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Column 060407 Andrade

Monday, June 4, 2007

How Many in Mexico View U.S. Immigration Plans

By Enrique Andrade González

The immigration bill that is under consideration in the United States, which is supported by President George W. Bush as well as some Democrat and Republican members of Congress, is obviously front-page news in Mexico.  And with all of the accompanying publicity, it is interesting to see the reactions this is causing in various Mexican political circles.

In general terms, in Mexico the proposal is perceived as a novel idea that is designed to regulate a pesky binational phenomenon using intelligent alternatives, some possible and some not.

Among the possible points, one that stands out is the standardization of a percentage of those Mexican immigrants who entered the United States prior to January 2007.  Not all 12 million of them mentioned in the bill due to the requisite cost, but maybe 50 percent who would be able pay the US$5,000.00 fee.

As well, the bill’s seasonal guest workers program is viewed as possible, insofar as they are needed for agricultural work and other low-income jobs.

And the need for immigrants to better assimilate culturally is seen as positive, a situation that would be convenient for both countries.

However there are some parts of the bill that are negatively seen just as social as they are economic, such as the long and difficult process applicants will face.

There is also the socioeconomic anomaly of perhaps 50 percent of those “benefited” not being able to pay their fines due to a lack of funds, or because they cannot understand the requirements.  So they will stay in place, in a state of oblivion, an anonymous society of approximately 6 million people.

The bill’s proposal, for guest workers to leave the United States after six years, is thought to be too complicated and unjust, and there are no real incentives to do so.

As to the flow of migrant workers from Mexico, those who may be controlled by this legislation are urban emigrants, from Mexican cities, and not farm workers from rural areas.  And urban immigrants tend to have better support networks in the United States then their rural compatriots, plus they find it easier to blend into U.S. society.

Economically, there are those who believe that a goal of the United States is to earn income from the fines imposed.  If 12 million immigrants were legalized, that would amount to US$60 billion collected, a situation that would not only bring in extra revenue but one that would help to reduce the outflow of remittances.

Another economic aspect is the need to keep workers in the fields on productive U.S. farms.  Curiously, whereas U.S. agriculture is very productive, much of Mexico’s farmland has been abandoned, which has driven agro-imports from the United States up from US$1.790 billion in 1982, to US$14.330 billion in 2004.  In other words, Mexico has gone from being a farm producer to an import-consuming nation.

The exodus from rural Mexico, according to some analysts, is comparable only to the Great Depression that started in the United States in 1929, when states like Oklahoma and Arkansas were virtually depopulated.  In Mexico today there are true ghost towns, and obviously vast tracts of untilled land.

In addition to analysts and their nuances regarding the bill, different representatives of Mexican society have spoken out for or against the legislation.  Foremost however is the position of the Mexican Senate, as senators have stated that they will be working with the U.S. Congress in order to reach an integral reform.

This, besides going beyond their spheres of authority, also makes it unclear just whose interests the senators might represent?  Those of Mexicans who reside in the U.S., or those of nationals who live in Mexico; those of Mexicans who want to return home, or those of citizens planning to emigrate?

The people of Mexico, of course, want their compatriots to live in dignity wherever they work.  They want expatriates to have fair access to social services, and to be able to live without the fear of being deported.  But what they want most is for economic conditions to be improved in Mexico so that those who have left the country will return, and those who are planning to leave will stay home.

These are the interests that must be defended by the Mexican Senate.

The Mexican Congress must work diligently to establish economic policies that decrease emigration.  Legislators must work to reactivate investment in rural Mexico.  And they must attack emigration from the social point of view, so that families can be reunited — in Mexico.

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Enrique Andrade, a Mexico City-based attorney and business consultant, writes a weekly column for MexiData.info.  He can be reached via e-mail at enriqueag@andradep.com.