Jorge G. Castañeda
What Mexico Wants
By JORGE G. CASTAÑEDA
Published: June 1, 2007
NO nation is as involved in United States immigration as Mexico, and no government’s cooperation will be as necessary as Mexico’s if immigration reform is to succeed.
Fortunately, most of the reform proposals represent a very good deal for Mexico, however questionable they might appear to the Latino community in the United States. The current Senate package greatly resembles what President Vicente Fox and I proposed back in 2001, in meetings with President Bush and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
First, the Senate plan would legalize almost all of the roughly six million Mexicans in the United States today without papers. This will allow them to get better wages and working conditions, to become eligible for mortgages and driver’s licenses, to travel back home and to have an immensely better everyday life.
Yes, the road to citizenship is a long one — up to 13 years — but that is essentially an American issue. We Mexicans cannot encourage or discourage our fellow countrymen from seeking naturalization.
Second, the bill provides for a guest worker program that will include several hundred thousand Mexicans: exactly what we always wanted. The requirement that they return home for a year after working across the border for two, while cumbersome and perhaps unenforceable, would actually help Mexico. It would ensure the continued flow of money back to workers’ families here; and the returning workers would bring the skills they acquire in the United States to demonstrate to others and use to start businesses here.
And as for complaints that these guest workers could not take their families with them, the roughly 75,000 Mexicans who legally emigrate to the north every year can’t do so either.
There are three Mexican objections to the bill as it stands.
First, it has unduly harsh enforcement provisions at the border and the workplace, which will undoubtedly generate abuses and mistreatment. Still, if every Mexican in the United States who arrived before Jan. 1, 2007, is legalized, enforcement inside the United States, including discriminatory raids, will become redundant. And if nearly everyone who wants to go north can obtain a guest-worker visa, there will be no need to cross illegally and face rough treatment at the border.
A second objectionable feature is the steep fines and fees in the Senate bill: up to $5,000. While this is not cheap, it’s also not much more than the “coyote” charges to smuggle a migrant across the border.
The last objection is more substantive; it is, in fact, a potential deal breaker. The Senate voted last week to cut the number of guest worker slots to 200,000 from 400,000. The earlier figure would have allowed roughly the same number of workers who now cross illegally to obtain guest status. But if the final law has too few slots, it will not end illegal immigration, but simply perpetuate the status quo.
What’s good for Mexico is probably good, in the long term, for the United States as well; on this one, at least, Mexican and American interests coincide.