Former Mexico official believes immigration overhaul is crucial

Immigration reform is either right around the corner or may be postponed once again to next year by Congress and the White House, depending on whom you ask. But one thing is clear for former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge G. Castañeda: It could prove to be a key factor in helping the U.S. move out of the current financial crisis. "The U.S. is seeking a reorientation of its manufacturing base, and it’s not easy to do without cheaper labor and the Mexican industrial base," he said Wednesday. Castañeda will head to North Texas next week to talk at the University of Texas at Arlington about his latest book, Ex Mex: From Migrants to Immigrants, and about the mutual need in the U.S. and Mexico for immigration reform. He will deliver this year’s Center for Mexican American Studies Distinguished Lecture at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the UTA library. Castañeda remains bullish about the prospects of enacting immigration reform sometime during President Barack Obama’s administration, despite all the heated and polarizing rhetoric surrounding the issue. "I don’t put much stock in those [anti-immigration] voices," he said. "Obama wouldn’t have been elected and health care reform wouldn’t have passed if they were the majority." He believes immigration reform is a crucial component not only in reviving our economy, but also in creating a North American community, similar to the European Union. It’s not a new idea – former Mexican President Vicente Fox mentioned the idea of a free flow of labor and trade on a visit to Dallas in 2000. And the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations issued a trinational report in 2005 in which it proposed the creation of a North American community involving the U.S., Mexico and Canada for enhanced security and prosperity. Castañeda’s vision for this broader relationship goes beyond the North American Free Trade Agreement and involves a free flow of labor and energy, security provisions, integration of currencies, and greater social cohesion. "NAFTA has run out of steam, and it is not generating jobs in Mexico," he said. "The U.S. and Mexico are further apart in economic development today, and the gap is getting bigger. We cannot leave it to the market alone to solve our issues." The relationship with Mexico is a lot deeper already than many realize. Castañeda has noted that one in nine Mexicans lives in the U.S. today, and therefore suggests that Mexico can no longer be viewed solely as a Latin American country. Roger Meiners, an economics and law professor at UTA, said the U.S. and Mexico have been actively talking about a follow-up to NAFTA for years. Former President George W. Bush and Fox were in talks shortly before 9/11, when everything was derailed. But "opening up the borders for more trade makes sense," he said. "Increased economic activity would benefit the U.S., and all levels of income would rise, on both sides of the border." It would be to our advantage to expand NAFTA, he said. "You don’t want an unstable country on your border."

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