Ideally, Mexico would help us police our shared border. But Mexico receives huge remittances from its citizens unlawfully working in the U.S., so it's currently in Mexico's interest to promote illegal immigration. A well-designed guest worker program, however, could change this and turn Mexico into a U.S. immigration ally.
President Bush has proposed creating a guest worker program in which many Mexicans would have the legal right to work temporarily in the U.S. Unfortunately, even with Bush's program in place Mexico would still encourage its people to work illegally in the U.S. and send home some of their pay.
So instead we should create a guest worker program under which the number of legal Mexican guest workers is based on the number of illegal Mexican immigrants in the U.S. For example, for every additional illegal Mexican immigrant who enters the U.S., the number of Mexican guest worker slots could be reduced by two. Under this plan, Mexico has an incentive to reduce illegal immigration into our country.
Accurately determining the number of illegal Mexican immigrants is one obvious problem with my proposal. Each year, however, an independent commission could estimate the number of Mexican illegal immigrants. The law could then automatically use this estimate to calculate the size of our guest worker program.
Alternatively, the size of the guest worker program could be determined by hard data. Perhaps for every person the U.S. border agents catch illegally crossing the border, the number of Mexican guest workers could be reduced by three. Or maybe for every kilogram of cocaine police confiscate from smugglers crossing the U.S./Mexican border the number of guest workers could be reduced by ten. Under either approach, the Mexican government would have a strong incentive to reduce illegal border crossings.
We could sell the plan to Mexico by making it seem as if we are rewarding good behavior, not punishing bad conduct. We would offer them a small number of guest worker positions and agree to increase the number if certain objective criteria were met. We could claim that only if these criteria are satisfied could we afford to allow in additional guest workers.
If my plan is too bold for politicians to implement, the U.S. could use subtler means of obtaining Mexican immigration cooperation. For example, all the guest workers could pay into a pension plan. After the workers retired and returned to Mexico they would start receiving benefits. But money from the pension plan would be used to pay a fraction of the health care costs of treating illegal Mexican immigrants. Consequently, the more illegal immigrants, the less pension money for Mexico.