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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Other Side of the Immigration Debate

Over the past few months, no single issue has captivated Washington such as the battle over illegal immigration. Both parties are scurrying to find the combination of border security and protection to illegals already in the country that will resonate with voters.

President Bush, historically an immigration moderate, has called for 6,000 National Guard troops to be temporarily deployed upon the Mexican border, and various proposals call for a triple-layered security fence and increased patrolling.

While illegal immigration poses a multitude of economic and security risks, what all sides of the debate are ignoring is how our proposed policies are effecting the political climate in Mexico.

Right now, Mexico has a generally pro-American, center-right party in power, headed by President Vincente Fox. Fox’s successor, Felipe Calderón, is currently fighting for the presidency with the leftist Andrés Manuel Lopéz Obrador. Mr. Obrador is a skillful politician whose populist ideology makes him very popular among Mexican workers. More disturbingly, Mr. Obrador is allied to other leftwing dictators in Latin America, including Venezuela’s thuggish Hugo Chévez and Cuba’s Fidel Castro.

Mr. Calderón and Mr. Obrador are squaring off in this July’s presidential elections, and at this point, the race is too close to call either way. While Calderón has a single digit lead in the polls, Mexicans are reacting very negatively to the talk of National Guard troops on the border. Anti-Americanism is one of Mr. Obrador’s fundamental campaign mantras, and as talk of militarizing the border increases here in America, so does support for Mr. Obrador.

This rising tide of support is a far graver danger than any realize. Much of Latin America has come under the influence of leftist dictators who are committed to challenging American global interests. Recent elections have put Chávez allies into power in Peru, Argentina, and Bolivia. Cold War relic Daniel Ortega is favored in the Nicaraguan presidential polls, and even traditionally pro-American Columbia has moved into Chávez’s corner.

Chávez has drawn an increasingly confrontational course with Washington, and his frequent overtures to China and India mean that one day he might be able to cut off the sale of Venezuela’s priceless oil to the United States—a move which would be catastrophic for the American economy.

All of this means that the United States cannot afford a staunch Chávez-style demagogue and adversary to assume power just across the Rio Grande. Whatever the security threat posed by illegal immigration, the infinitely graver danger is to allow a man who seeks to damage American interests to take power next door. There is no easy solution for illegal immigration, but American policymakers need to immediately take into consideration the potential ramifications of American actions and monitor Mexican public sentiment to gauge what the Mexicans will tolerate and what they will not. If we actively promote Chávez’s allies through fool-hearty measures, we will have no one to blame but ourselves if we suddenly face a Latin America that is every bit a diametrically opposed to our interests as the numerous totalitarian regimes that we are fighting to eliminate in the Persian Gulf.