It is a shame that the immigration bill was effectively killed in the Senate.
The bill would have provided recognition of the millions of illegal immigrants here in America. But even if the bill had passed, it would not have been effective. That is because it overlooked a problem that nobody seems to want to confront: The people who are coming here from Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean are escaping economic disasters. Their migration stems from the inescapable knowledge that they are unable to feed themselves or their families in their native lands and that there is no economic program whatsoever in place to improve their standard of living. They are fleeing economic deprivation.
The only way to stop the current wave of migration propelled by economic necessity is by taking steps to improve the economies of the countries from which the immigrants are coming. Five centuries after the discovery of the New World, Latin America remains mired in underdevelopment and political instability whereas America has grown into the most powerful and prosperous nation on Earth.
Mexico, the source of half of our nation's illegal immigrants, is a prime example. Americans simply do not understand the level of economic hardship that exists in Mexico, where half of the population subsists on less than $4 per family member, per day. Even the so-called middle class earns just a few hundred dollars a month. Just think, if you could cross over to America and land a job that pays you 10 times what you are currently earning, would you consider it? Of course you would.
Instead of developing a meaningful strategy to improve conditions in Mexico, the Mexican government has become dependent on the money that illegal aliens send back to Mexico because it constitutes the second largest amount of foreign revenue that Mex ico receives.
What the government is doing is exporting the poor to America instead of improving conditions so that its people can stay in their own country, which they would prefer to do.
What Mexico and most of Latin America need is an economic overhaul. America should be willing to provide appropriate and targeted assistance. Ample use should be made of existing international agencies such as the Inter-A merican Development Bank. There must be institutional reforms including steps to remove the systemic corruption that exists. Most of all, a first class educational system must be established.
Reform is a goal within reach in America, but the first step is to help make serious improvements in the lives of average citizens in Latin America. It's the only way to avoid the difficulties of continued illegal immigration. Any new immigration bills can and must include provisions to deal with this reality.
Mr. Badillo, the former Bronx borough president, is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.