Originally published May 7, 2014.
Updated and republished September 25, 2015 after a web host transfer.
Updated March 10, 2016 with a new example of encouraging startups in areas not considered fertile ground for startups.
The U.S. has spent billions to keep illegal Mexican immigrants out of the country. In his attempt to become the 2016 Republican candidate for president, Donald Trump promised, “I will build the wall and Mexico’s going to pay for it and they will be happy to for it.” How did business tycoon Donald Trump miss the business opportunities in this situation?
Mexicans come to this country to earn money for themselves and to send money home so their families can buy the basic necessities of life. They do not come to take jobs away from Americans. How do I know that? If American citizens wanted careers picking fruits and vegetables, gutting fish, or cleaning hotel rooms, no openings would be available for migrant workers.
Instead of spending money on a wall meant to keep migrant workers out, what if we spent money to invite Mexicans to become customers and legal tourists? Brazil provides an example for how to approach this.
The Brazilian domestic economy improved after the government instituted Bolsa Familia, a conditional cash transfer program. Poor families receive small amounts of cash every month on the conditions that children get vaccinations and stay in school and pregnant women get prenatal care. A university in Brazil calculated that these conditional cash transfers are responsible for about one-sixth of the reduction in poverty. The cash transfers also contribute to municipal growth. After spending these small amounts of money on food, shoes, clothes, and schoolbooks, parents bought household appliances. They created jobs for other Brazilians.
We could invite Mexicans to become customers and legal tourists by making conditional investments in small businesses and even schools in Mexico. Mexicans would be able to find jobs at home, the small businesses would benefit their municipalities, we would get a return on our investments, and people who make a living in Mexico would have income to buy U.S. products and visit the U.S. as legal tourists.
A border wall is too expensive and ineffective. U.S. citizens lost their property so the wall could be built. Conditional investments would not be perfect, but the money would be better spent than any border wall money money. People who are experienced in business investment could determine what the conditions should be.
To make sure the conditional investments are effective, we should follow the example of the USS Benfold, a guided missile destroyer in the U.S. Navy. Captain D. Michael Abrashoff became commander of Benfold when Benfold was the worst performing ship in the Pacific Fleet. Captain Abrashoff helped the crew become make Benfold the highest performing ship in the Pacific Fleet during his two years as commander. He began the process by asking each member of his 310 crew the following four questions:
Is there a better way to do what you do?
What do you like most about the Benfold?
What do you like least about the Benfold?
What would you change?
People who work with and are trusted by undocumented Mexicans could ask adapted versions of those four questions:
Is there a better way to create a life in Mexico?
What do you like about Mexico?
What don’t you like about Mexico?
What would you change?
The compiled answers would provide the who, what, where, when, how, and why of turning undocumented Mexicans into customers and legal tourists. Even Donald Trump might finally recognize the opportunities.
We could also learn from the success of Cofound Harlem, an incubator of new startups in Harlem. Cofound Harlem recognizes the importance of connections, role models, and desire. It decided to “bet on teams, not ideas.” The startups Cofound Harlem helps must agree to stay in Harlem for at least four years. Cofound Harlem’s efforts “attracted mentors, corporate partners, and board members from the ranks of big players like Google, the NYC mayor’s office, Amazon Web Services, and NBC Universal.” After 90 days, Cofound Harlem reported,
“The companies are doing well. Really well. Collectively, we have
1 seed round closed, 3 new products launched, and a ton of mistakes
to show for it. “
Cofound Harlem is committed to making a “deep, long-lasting impact in the village of Harlem.”
These approaches leave other problems unsolved. If Mexicans stay home to earn money, who will pick fruits and vegetables, gut fish, and clean hotel rooms for U.S. consumers? That question requires consideration. I do not have all the answers, but the migrants who do the jobs American citizens don’t want probably have at least some of the answers. Let’s ask them these questions, adapted from the questions Commander D. Michael Abrashoff asked all 310 members of his USS Benfold crew:
Is there a better way to do your low level job?
What do you like about working in the U.S.?
What don’t you like about working in the U.S.?
What would you change?
It’s obvious that ignoring the basic needs of undocumented Mexican immigrants has not given us what we want for ourselves. We need to recognize the basic needs of Mexicans here and in Mexico if we want to satisfy our own needs in the United States.
“Bolsa Familia: Changing the Lives of Millions in Brazil”
The World Bank
“Bolsa Familia (Family Grant) Programme: an analysis of Brazilian income transfer programme”
Luciana Mourao and Anderson Macedo de Jesus
Field Actions Science Reports
Special Issue 4, 2012: Fighting Poverty, between market and gift
“A costly U.S.-Mexico border wall, in both dollars and deaths”
October 2, 2009
“Donald Trump promises Mexico will pay for wall”
“How to get children out of jobs and into school”
“Meet the 23-Year-Old Turning Harlem Into A Startup Hub Without All The Whiteness”
Fast Company Magazine, Co.Exist
March 2, 2016
“The US-Mexico Border” A Desert Monument to Failure”
Speigel Online International
“Why Americans Won’t Do Dirty Jobs”
November 9, 2011
Paula M. Kramer
Resource Rock Star (See websites below.)
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