A NAFTA Solution to the United States’ Illegal Immigrant Problem
The proposal by a bipartisan group of United States Senates to create a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants has draw widespread praise, including that of president Obama. The tentative agreement has also prompted stark criticism, however, as it ostensibly rewards immigrants who have violated the law in order to get to the United States with the precious right of citizenship.
In response to this controversy, Paul Cellucci, former US ambassador to Canada, and Stephen Kelly of Duke University proposed an alternative solution in a much discussed op-ed piece for The Wall Street Journal on Monday. They argue for a ‘simpler, fairer and more efficient’ solution by proposing that citizens of the US, Canada and Mexico should be allowed to work legally in any of the three countries under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Cellucci and Kelly suggest that in ‘one market based move’ the United States could solve ‘a huge part of its immigration problem while breathing new life into North American trade’. The crux of the proposition lies in the prospect that 58% of the 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States are Mexican (according to the Pew Hispanic Center). Thus, with the permission to work in the US legally, more than half of the US’ illegal migrants would have their status legalized ‘overnight’. Cellucci and Kelly underscore that they would become legal not because the US grants them citizenship, but because they are citizens of Mexico – an NAFTA member.
The op-ed authors argue that with regard to the present US citizenship controversy, the relevance of their proposition pertains to the prospect that through legitimization of the status of more than six million undocumented immigrants, the challenge of finding a solution for the remaining illegal population would be eased.
Cellucci and Kelly significantly draw on the example of the European Union (EU) and its 2004 eastward expansion to make their case. They suggest that while many EU members feared an avalanche of cheap labour from countries with much lower average incomes, the EU expansion was far less disruptive than presumed. They suggest that after a brief adjustment period both the sending and receiving countries benefited from a more ‘rational allocation of labour’. They argue, moreover, that if the EU did not adhere to labour mobility, the Euro-crisis would have hit countries such as Spain even harder.
Cellucci and Kelly reason that the overarching benefits of labour mobility experienced in the EU are to be expected in North America, where necessary reciprocity would open ample work opportunities for Americans in Mexico and Canada. Despite the vigour of Cellucci and Kelly’s proposition, the extent to which NAFTA will, in fact, be expanded to include the free movement of people, and thus become a significant part of the US solution for its illegal immigrants, remains to be seen.