latin america news
U.S. immigration foe decries push for "open borders"

By Maria Peña
Agencia EFE

Washington - The nations of Latin Americans prefer demanding "open borders" to tackling the domestic woes that spur illegal immigration to the United States, Congressman Tom Tancredo told EFE here Thursday.

The Colorado Republican who has become this country's most prominent critic of undocumented immigrants granted the interview as the U.S. Congress is pondering approaches to dealing with the phenomenon.

Next month, the Senate is set to take up a measure passed by the House of Representatives on Dec. 16 that would authorize construction of hundreds of miles of additional barriers along the southern border and make unlawfully entering the United States a criminal offense.

Anywhere from 8 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants, the great majority from Mexico and Central America, are currently in the United States, drawn by more lucrative opportunities than their homelands can offer.

While advocates for the immigrants point to their contribution to the U.S. economy, Tancredo says that economic considerations are irrelevant and has embarked on a crusade against an influx he regards as a threat to the country's social and cultural fabric.

"Our aim is to secure our borders and crack down on employers who hire illegal workers," he said, acknowledging that his stance has won him enemies in the U.S. business community, among his congressional colleagues and in nations south of the border.

"What they want is for us to keep our borders open" while Latin American governments refuse to address the problems that fuel illegal migration, Tancredo maintains.

"They (U.S. companies) want open borders to meet the labor demand but the flow is enormous, it's overwhelming," the lawmaker said.

But Tancredo saves his greatest anger for Mexico, which he contends is happy to leave the situation as it is because of the billions of dollars in remittances sent homeward by undocumented Mexicans working in the United States.

"Mexico is stuck in a sort of socialistic mindset. It has structural and economic problems, corruption problems. Mexico will never solve its problems if we continue to be their safety valve," he said.

The congressman insists that Mexico must "crack down on corruption and embark upon a true free market."

Regarding the behavior of undocumented inmigrants, the Colorado representative says they don't respect U.S. laws or pay taxes, take jobs from legal U.S. residents and, even worse, "many have no desire to become Americans. They just come here to obtain a job."

Himself the grandson of Italian immigrants, Tancredo contends that migrants from Europe in the early 20th century immediately adapted to U.S. society, in contrast with the "disconcerting" current pattern in which new arrivals refuse to assimilate.

Though his is a widely held view, a significant number of the Europeans who journeyed to the United States during the great wave of immigration came with the intention of staying only until they earned enough money to return home and buy land, and many did so.

Tancredo's battle with immigration began in the 1970s, when, as a Colorado high school teacher, he opposed bilingual education. During a subsequent brief stint in the state legislature, he made an ultimately unsuccessful effort to cut off funds for such programs.

Now, as a U.S. congressman, he finds himself at odds even with his party's leader, President George W. Bush, who advocates a guest-worker program that would allow immigrants to remain in the country on renewable two-year work permits.

"There's nothing more permanent than President Bush's proposal ... it's still an amnesty that only encourages people to come here," Tancredo said.