Should “Americans” Be Able to Cross the Mexican Border?
by Jack D. Forbes

What? Americans crossing the U.S.--Mexican border? Sounds like a "no-brainer" huh? But wait, we are not talking about U.S. citizens (USCITS) but about Indigenous Americans (also known as First Americans, American Indians, et cetera).

Actually a large percentage of the persons currently crossing the U.S.-Mexican border are members of American First Nations, and they are an especially high percentage of those who are seeking work in El Norte. Among the largest groups of Indians now in the USA are Mixtecs, Zapotecs, Mayas, Purepechas, Nawats, and other American Indians from Mexico and Central America. They are joined also by Quechua, Aymara, and other Native nations from South America.

Tragically, the Tribal Americans from the south are usually being forced to risk their lives and their freedom to cross inhospitable deserts in order to do the often-dirty jobs which Yanks will not do. And they are forced to work for substandard wages without being able to join recognized unions, obtain decent housing, or enjoy public health and other services.

They are clearly needed by the Yankee economy but are forced to occupy a niche of servile labor. Sound familiar? North American Indians have had centuries of similar treatment from European colonizers and their descendants.

White vigilantes now are patrolling the border, making it more difficult for First Americans to cross into Arizona's deserts. Gee, it sure reminds me of white settlers pushing into the Ohio Country or into Minnesota, Kansas, etc, making the movements of the Original Americans illegal.

Later many tribes were confined to reservations, having to secure a permit from a white man to cross "the border." But some were allowed to work as cheap agricultural labor, or as servants in white people's houses.

Maybe the solution in Arizona is to allow each vigilante to have Mixtec or Zapotec servants in their homes or businesses; or perhaps we should just make them captives (slaves)? But seriously, I have a better proposal: Congress should recognize the USA's perpetual debt to American Native Peoples by allowing all persons from genuine American Indian groups to have free access across the US.-Mexican border!

Now how can the Border Patrol and the Immigration Service identify genuine American Indians? It's easy: at each border crossing a language specialist or linguist would be employed to test each person applying for a border crossing permit. Each to be approved, must prove that they are from an Indigenous pueblo and that they can pass a simple, quick test in an American language such as Kanjobal Maya, Quechua, Guarani, Mixtec, Otomi, Mazahua, Yaqui, and so on. Such tests could also be carried out at U.S. embassies and consulates, with permits being issued there.

The language specialist should be a person fluent in one or more American languages as well as in Englatino (U.S. English) and Castellano of America.

Those Americans from the other America south of the border who have forgotten their American language(s) and who have become "Latino" or "mestizo" or "Ladino" will be just plain out of luck. They would not qualify for legal entry under this provision, nor would Asians, Arabs, Europeans, and others seeking entry to the USA from the south.

There is a great deal of precedent for this action. From its inception the USA never has required passports or legal papers from Native Americans seeking to travel to the east coast or other areas annexed to the USA. Aside from the "reservations as concentration camp years," there simply is no legal precedent for halting American Indians at the border (Canadian or Mexican).

Indeed, in earlier years the U.S. has allowed Kumeyaay (Kamiah), Cocopa, O'odham, Yaqui (Yoeme), Apache, Kickapoo, Seminole, and other groups to freely cross the U.S.-Mexican border. In fact, the U.S. itself sent troops into Mexico specifically to forcibly bring Lipan Apaches and Chiricahua Apaches into U.S. territory.

I have met many very fine Mixtec, Zapotec, and other Native people from the south. They are being driven from their homes by NAFTA and the dumping of U.S. agricultural products in Mexico and elsewhere. As victims of globalization, they deserve a chance to help our economy here, in dignity, and without risking their lives.

My proposal will not only solve the U.S. need for labor. It will halt the border immigration issue by filling U.S. demands for workers in a legal manner, allowing the Border Patrol to concentrate upon non-Americans. Once in the USA, the Mixtecs, Zapotecs, et cetera, should be recognized as "Indians" and should be expected to acquire land for new Indigenous communities, if they so desire.

After all, this is what our Ancient American ancestors have done for 30,000 or more years here in Mother America, north and south.

© 2004 Professor Jack D. Forbes, Powhatan-Delaware, is a historian, social critic, and poet, covering issues of international and inter-ethnic relations for 45 years. He is the author of Red Blood, Africans and Native Americans, Apache, Navaho and Spaniard and other books. He is professor emeritus of Native American Studies, University of California, Davis. He can be contacted at his web site.

This article was originally published in News From Indian Country May 16, 2005