09/13/2010 05:25 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Immigration and Mexico: A Time to Tell the Truth

On a beautiful morning last week after the kids went off to school, I sat out on my back patio with my coffee and half of a mysterious melon that my wife picked up at the farmer's market. On the outside it looked like a cantaloupe, but inside it was green like a honeydew. It tasted like no other melon I've tried, but it was good. If we could remember the name, we'd buy it again.

As I drank my coffee and ate the melon and listened to the relaxing burble of water flowing in the urban stream that runs behind my house, I read the newspaper: another oil rig fire in the Gulf, Israelis and Palestinians making another go at restarting the peace process, and an opinion piece by syndicated columnist Victor Davis Hanson about the state of the world that included the following words about the U.S./Mexico border:

Mexico has become a strange sort of friend. It devolves daily into a more corrupt and violent place than Iraq or Pakistan. The fossilized leadership in Mexico City shows no interest in reforming, either by opening its economy or liberalizing its political institutions.

Instead, Mexico's very survival for now rests on cynically exporting annually a million of its impoverished and unhappy citizens to America. More interested in money than its own people, the Mexican government counts on the more than $20 billion in remittances that return to the country each year.

But American citizens are tired of picking up the tab to subsidize more than 11 million poor illegal immigrants. The growing hostility is reminiscent of 19th-century tensions.
How is America reacting to these back-to-the-future changes? ...

Instead of finishing our border fence and closing the southern border, we are suing a state that is trying to enforce immigration laws that the federal government will not apply. And as sectarianism spreads abroad, we at home still pursue the failed salad bowl and caricature the American melting pot.

I tried not to let Victor Davis Hanson's words harsh my mellow, though I must admit it was difficult. As a person of faith, and as someone who tries to live by the teachings of Jesus found in the Gospel, I find that a commitment to truth is important. Jesus, after all, said, "I am the Truth," and he once told his followers that the truth would set us free. Hanson's words on Mexico and on immigration strike me as untrue, and they are typical of the kind of misinformation that is driving the contemporary American conversation around immigration.

By what measure, for example, can we say that Mexico has devolved into a nation more corrupt and more violent than Iraq or Pakistan? I'm not arguing that Mexico is a perfect place, but it's not that bad. I wouldn't want to live in (or even to visit) Ciudad Juárez right now, but most of Mexico is wonderful. Corruption is a problem, but the government Hanson calls "fossilized" just laid off 10 percent of its police force in an effort to fight corruption. As for opening up the economy, the CIA tells us that Mexico has free trade agreements with 50 nations around the world, putting 90 percent of its trade under free trade agreements. Walmart is the biggest retailer and the largest employer in Mexico, for crying out loud.

Hanson goes on to tell us that Mexico "cynically exports" a million citizens annually because its very survival rests upon the $20 billion that Mexican laborers send to their families back home. There is no disputing the fact that the money sent home by Mexican immigrants (both legal and illegal) living in the United States helps a lot, especially in poorer, rural communities, but according to the CIA, Mexico is the world's twelfth-largest economy. Its annual gross domestic product is $1.465 trillion. The $20 billion sent home is less than two percent of the Mexican economy.

And then there's the border fence. Victor Davis Hanson says we need to finish it, and so do senators Jim DeMint and John McCain and a host of anti-immigration activists.

Here's the thing: the fence has been built. It runs nearly unbroken from San Diego to El Paso. A legitimate debate can be had around whether or not we've built the right kind of fencing, or whether or not more fencing is needed to augment the security provided by the Rio Grande along Texas/Mexico border between El Paso and Brownsville, but no conversation is possible without the use of precise information and informed argumentation.

Immigration is a serious issue in the United States. Whatever we may think about which measures and policies should be enacted to curb immigration, no one is helped by conversations informed by misleading or inaccurate information. Some of us are working hard to make sure that the humanity of undocumented migrants is recognized; others are fighting a perceived attack on American soil by millions of so-called "illegal aliens." Those of us on both sides should talk to each other, covenanting to speak the truth as best we can. A serious effort to speak the truth is exactly what I found to be missing in Hanson's syndicated musings that did so much to threaten my sense of serenity on a beautiful morning over coffee and several wedges of a delicious, mysterious melon.