James R. Jones Discusses Immigration Issue

Contributing Editor

PROMINENT OKLAHOMAN: Former District One Congressman and Ambassador to Mexico James R. Jones says that employers must make sure that immigrants are in the United States legally. Jones has homes in both the Washington, D.C. area and Tulsa.

Courtesy World Affairs Council of Jacksonville

If the tide of illegal immigration from Mexico is stemmed, says former First District Oklahoma Congressman James R. Jones, the onus will have to be put on employers to make sure their employees are in the United States legally. “If there are no jobs for illegal immigrants,” says the former congressman who served as U.S. ambassador to Mexico in the Clinton administration from 1993 to 1997, “they will quit coming.”

Jones, who received the highest award (the Aztec Eagle Award) given by Mexico to a non-citizen, says he traveled through 31 of the 32 Mexican states during his tour as ambassador and says Mexico itself needs to do much to cure the problem.

“I talked to a lot of Mexicans on the U.S. border who were going to try to make the crossing that night,” he says, “and its not an easy task to sneak into America.

“Most of them wanted to get to Los Angeles,” he said. “There they have informal networks that know where potential jobs are throughout the United States and they spread out.

“As far as I could tell, the majority of Mexicans trying to get into the United States come from southern Mexico. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has led to jobs and improved living conditions in northern Mexico, but southern Mexico is still gripped in poverty and a tremendous amount of investment needs to be done in simple things like education and roads. Good paying jobs are hard to find there so people quite naturally are going elsewhere to feed their families.”

That effort is placing a drain on the American economy. An estimated $20 billion is being sent back to Mexico annually.

Jones is heavily involved with the Mexican as well as the greater Latin American economies. He heads Manatt Jones Global Strategies, a Washington D.C.-based consulting firm (with offices in New York, Los Angeles, Sao Paulo, Brazil and Mexico City) that helps American companies open markets in foreign countries and helps businesses in those countries open American markets.

“We have helped both Toyota and MetLife get established in Mexico,” says Jones.

He has been following the proposed immigration law closely and says that if legislation is indeed enacted it will very closely follow the outlines of the current bill.

“I think there will be four components that will have to be addressed:

“First, you have to have a method to better secure the borders.
“Second, you have to have a realistic quota for guest workers and temporary visas.

“Third, there has to be a mechanism for legalizing those who are already in the country.

“Fourth, and most important, there has to be a mechanism to verify people applying for jobs are here legally and there have to be severe sanctions on employers who hire people here illegally.”

Won’t this dry up the labor pool? Will any employer hire a man who might have a counterfeit identification that could be exposed as a fraud opening that employer to the possibility of a hefty fine?

“This is where technology comes in,” says Jones. “We have methods today that are virtually tamper-proof with biometric identification that can’t be falsified. For example, a card can carry a fingerprint or an eye scan or DNA that will be impossible to fake. An employer would simply slip the card into a computer properly programmed and from a central database see if an employee was legal. In the event a fraud is later discovered, the employer will be able to show he made a good-faith effort to ascertain the legality of the employee and therefore be held blameless.

“This is a step that has to happen. The only thing that will cut off the surge of illegals is to cut off the access to jobs.”

Jones sees a strong possibility for greater cooperation between the business communities of Mexico and the United States. “As ambassador I tried to bring potential business leaders here to establish contact. A lot more of this kind of thing can be done with advantages to both economies.”

Estimates of illegal immigrants in America range from eight to 12 million. If they are all made legal and given voting power, some have said that could shift the political balance of power in America Jones comments, “In the first place they’re not going to become American citizens overnight. There have to be three conditions for immigrants. First, they can have no criminal record. Second, they will have to have a job. Third, there has to be some appropriate penalty such as a hefty payment ($5,000 is a figure often used) and/or a temporary return to Mexico.

“When it comes to voting patterns you might be surprised. Mexicans, generally speaking, are a very conservative people and very family oriented. Their voting pattern is not predictable. They did, after all, turn out in large numbers to vote for President Bush.”

The former congressman spends a lot of time traveling internationally with a home in Washington D.C., but his legal residence is in Tulsa and he votes and pays taxes in Oklahoma.

“I’m glad I’m not still running for office,” he laughs. “I don’t think my views on this issue are too popular in Tulsa.”

Updated 06-29-2007

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