The full story of the massacre in Tamaulipas, in northeast Mexico, awaits telling by its one survivor. The early news accounts are horrifying: 72 people, said to be migrants from Central and South America on their way to the United States, are waylaid and imprisoned by drug smugglers on a ranch 100 miles south of Texas. They refuse to pay extortion fees and are executed. The survivor, shot in the neck, hears their screams for mercy as he flees. After a gun battle with the authorities, the killers escape in S.U.V.’s. The dead, 58 men and 14 women, are found piled in a room, discarded contraband.
The temptation may be to write this atrocity off as another ugly footnote in Mexico’s vicious drug war. But such things do not exist in isolation. Mexico’s drug cartels are nourished from outside, by American cash, heavy weapons and addiction; the northward pull of immigrants is fueled by our demand for low-wage labor.
Drug cartels, opportunistic capitalists, have leaped into the business of smuggling people. Illegal immigrants, known as pollos, or chickens, are in some ways better than cocaine bricks because they can be forced to pay ransom and be drug mules.
The American response to Mexico’s agonies has mostly been a heightened fixation on militarizing the border — most recently, a $600 million bill offered by Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, and signed by President Obama. Enforcement without any overhaul of legal migration creates only the illusion of control. Without a system tied to labor demand, illegality, disorder and death proliferate.
Current temporary-worker programs are so cumbersome and bureaucratic they are almost unusable by employers. Unable to enter legally, and locked out of Texas and California by stringent border security, immigrants skirt the fence ever farther into the remote Arizona desert. Illegal crossings are down in the bad economy, but deaths this brutal summer are up. The pull of opportunity still beckons.
We have delegated to drug lords the job of managing our immigrant supply, just as they manage our supply of narcotics. The results are clear.