After decades of ignoring the tremendous influx of illegal immigrants to the United States, Washington bureaucrats are finally confronting the problem. One of the most troubling realities they face is the fact that eighty percent of America’s illegal immigrants come from Latin America, three-quarters of them from Mexico. The experts understand, therefore, that any attempt to deal with immigration has to start with our southern neighbor.
The trouble is that Mexicans, regardless of where they are on the political spectrum, share a number of deeply held convictions regarding emigration that are irreconcilable with U.S. interests. Furthermore, Mexico is clearly sliding into chaos and doesn’t seem reluctant to export that chaos to the north. The Mexican regime is in denial of its descent into generalized disorder and indignantly protests American attempts to point out the looming crisis. Any solution to the United States’ problems of mass illegal immigration and associated border chaos and criminality therefore has to start with an overhaul of its relationship with Mexico, especially since developments within that country suggest that all these problems are likely to get worse before they get better.
The Mexican government this month began distributing A Guide for the Illegal Migrant, providing advice to its citizens on illegally crossing the U.S. border. Mexico City disingenuously claimed that its only goal is to “save the lives” of its citizens who are breaking American law – the same men and women President Vicente Fox calls “heroes,” stubbornly refusing to admit that they are illegal.
But what does the following advice from the Guide have to do with “saving lives”?
"Avoid calling attention to yourself, at least while you arrange your stay or documents for living in the United States. ... Avoid loud parties; the neighbors might be bothered and call the police and you could be arrested. Avoid getting into fights. If you go to a bar or nightclub and a fight breaks out, leave, for in the confusion you could be arrested even though you did nothing. ... Avoid family or domestic violence. In the United States, as in Mexico, it is a crime. ... Do not carry firearms, knives or other dangerous objects. Keep in mind that many Mexicans are dead or in prison for this reason. If the police enter your house or apartment, do not resist, but ask for the search warrant. It's better to cooperate and ask to be put in touch with the nearest Mexican consulate.1"
At least the Fox regime makes some attempt, however feeble, at excusing itself for encouraging citizens to break the law. Others are more transparent about their aims. José Luis Soberanes, the chief of the National Commission on Human Rights (a semi-governmental agency), demanded that the government engage in “intense political and diplomatic work” with international organizations to “restitute the rights” of illegal immigrants, which rights were allegedly denied by the citizens of Arizona when, last November, they overwhelmingly passed Proposal 200, denying illegal immigrants access to public services and requiring voters to show proof of citizenship.2
Mexico City diplomats have recently obtained the support of thirteen Latin American nations for their demand that the city and state of New York accept Mexico’s matricula consular – an identity document provided by the Mexican consulate to illegal immigrants – for the purpose of issuing driver’s licenses, establishing bank accounts, etc.3 It will probably win on its demand, given that ten U.S. states4 already issue illegal immigrants driver’s licenses.
Add to this Mexico’s recent legislation giving illegal emigrants the right to vote, to run in Mexican elections and to retain their citizenship, and one can only conclude that Mexico City claims extraterritorial rights for its law-breaking nationals.
While all of this has deep roots in the passionate anti-Americanism of Mexicans, from the elites down, there are also vital economic and political issues at play. To begin with, the remittances of Mexican illegals in 2004 represented an astounding 81 percent of the value of the country’s main export, oil. The $12.4 billion remitted from January through September 2004 put remittances ahead of tourism and agricultural products. That same period showed a 24 percent increase over the same period the year before, and represented 2.6 percent of the Mexican GNP. The main beneficiaries of the remittances were the central states of Michoacan ($551 per capita) and Guanajuato ($318), followed by Jalisco and the Federal District.5
In some localities, the impact of illegal emigration is even greater. For instance, in Puerto Palomar (in Chihuahua), 90 percent of the 2,500 inhabitants are linked to immigrant and drug trafficking. This is big money, considering that the standard payment for a trafficker is $7,000 per border crossing.6
What is the government doing about this? According to Juan Ruiz, commander of the municipal police, 90 percent of Puerto Palomar’s people are linked to the polleros (human traffickers). “Fights among gangs do not attract the attention of the authorities. ... Here we do not make arrests because it does not make any difference. They [the polleros] come and take [the prisoners] out of the cells.”7
The same resignation is obvious in Mexico City. A recent U.S. State Department travel advisory for the country stated the obvious: a "deteriorating security situation" in which "Mexico's police forces suffer from lack of funds and training, and the judicial system is weak, overworked, and inefficient. Criminals, armed with an impressive array of weapons, know there is little chance they will be caught." President Fox responded that his government "does not accept judgment" from any foreign government and "laments the alarm," while his interior minister blamed U.S. consumption for the activities of drug mafias in Mexico.8
That, mutatis mutandi, is the picture of Mexico as a whole. Undercover police agents are lynched in Mexico City; the country’s jails are under the control of drug traffickers to such an extent that it has been necessary to put the army in charge; hundreds of young women have disappeared and presumably been murdered in Ciudad Juarez, on the Texas border, with virtually no arrests made; and in Nuevo Laredo, also on the Texas border, Americans are routinely kidnapped – a practice spreading southward to such an extent that the U.S. State Department was forced to issue a Public Announcement to Americans traveling to Mexico.
And, to make matters worse, Central America’s savage youth gangs, the maras, have expanded their operations into Mexico, while the number of non-Latin American illegal immigrants using Mexico’s friendly environment to enter the United States has increased dramatically – including Asians and Middle Easterners. It is widely believed that terrorists, too, may and do use the Mexican border as an entry point to the U.S.
Meanwhile, the nature of Mexican illegal migration is changing, and for the worse. Whereas until a few years ago the central and western states were by far the main exporters of illegals (50 percent of the population of Zacatecas now lives in the United States), now the southern states of Chiapas and Veracruz, the poorest states, are catching up.
According to Rafael Alarcón, a researcher at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte, by the 1980s the southern states of Oaxaca and Guerrero had joined this trend, followed during the 1990s and after 2000 by Chiapas, Veracruz and Hidalgo, giving Mexican emigration, which used to be largely mestizo, an increasingly Indian character.9 This has important implications for both Mexico and, more importantly, the United States.
The mass exodus from the Mexican countryside led to a labor shortage, but this did nothing to reduce emigration, even though in Zacatecas the remaining farmers pay, on average, 100 pesos ($9) a day, more than double the national minimum, and indeed standard, wage.10
For the United States, the already low skills and ability (or willingness) of Mexican aliens to integrate are further eroded as poorly educated mestizo immigrants are joined by largely illiterate, non-Spanish-speaking Indians, whose special language skills America will presumably need to accommodate. Soon to come to a public school near you: bilingual classes in Zoque, Tzotzil, Chol, Tzeltal or Mam.
Washington must consider some basic truths in formulating its policy toward Mexico, truths that the Bush administration in particular has avoided in the interest of sparing Mexican “sensitivities” – and, in the bargain, attracting more Hispanic votes. The first of those truths is that Mexico needs the United States far more than vice versa. Second, contrary to opinion south of the Rio Grande, Mexico has no “right” to illegally export its low-skilled labor northward, let alone to make that its de facto official policy. Third, Mexico has no right to complain about U.S. “interference” when it openly – some would say arrogantly – interferes with U.S. and state policies and, worse still, encourages other countries to do the same.
Some solutions are increasingly clear, despite the stubborn opposition of American open-immigration fundamentalists, who are forced into making statements like "We all agree that our immigration system is broken. However, making immigrants the problem is not the solution" (Jeanne Butterfield, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association).11 American voters – most recently in Arizona, but earlier in California and soon in Arkansas (now preparing Proposition 200-type measures) beg to differ, despite the persistent deafness of the Bush administration. Even Republicans in Congress are beginning to understand that, notwithstanding White House opposition, serious immigration reform is of immediate concern to most voters.
When Mexico refused to support the United States on Iraq, it was following a long tradition of often gratuitous opposition to American policies. Why, then, should Washington support the Mexican foreign minister’s candidacy for the chairmanship of the Organization of American States? That organization is weak already, and having a Mexican president can only make it worse.
Mexico, whether we or they like it, remains our neighbor, but that fact should not obscure the reality that both good fences and sincerity make better neighbors.
1 James C. McKinley Jr., “Border Crossing. A Guide for the Illegal Migrant,” New York Times, Jan. 9, 2005.
2 “Exige al gobierno recurrir a organismos internacionales para impugnar la Propuesta 200,” La Jornada, México D.F., Jan. 10, 2005.
3 “Diplomáticos de 14 países exigen a NY respeto a la matrícula consular,” La Jornada, Dec. 17, 2004.
4 Hawaii, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, and Washington.
5 Roberto Gonzalez Amador, “Rebasan remesas previsiones; sumaron 12 mil 419 mdd de enero a septiembre,” La Jornada, Nov. 24, 2004.
6 Miroslava Breach Velducea, “Puerto Palomas: de pueblo agrícola a peligroso emporio de polleros,” La Jornada, Nov. 24, 2004
7 Miroslava Breach Velducea , Imperio de los polleros en Puerto Palomas, Ibid.
8 Mary Jordan, “Mexico Says U.S. Warning Is Unfair. Fox ‘Laments’ Alert on Border Violence,” Washington Post, Jan. 28, 2005
9 Juan Balboa, “De acuerdo con datos oficiales, este año se desplazarán unos 400 mil connacionales,” La Jornada, Oct. 10, 2004
10 Ken Bensinger, “Mexico’s other migrant wave,” Christian Science Monitor, Oct. 8, 2004
11 Stephen Dinan , “New bill targets illegals’ use of driver’s licenses,” Washington Times, Jan. 27, 2005.