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Immigration viewed from south of the border

COMMENTARY | April 04, 2006

Columns, editorials are critical of Washington’s posture on immigration and say Americans exaggerate negative effective effects of illegal aliens

By John Burke

Probably not many Americans remember that before two airliners slammed into the Twin Towers, a burgeoning immigration deal was being discussed between George W. Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox. Neither will they remember that the negotiations didn’t stop at politics. In fact, it seemed like a friendly relationship was forming between the two heads of state who had both won elections in the same year and who both shared a passion for the outdoors life of their respective ranches.

But their developing rapport along with negotiations came to an abrupt halt that fateful September day. American eyes turned to the Middle East, leaving illegal Latino immigrants, along with Fox and his Mexican compatriots, in limbo and feeling shortchanged.

Fox went on to oppose the War in Iraq, putting any possibility of a rapid reunion out of the question. But the approximately 10 million illegal Mexicans in the United States (among 11 million Latinos overall) continued their lives north of the border.

Suddenly, the immigration question is back in the popular spotlight thanks to huge immigrant rallies across America sparked by controversial legislation and a summit of the three North American chiefs.

And the Mexican press--at least in a sampling of three newspapers--continued to criticize:   

(All articles translated from Spanish)

Immigrant marches

In El Universal, former National Security Adviser for Latin America during the Clinton administration and present director of Georgetown’s Center for Latin American Studies Arturo Valenzuela thinks that the immigrant issue presents Bush with a significant opportunity but is one in which Bush remains to be “The Grand Absentee”:

“It’s ironic that they give this summit with nothing new on the agenda precisely when finally in the United States they have started the debate over migratory reforms that the Presidents Fox and Bush set as a principal theme in the bilateral agenda at the start of their respective mandates…

“(The acceptance of the Specter initiative in the Senate Judiciary Committee) reveals that Republicans of the highest office prefer the punitive legislation, legislation that will help them appear strong in defending their cause in order to mobilize their base in the November elections, and to distract an electorate preoccupied with the war in Iraq, corruption in Washington, and the poor political direction of the White House…

“But where is President Bush in this grand debate? …Bush is the grand absentee. In the past he has spoken eloquently in favor of a more dignified migratory system, recognizing the importance that foreign workers contribute to the American economy. But now, because of political timidity he has abstained from directly commenting on the issue… Why hasn’t Bush come out strongly in favor of the legislation approved by the Senate, distancing himself from that of the House and Senator Frist?

“Bush will have little political capital in a nation that now doesn’t believe in the main project of his government – the war in Iraq -, but this is a golden opportunity to act on a key them, not for political convenience but for principles. A declaration on his part that he would only sign legislation that integrates reforms such as those proposed by the Senate would help tremendously to depoliticize the debate, and attaining these reforms is critical for the nation and bilateral relations with Mexico.”

Amalia Garcia Medina, governor of Zacatecas, a Mexican state with one of the highest percentages of immigrants to the U.S., writes in El Universal that the protests have made Hispanics more visible in American society:

“These clearly xenophobic measures (by the American Congress) had a positive effect because Hispanics came out to oppose their application, but also to show the recent pride they’ve developed that gives them the certainty that they can’t be treated like criminals or terrorists because they aren’t; the measures concern honorable and dignified people fighting to work and earn a sustainable living for their family…

“They hit the streets to protest, but also to claim social recognition for their labor, because now (the Americans) know that without (undocumented immigrants) the American economy, and that of California especially, would not be what it is…

“This new direction is a reversal from the conservative intellectuals that try to deny the important contribution that immigrants have not only on the economy but also cultural, linguistic, in art and letters, as well gastronomic, in exactly the way that the mixing of cultures shouldn’t produce shocks, but should enrich the global culture of all peoples.”

An El Universal editorial entitled “Immigrants of fear” says that Americans exaggerate the negative effects that illegal immigrants have on their society to the extent that the Latino movement could fail:

“(American) society isn’t ready to pay much more for the services that the immigrants now receive but at the same time it argues that it needs security against the many “threats” that undocumented and illegal immigration represents…

“If this is a real birth of a powerful voice demanding justice for Latinos, it must also be asked what attitude will American society show given that we are in a new century and that it has already had this experience more than forty years ago when it sought to integrate African Americans. It has never been a good idea to expect that what impacted (society) under certain conditions many years ago repeat itself again today, which means the protestors could run into a big rejection.”

 One columnist in the bastion of Mexico’s left, La Jornada, rejoices that the “Giant” that is America’s immigrant population is waking up, granting much of the credit to Latino media outlets for organizing the masses, but speaks somewhat eccentrically and overoptimistically:

“In many occasions history has changed in one day, or even in one morning. What took place on Saturday the 25 of March, when more than a half-million people, for the most part Mexican immigrants, took to the streets of central Los Angeles in a peaceful manner to protest the anti-immigrant law (known as HR 4437), approved by the House of Representatives last year, will change in many ways the political history of the United States. It will be the point of reference when talking about recent history. Everyone will talk of ‘before and after the march.’

“In the end, the common people, the unorganized immigrants, the undocumented and the dirt poor, were those bodies who composed the sea of humanity that inundated the streets of Los Angeles. These streets, once deserted that were finally used for marching, with the hope of a better future, in a land that they are just getting to know. History definitely changed this Saturday!"


This blatantly anti-Bush commentary in the politically central El Financiero sarcastically expressed a sentiment of uselessness for America’s southern and northern politicians when dealing with Washington:

“(In Chichèn Itza, Yucatán), the governor of the gringos noted that the archaeological zone is ‘a place filled with history culture, like that of our three countries.’

“Oh yeah? This is some news!... history and culture…like the ‘history and culture’ that the Yankees don’t have… apart from a culture of arms and a culture of flexing its muscles, and Coca Cola and Disneyland…

“Of course the Mexican President, Vicente Fox, said that during the meeting with Bush and Harper in Cancun they would discuss the theme of a trilateral relation, but that it wouldn’t be the place where they would discuss an agreement on immigrants, given that this problem is being solved in the US Senate.

“(Fox said) ‘We don’t expect spectacular results, this a normal meeting, one of custom…’

“Of custom! Customary almost means ‘every day’… it seems that he said this to justify the fact that there would be no substance to the meeting… and just like every summit, nothing ‘spectacular’ would come of this one, just more of the same.” 

Another column in El Financiero, titled “The United State imposes a trilateral agenda” suggests that the U.S. has been abandoning NAFTA and looks to Europe as an example:

“The decision of the United States government to focus its energy on security is detrimental to the commercial and business agenda between the three signatories of NAFTA…

“… another problem affecting the region is that during the first few years of the present decade American investors reoriented their capital towards Asian countries and pushed aside their continental partners…

“However… the agenda of the President Bush is very focused on the theme of security, contradicting somewhat the strategy of his father, who also gave importance to the political economy…

“…What they should do is negotiate a customs union so that in a few years they could talk of an economic union such as that of the European Union, where first they organize a free trade agreement and later a customs union and then a common market, a common currency and ultimately unity formed around their political economies.” 

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