizona included) from Mexico in a war that a young congressman named Abraham Lincoln opposed as immoral, and yet for most of its history as a global power, the United States hasn't needed to deploy its military to secure its southern border.

Over the past two decades, the North American Free Trade Agreement has created the world's largest trading bloc, a vibrant, resource-rich economic zone that makes all of North America more competitive in the global economy. The integration of cross-border manufacturing within NAFTA has benefited our three countries, making us more competitive with low-cost producers like China.

Mexico in particular embraced dramatic change to join us in a North American community. Some of the changes were wrenching, especially for Mexican farmers and small businesses. Mexican government and society abandoned long-held anti-American grievances, to the point of amending the nation's constitution to allow US companies access to Mexico's oil riches, thus enhancing North American energy security.

But judging from American political discourse, you'd think trends in Mexico amount to a liability for the United States, instead of a huge asset. For example, White House chief of staff John Kelly recently told NPR that the "vast majority" of undocumented immigrants don't speak English, are ill-educated, and are "not people who would easily assimilate into the United States." Our current administration is breaking with its predecessors, especially its Republican predecessors, by threatening to abandon NAFTA (currently in the final stages of a renegotiation) and is perpetuating outdated, if not altogether fabricated, narratives about Mexico.

The truth is that NAFTA transformed Mexico in all the ways President Ronald Reagan had hoped it would when he first proposed a free trade agreement to an initially-wary Mexican government. The treaty, which ultimately went into effect in 1994, pried Mexico open to the outside world, helping to accelerate the nation's democratization, and binding it ever closer to Washington on matters related to security. Corruption is a persistent problem that Mexico needs to address if it is to fulfill its potential, but NAFTA has helped expand the rule of law and brought stability to Mexico's economy, allowing a middle class to flourish, and become avid consumers of US goods. Bilateral trade between our two countries exploded under NAFTA, from roughly $80 billion a year, to more than $500 billion. Mexico is now the second largest buyer of US exports, behind Canada. In our state of Arizona, which counts Mexico as its top trading partner, almost one in five jobs are supported by international trade, and these jobs pay a hefty premium compared to other jobs.

And yet, from candidate and now President Trump and others, we hear and see portrayals of Mexico as a crucible of criminal activity poised threateningly to the south. It's easy for the rest of us to blame politicians for this lack of appreciation of what Mexico has become, but in some ways, all Americans are to blame for this failure. As the president of a university in a border state, I can see how outdated, misinformed stereotypes of Mexico that are commonplace in the news and in our popular culture represent a collective failure on our part as educators. In my role, I feel it's especially important for institutions of higher learning to build a greater understanding between both countries, not only by increasing the two-way flows of students across the border, but also by partnering with Mexican universities to conduct joint research projects on shared challenges facing our societies.

The immediate danger is that Mexicans, who will vote for a new president in three months, might grow disenchanted with their decision to align themselves with the United States, feeling betrayed by an American government that insists on treating them not as partners and friends, but as villainous antagonists. Polling data released earlier this year showed that for the first time in a quarter-century, a majority of Mexicans hold negative views of the United States. Mexicans are increasingly susceptible to anti-American politicians seeking to sabotage the relationship. It would be a tragic case of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This isn't to deny that problems exist, such as trafficking by drug cartels. But Washington's political bickering and anti-immigrant rhetoric ultimately obscures the reality of the border itself. President Trump didn't initiate it, but he has appropriated and popularized a fictitious narrative of a chaotic open border being crossed at will by swelling hordes of migrants, an alarming number of whom wish us harm. In fact, ever since the Clinton administration, the federal government has invested billions of dollars to beef up security along the border, which has become ever more difficult to cross. The Department of Homeland Security estimates that 10 times more people entered the United States illegally in 2000 than in 2016. The numbers of unauthorized Mexicans living in the US has declined, reflecting a harder border, and changing demographics and economic conditions in Mexico. What's more, study after study has found that cities near the border, and cities with higher concentrations of immigrants, tend to have lower crime rates than others.

The vast majority of immigrants from Mexico, as is true of our DACA students on campus and has been true of immigrants from other parts of the world to this country for more than two centuries, work hard and make important contributions to our communities. They come from a neighbor that has become a great friend of the United States, and an important commercial partner.

We should be working hard to strengthen our North American partnership, not weaken it.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 749097

Reported Deaths: 13745
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1030271775
Lake554211006
Allen41613691
St. Joseph36933564
Hamilton36505416
Elkhart29347459
Tippecanoe22849225
Vanderburgh22540400
Porter19313325
Johnson18386387
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Madison13111344
Vigo12602253
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Hancock8541144
Bartholomew8158157
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Floyd7763180
Grant7227179
Wayne7154201
Boone6911103
Morgan6735141
Dubois6211118
Marshall6205116
Cass5989108
Henry5893108
Dearborn588878
Noble579786
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Lawrence4727121
Gibson444093
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Steuben398659
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Union72810
Ohio57811
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Ohio Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 1106796

Reported Deaths: 20091
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1284601459
Cuyahoga1155792204
Hamilton812751245
Montgomery524631040
Summit48327999
Lucas43289817
Butler38886603
Stark33275929
Lorain25631502
Warren24554303
Mahoning22327601
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Delaware18815135
Licking16643222
Fairfield16552204
Trumbull16520479
Medina15592270
Greene15246246
Clark14216306
Wood13276197
Portage13226214
Allen11904239
Richland11596211
Miami10832223
Wayne9112222
Columbiana9016230
Muskingum8889135
Pickaway8646122
Marion8633138
Tuscarawas8633247
Erie8049164
Ashtabula7136179
Hancock6995131
Ross6932161
Geauga6831150
Scioto6525104
Belmont6148174
Union583549
Lawrence5722102
Jefferson5669158
Huron5539122
Sandusky5433125
Darke5414129
Seneca5342126
Washington5307109
Athens523360
Auglaize501587
Mercer487385
Shelby476195
Knox4567112
Madison443665
Ashland435097
Putnam4333103
Fulton431871
Defiance431798
Crawford4031110
Brown401861
Logan387177
Preble3847103
Clinton378166
Ottawa372581
Highland359165
Williams347578
Champaign343558
Guernsey324153
Jackson317254
Perry297150
Morrow291240
Fayette285450
Hardin274865
Henry273267
Holmes2697101
Coshocton268359
Van Wert247264
Adams242856
Pike242735
Gallia240450
Wyandot234556
Hocking220062
Carroll196648
Paulding176342
Meigs148240
Monroe136144
Noble135739
Harrison113638
Morgan109624
Vinton85417
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