Heather Mac Donald
It’s a strain being a Mexican diplomat in the United States these days, as the plaintive expression on Mario Velázquez-Suárez’s dignified features suggests. Diplomacy may be the art of lying for one’s country, but Mexican diplomacy requires taking that art to virtuosic heights. Sitting in his expansive office in Mexico’s Los Angeles consulate, Deputy Consul General Velázquez-Suárez gamely insists that he and his peers observe the diplomatic duty not to interfere in America’s internal affairs, including immigration matters. “Immigration is an internal discussion,” he says. “We have to respect that regardless of whether it pleases us.”
Well, at least one part of the deputy consul general’s statement is true: immigration is an “internal discussion.” The decision about who can enter and permanently reside in a country is central to its identity. The rest of his statement, though, is utterly false. Mexican officials here and abroad are involved in a massive and almost daily interference in American sovereignty. The dozens of illegals milling in the consulate’s courtyard as Velázquez-Suárez speaks, and the millions more radiating outward from Los Angeles across the country, are not a naturally occurring phenomenon, like the tides. They are there thanks in part to Mexico’s efforts to get them into the U.S. in violation of American law, and to normalize their status once here in violation of the popular will. Mexican consulates are engineering a backdoor amnesty for their illegal migrants and trying to discredit American immigration enforcement—activities clearly beyond diplomatic bounds.
Mexico’s governing class is not content simply to unload the victims of its failed policies on the U.S., however. It also tries to ensure that migrants retain allegiance to La Patria, so as to preserve the $16 billion in remittances that they send to Mexico each year. Mexican leaders have thus tasked their nation’s U.S. consulates with spreading Mexican culture into American schools and communities. Given the American public’s swelling anger about illegal immigration, it’s past time for Washington to tell Mexico to cease interfering and for the Bush administration to start enforcing the law.
Just how shameless is Mexico in promoting illegal entry into the U.S.? For starters, it publishes a comic book–style guide on breaching the border safely and evading detection once across. Mexico’s foreign ministry distributes the Guía del Migrante Mexicano (Guide for the Mexican Migrant) in Mexico; Mexican consulates along the border hand it out in the U.S. The pamphlet is also available on the website of the Instituto de los Mexicanos en el Exterior, or IME (Institute for Mexicans Abroad), the cabinet-level agency that promotes Mexicanismo in the U.S.
Nodding to U.S. law, the guide does briefly remind readers that “mechanisms for legal entry” into the U.S. exist and are the surest way to get in. But the book primarily consists of “practical advice” for entering illegally: do drink salt water and cross when the heat is lowest; don’t wear heavy clothing when fording a river. Do keep your coyote in sight; don’t send your children across the border with strangers—a Mexican variation on the usual parental advice. And don’t “throw rocks or objects at officials or at patrols since this is considered a provocation by those officials.” (This last piece of advice clearly hasn’t taken hold: attacks on the border patrol have steadily increased in number and viciousness.)
The guide’s recommendations on how to avoid detection once in the U.S. are equally no-nonsense: do keep your daily routines stable, to avoid calling attention to yourself; don’t engage in domestic violence—the Marvel comic–type illustration shows a macho man, biceps bulging, socking a woman a big one in the jaw. Don’t drink and drive because it could result in deportation if you’re arrested.
Mexico backs up the publication with serious resources for the collective assault on the border. An elite law enforcement team called Grupo Beta protects illegal migrants as they sneak into the U.S. from corrupt Mexican officials and criminals—essentially pitting two types of Mexican lawlessness against each other. Grupo Beta currently maintains aid stations for Mexicans crossing the desert. In April, it worked with Mexican federal and Sonoran state police to help steer illegal aliens away from Arizona border spots patrolled by Minutemen border enforcement volunteers—demagogically denounced by President Vicente Fox as “migrant-hunting groups.”
Disseminating information about how to evade a host country’s laws is not typical consular activity. Consulates exist to promote the commercial interests of their nations abroad and to help nationals if they have lost passports, gotten robbed, or fallen ill. If a national gets arrested, consular officials may visit him in jail, to ensure that his treatment meets minimum human rights standards. Consuls aren’t supposed to connive in breaking a host country’s laws or intervene in its internal affairs.
The border-breaking guide is just the tip of the iceberg of Mexican meddling, however. After 9/11, Vicente Fox’s government realized that the immigration amnesty that it had expected from President Bush was on hold. So it came up with the second best thing: a de facto amnesty, at the heart of which is something called the matricula consular card.
Mexican consulates, like those of other countries, have traditionally offered consular cards to their nationals abroad for registration purposes, in case they disappear. In practice, few Mexicans bothered to obtain them. After 9/11, though, officials at Los Pinos (the Mexican White House) ordered their consulates to promote the card as a way for illegals to obtain privileges that the U.S. usually reserves for legal residents. The consulates started aggressively lobbying American governmental officials and banks to accept matriculas as valid IDs for driver’s licenses, checking accounts, mortgage lending, and other benefits.
The only type of Mexican who would need such identification is an illegal one; legal aliens already have sufficient documentation to get driver’s licenses or bank accounts. Predictably, the IDs flew off the shelf—more than 4.7 million since 2000. Every day, illegals seeking matriculas swamp the consulates. Every seat and place to stand in the modest, white stucco Santa Ana, California, consulate was filled one morning this July, most of the people there seeking the 200 or so matriculas that the consulate issues per day.
The Mexican government knows just how subversive its matricula effort is. A consulate’s right to issue such a card to its nationals is indisputable; where the Mexican diplomats push the envelope is in lobbying governments to adopt it as an American ID. In announcing the normalization-through-the-matricula push, then-foreign minister Jorge Castañeda was characteristically blunt: “We are already giving instructions to our consulates that they begin propagating militant activities—if you will—in their communities.”
And yet, Mexico’s consuls comically pretend that they know nothing of their countrymen’s immigration violations and wouldn’t possibly interfere with America’s response even if they did. “Our formal policy is not to ask the immigration status, because we don’t have anything to do with that,” explains the outspoken consul for Santa Ana, Luis Miguel Ortiz Haro Amieva, speaking in his narrow office above the consular reception area. “Our services don’t have anything to do with immigration status,” he says implausibly.
This pose gets more challenging all the time, because legal immigration from Mexico has basically stopped. Eighty percent of all Mexicans who arrived in the U.S. over the last decade crossed the border furtively, a rate that has only increased of late. These illegal arrivals now outnumber legal Mexicans in the U.S. And the more the disabilities of illegal status diminish, the greater the future flow of illegals will be.
You would think that an ID obtainable simply by showing Mexican nationality would not elicit fraud from Mexican nationals themselves. But Santa Ana consul Ortiz Haro whips out a stack of counterfeit Mexican voting cards and birth certificates that the consulate has confiscated from matricula applicants, bought at document bazaars like Los Angeles’s MacArthur Park. Some applicants can’t be bothered to get their real Mexican documents; others want to avoid extortion by relatives who demand payment to send those documents, says Ortiz Haro. He is confident, however, that the consulate can spot all fakes and verify, say, a birth certificate from the remotest Mexican peasant village. The FBI demurs: it opposes the use of the matriculas as American IDs because the consulates lack adequate safeguards against counterfeiting.
The consuls’ protestations of ignorance about their nationals’ immigration statuses are particularly far-fetched when it comes to tracking down missing border breakers. “If someone crosses but hasn’t been heard from,” says Santa Ana protective-services director Mildret Avila, speaking in Spanish and carefully avoiding details of that crossing, “the family will come to us and say: ‘Our brother was supposed to arrive but hasn’t come.’ We’ll contact the consulates all along the border—in San Diego, Calexico, Denver, and Phoenix, who will ask the Immigration and Customs Enforcement and check the hospitals and prisons to try to find him.”
What about inquiring with the coyotes? “We never hear from them,” Avila says. “We don’t know who the family pays; the coyotes just disappear.” Note that at this point in the interview, Avila is implicitly acknowledging that the Mexican nationals in question are illegal. Not for long, though. Why don’t you tell someone who is in the country illegally that he should return to Mexico and get permission to enter? I ask. “We don’t know if someone has papers or not.” You could ask, couldn’t you? “Yes.”
Now, arguably, individual consuls aren’t obligated to police compliance with American law—that responsibility lies with American authorities. But Mexico’s disrespect for the law regarding its illegal migrants actually begins on its side of the border. Mexico’s own regulations require that all exits from the country go through established crossing points. Decades ago, Mexico enforced that rule. Now, any Mexican can cross wherever he wants. A few years ago, the governor of Baja California proposed reviving the law as a means of preventing desert-crossing deaths. He swiftly found himself denounced for kowtowing to the Americans, writes former U.S. ambassador to Mexico Jeffrey Davidow in his book, The Bear and The Porcupine. The proposal died.
Mexicans view migration to the U.S. as a fundamental human right, says Davidow; no laws should stop it, they believe. In addition, nearly 60 percent of Mexican respondents polled by Zogby in 2001 said that the southwestern U.S. really belongs to Mexico. Only 28 percent disagreed.
Mexican consuls denounce any U.S. law enforcement effort against illegal immigration as biased and inhumane. For the moment, they still tolerate deportations if officials pick up the illegal Mexican right at the border and promptly set him down on the other side—whence he can try again the next day. Once in the U.S., however, an illegal gains untouchable status, in the consuls’ view.
In 2002, the Denver consulate planted sympathetic stories in the Denver Post about an illegal Mexican high school student, Jesus Apodaca, who could not afford out-of-state tuition to Colorado colleges. Consulate spokesman Mario Hernandez lobbied Colorado legislators to award in-state tuition to Apodaca. When the stories ran, Republican congressman Tom Tancredo, a vocal opponent of illegal immigration, suggested that Apodaca might more properly be deported. Such impertinence was more than Hernandez could bear. “This is an arrogant use of power,” he declared. “I don’t think Mr. Tancredo realizes what he is doing to this family, which is already vulnerable.” The family’s “vulnerability,” of course, was wholly of its own making.
Colorado governor Bill Owens disagreed with the consulate’s contention that the state should treat Apodaca as a legal resident for the purpose of state-subsidized tuition. He didn’t dare suggest that Apodaca actually be—gasp!—deported. Nevertheless, in retaliation for Owens’s opposition to a tuition grant, consul Leticia Calzada undiplomatically urged Mexican tourists to boycott Colorado and visit Wyoming instead.
No less righteously angry was San Diego’s consul, following the border patrol’s arrest of a family of illegal aliens near the consulate. The family was on its way to pick up matriculas. Objected Consul General Rudolfo Figueroa: “We feel outraged over the way [the arrest] was handled. This was an act of bad faith.” The consul filed a formal complaint with the border patrol; the Mexican embassy in Washington demanded—and got—a formal investigation into the matter. Mexico’s foreign ministry said that the arrests violated a “gentleman’s agreement” that its consulates could carry out their duties without the presence of law enforcement. The ministry might ponder why there should be any conflict between Mexican consular duties and the rule of law.
Boston’s consul general sharply protested the arrest of several illegal Mexicans this April. Ipswich, New Hampshire, police chief W. Garrett Chamberlain had grown frustrated with the federal government’s refusal to take custody of illegal aliens that his deputies reported to immigration agents. So he charged a Mexican illegal for criminal trespass—for being in a place without legal authority. A chief in a nearby town followed suit. Mexican officials went berserk: if this legal move succeeded—and police chiefs across the country immediately declared interest in using it—it would breach the nationwide sanctuary for Mexico’s illegals.
Pulling out all the stops, the Mexican government paid for the defendants’ legal representation—another departure from traditional diplomatic practice, which forbids interference in a host country’s judicial process unless it is patently unfair. Boston consul general Porfirio Thierry Muñoz Ledo declared the Ipswich trial “legally invalid, discriminatory and a violation of human rights.” Yet the New Hampshire chiefs weren’t using the law against the defendants because they were Mexican but because they were illegal. No legal Mexican need worry about arrest for trespass or for violations of the immigration law. Mexico’s campaign against immigration enforcement, however, equates being Mexican with being illegal—a presumption that the country would undoubtedly label racist if an American articulated it.
For the moment, Mexican illegals inside the border are safely insulated from enforcement. A New Hampshire judge rejected the Ipswich indictment this August, ruling that local police departments may not use trespass law against immigration violators. Since the federal authorities virtually refuse to arrest immigration violators, and since most big cities forbid their police to inquire into immigration status, the nation remains one big sanctuary for illegals.
Mexico’s consuls go even further in undermining U.S. border law. They’re evolving a “disparate impact” theory that holds that any police action is invalid if it falls upon illegal Mexicans, even if that action has nothing to do with immigration. In July, the Mexican consul general in New York City, Arturo Sarukhan, lambasted Suffolk County, Long Island, officials for evicting over a hundred illegal aliens whose dangerously overcrowded housing violated fire and safety codes. The code enforcement constituted a “vilif[ication]” of the Mexicans, Sarukhan said, and inflamed community “tensions.” Policing fire and safety codes is a core function of local government—unless it interferes with an illegal Mexican, in the New York consul general’s view. He might note that the “tensions” in Long Island aren’t due to the Suffolk County government but to the continuing influx of Latin Americans flouting American law.
Quick to defend individual illegals, the consuls just as energetically fight legislative measures to reclaim the border. Voters nationwide have lost patience with the federal government’s indifference to illegal immigration, which imposes crippling costs on local schools, hospitals, and jails that must serve or incarcerate thousands of illegal students, patients, and gangbangers. Californians in 1994 launched the first protest against this unjustifiable tax burden by passing Proposition 187, banning illegals from collecting welfare. Mexico’s Los Angeles consulate swiftly joined forces with southern-California open-borders groups to invalidate the law, even giving the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles a computer and database to help build a case against the proposition. Mexican action against 187 apparently extended to Mexico as well. After a federal judge struck the initiative down in 1998, then–Los Angeles councilman, now mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa credited Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo with helping to undermine it.
In November 2004, Arizona voters passed Proposition 200 over the strenuous protests of the Phoenix consul general, who sent out press releases urging Hispanics to vote against it. The proposition merely reaffirmed existing law that requires proof of citizenship to vote and to receive certain welfare benefits. After the law passed, Mexico’s foreign minister threatened to bring suit in international tribunals for this egregious human rights violation, and the Phoenix consulate supported the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund’s federal lawsuit against the proposition.
Back in Mexico, politicians blast any hint that American legislators might obstruct illegals’ free pass. In May, Congress passed the Real ID Act, which rendered driver’s licenses issued to illegal aliens inadmissible for aircraft boarding and at other federal security checkpoints. Mexico’s interior minister, Santiago Creel, lashed out: the law is “absurd, it is not understandable in light of any criteria,” he said. In fact, the law was quite understandable: after 9/11, Congress wanted to make sure that federal authorities had properly vetted aliens given access to sensitive areas, such as airplanes. Creel, however, dismissed U.S. security concerns; the fact that the illegals “send their remittances and also benefit the Mexican economy,” he declared, was far more important.
Former foreign minister Jorge Castañeda showed similar contempt for America’s terrorism worries this July. He haughtily told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Mexico would only cooperate with the U.S. on future security matters if the U.S. granted amnesty to its illegal aliens. Military-to-military cooperation is “very, very sensitive” to Mexicans, explained Castañeda. Americans’ sensitivity to widespread contempt for its sovereignty—well, that’s not even worth paying attention to.
The gall of Mexican officials does not end with the push for illegal entry. After demanding that we educate their surplus citizens, give those citizens food stamps, deliver their babies, provide them with doctors and hospital beds, and police their neighborhoods, the Mexican government also expects us to help preserve their loyalty to Mexico.
Since 1990, Mexico has embarked on a series of initiatives to import Mexican culture into the U.S. Mexico’s five-year development plan in 1995 announced that the “Mexican nation extends beyond . . . its border”—into the United States. Accordingly, the government would “strengthen solidarity programs with the Mexican communities abroad by emphasizing their Mexican roots, and supporting literacy programs in Spanish and the teaching of the history, values, and traditions of our country.”
The current launching pad for these educational sallies is the Instituto de los Mexicanos en el Exterior. The IME directs several programs aimed at American schools. Each of Mexico’s 47 consulates in the U.S. (a number that expands nearly every year) has a mandate to introduce Mexican textbooks into schools with significant Hispanic populations. The Mexican consulate in Los Angeles showered nearly 100,000 textbooks on 1,500 schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District this year alone. Hundreds of thousands more have gone to school districts across the country, which pay only shipping charges. Showing admirable follow-up skills, the consulates try to ensure that students actually read the books. L.A. consulate reps, for instance, return to schools that have the books and ask questions. “We test the students,” explains Mireya Magaña Gálvez, a consul press attaché. “We ask the students: what are you reading about now? We try to repeat and repeat.”
Like most explanations given for Mexican involvement in American cultural matters, the justification for the textbook initiative is tortured. “If people are living in the U.S., of course they need to become excellent citizens of this place,” says Magaña Gálvez. “If we can help in their education, they will understand better.” But if the goal is American assimilation, why take a detour through Mexican history? “We must talk about Mexican history,” she explains. “Our history is very rich, very intensive. It’s important to know that history. The students will feel proud to become Americans if they feel proud of their country.”
Immigrants have often tried to hold on to their native traditions, but not until recently did anyone expect American schools to help them do so. And it is hard to see how studying Mexican history from a Mexican perspective helps forge an American identity. The Mexican sixth-grade history book, for example, celebrates the “heroism and sacrifice” of the Mexican troops who fought the Americans during the Mexican-American war. But “all the sacrifices and heroism of the Mexican people were useless,” recounts the chronicle. The “Mexican people saw the enemy flag wave at the National Palace.” The war’s consequences were “disastrous,” notes the primer: “To end the occupation, Mexico was obligated to sign the treaty of Guadeloupe-Hidalgo,” by which the country lost half its territory.
This narrative is accurate and rather tame by Mexico’s usual anti-American standards. But a student in the U.S. could easily find himself confused about his allegiances. Is his country Mexico or the U.S.? Study exercises that include discovering “what happened to your territory when the U.S. invaded” don’t clarify things. The textbook concludes by celebrating Mexican patriotic symbols: the flag, the currency, and the national anthem. “We love our country because it is ours,” the primer says.
Mexican consulates also push for bilingual education in American schools, with the same odd logic with which they defend teaching Mexican history: teaching in Spanish, they say, will make students better English speakers. In this nonsensical claim, the Mexican officials are of course at one with the American bilingual-ed establishment. No surprise, then, that the National Association of Bilingual Educators has conferred awards on Mexico’s education ministry for its support of Spanish-language instruction or that the association is represented on the IME’s advisory council.
The IME also supplies adult-education materials in Spanish language and culture to community colleges and public libraries, and expects them to provide the space, teachers, and technology for distance-learning courses. “The Glendale library [in the Los Angeles suburbs] is beautiful,” enthuses the L.A. consulate’s Magaña Gálvez. It has converted half of its space to a Spanish language center using Mexico’s course materials, she says.
Yet does this Spanish-language project actually result in the acquisition of English? I put this question to Socorro Torres Sarmiento, the community affairs coordinator in the Santa Ana consulate. She dodged the question: “It’s difficult to do English at the same time,” she said. In other words, probably not.
The consulates appear to regard local opposition to their bilingual agenda with bemused contempt. Santa Ana’s consul, Ortiz Haro, says conspiratorially of his host city: “Here, we are living ‘just English’ in the schools. We have problems with some school districts [in Orange County], especially in Santa Ana. This high school district is involved in a lot of political issues, I think they have a very conservative point of view about education.” Of course, what Ortiz Haro calls “political issues” is simply the school board’s effort to follow the mandate of Proposition 227, the 1998 California voter initiative that sought to curtail bilingual ed in California schools.
But the consuls don’t easily give up in fighting to preserve and increase the use of Spanish in the U.S. Socorro Sarmiento, Santa Ana’s community affairs coordinator, visits Orange County schools to promote a Mexican government–sponsored drawing contest, Éste Es Mi Mexico (This Is My Mexico). When Sarmiento speaks to the students in Spanish, she—predictably—receives resistance: “The teacher says, ‘You need to speak English, because we’re not allowed to speak Spanish.’ ” Undaunted, Sarmiento reminds the children not to forget their Spanish—valid advice, but irrelevant to the school context, where teaching Mexican students English should be the paramount concern.
The contest that Sarmiento is promoting is another device to reinforce a sense of Mexicanness in students. It asks them to draw pictures expressing the “history, culture, natural resources, people, or traditional holidays [of] our beloved and beautiful country.” Winners get a trip to Mexico City at the Mexican government’s expense. Here again—in conservative Orange County, California, at least—some schools are skittish about sponsoring a Mexican government–designed program. Sarmiento responds that embracing Mexican culture is vital for students’ self-esteem. In her school visits for the contest, she asks students if they know who the Aztecs were.
“Unfortunately,” she says, “they often don’t.” But if the students are to succeed in the U.S., a more relevant question might be: do you know who the Pilgrims were?
The U.S. Department of Education, no foe of multiculturalism, collaborates with some of Mexico’s education initiatives. It helps bring hundreds of Mexican teachers to U.S. schools for part of the school year or during the summer—and not just to Mexican population centers like Los Angeles but also to recent outposts in the Mexican diaspora, such as Green Forest, Arkansas. The visitors suggest methods by which American teachers can incorporate Mexican dance, songs, and history, especially the indigenous cultures of the Toltec, Mayas, and Mistecas, into their lessons, notes Edda Caraballo, director of Migrant Education for the California Department of Education.
Such devotion to other countries’ folkways would be unimpeachable if students overflowed with knowledge of America’s history. As survey after survey has found, however, American students know next to nothing about their country’s past. Only one-third of seniors at elite colleges could pick out the general at the battle of Yorktown from among William Sherman, Ulysses Grant, Douglas MacArthur, and George Washington, according to a 2000 American Council of Trustees and Alumni survey.
A huge proportion of the Mexican students receiving school-based training in Mexicanismo are illegal, making American help in preserving an alien culture all the more remarkable. The burden of illegal immigration has fallen heaviest on California, where one-quarter of the nation’s illegals live and where one-quarter of the students don’t speak English. The Anaheim school district in Orange County recently floated a $132 million bond measure to meet the costs of educating illegal aliens and their children. Santa Ana consul Ortiz Haro laughs as he recounts that Anaheim school administrators had wanted to bill Mexico for the cost of educating its illegal exports—a perfectly sensible idea that strikes him as ludicrous. Concern with border breaking is, to a Mexican consulate, well, just a little uncouth.
The audacity of Mexico’s interference in U.S. immigration policy stands in sharp contrast to Mexico’s own jealous sense of sovereignty. It is difficult to imagine a country touchier about interference in its domestic affairs or less tolerant of immigrants. In 2002, for example, Mexico deported a dozen American college students (all in the country legally) who had joined a protest in Mexico City against a planned airport. Such participation, said Mexico, constituted illegal domestic interference. (It would be interesting to know how many Mexican students—legal and illegal—have participated with impunity in demonstrations in the U.S. against American immigration and educational policies.) During his confirmation hearings, U.S. ambassador Jeffrey Davidow said innocuously that the U.S. would encourage high participation in Mexico’s 2000 presidential election. A magazine editor rebuked him for “intromission in Mexico’s internal affairs.” Davidow didn’t even dare visit the troubled state of Chiapas early in his tenure, knowing that the press would condemn it as illegal meddling.
Imagine if U.S. diplomats yowled constantly about Mexico’s unfair policies toward illegal Americans. Mexico would expel them instantly. This summer, U.S. ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza closed the U.S. consulate in Nuevo Laredo after a particularly bloody period of drug violence that included the assassination of the town’s police chief. Garza admitted to a reporter that he shut the consulate “in part” to punish Mexico for its failure to control the mayhem. Such measured language, in response to a public threat, provoked a sharp correction from Mexico’s deputy foreign secretary, Geronimo Gutierrez. Garza’s words, fumed Gutierrez, do “not correspond to the role of an ambassador.”
But Mexican diplomats in the U.S. often express far harsher, and ad hominem, political judgments, with little regard for protocol. Santa Ana consul Ortiz Haro does not conceal his disdain in observing that California Propositions 187 and 209 [banning racial preferences], as well as the Minuteman Project, originated in Orange County. “We have six Congressmen here; five are Republicans. That would not be so bad,” he adds magnanimously, “except for the kind of Republican: [Dana] Rohrabacher, [Ed] Royce; these are friends of Tancredo, who says we need the military on the border.”
Mexican politicians are even starting to allege that American responses to illegal immigration in the U.S. are a violation of Mexico’s sovereignty. This August, New Mexico governor Bill Richardson declared a state of emergency in four counties bordering Mexico, because of violence and devastation wrought by trafficking in aliens and drugs. City council members from the Mexican city of Ciudad Juárez branded Richardson’s declaration an interference in Mexico’s domestic affairs.
Mexico’s own immigration policies are the exact opposite of what it relentlessly advocates in the United States. Its entry permits favor scientists, technicians, teachers of underrepresented disciplines, and others likely to contribute to “national progress.” Immigrants may only enter through established ports and at designated times. Anyone not presenting the proper documentation and health certificates won’t get in; the transportation company that brought him must pay his return costs. Foreigners who do not “strictly comply” with the entry conditions will face deportation. Steve Royster, who worked in the American consulate in Mexico from 1999 to 2001, presided over several deportations of Americans who had overstayed their visas. “They were given a choice: accept deportation or go to jail,” he says.
Providing full college tuition or all-expenses-paid secondary and primary education for illegal American students in Mexico? Unthinkable. Until recently, U.S.-born children of Mexican parents weren’t even allowed to enroll in Mexican public schools, reserved for Mexican citizens only. The parents would have to bribe officials for Mexican birth certificates for their kids. (The 1998 change in the Mexican constitution to allow dual nationality now makes enrollment by U.S.-born Mexicans possible.) “We’re not friendly with immigrants; that’s a big difference with the speech we have here with American schools,” admits a Mexican diplomat.
What about textbooks to propagate American culture in Mexico? They would provoke an uprising against Yanqui imperialism. When President Ernesto Zedillo tried in the 1990s merely to revise Mexican textbooks to acknowledge contemporary cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico, he found himself denounced as a traitor. The revisions went nowhere.
Mexico’s border police have reportedly engaged in rapes, robberies, and beatings of illegal aliens from Central and South America on their way to the U.S. Yet compared with the extensive immigrant-advocacy network in the U.S., few pressure groups exist in Mexico to protest such treatment. If Americans run afoul of Mexico’s border police, watch out. In 1996, the Mexican police beat and shot in the back a teenage American girl who had led them on a high-speed chase in Tijuana. No one in the U.S. or Mexico raised a fuss, at least publicly.
Contrast that incident with another that occurred in the U.S. a few months earlier. A vanload of Mexican illegals in California had fled from the border patrol and the Riverside County deputies, throwing metal bars and beer cans at their pursuers and sideswiping cars to divert attention. When the van stopped, the deputies caught two of the fleeing occupants and beat them. Mexico’s foreign ministry turned the beating into an international human rights incident, attributing it to “discriminatory attitudes that lead to institutional violence.” Mexican diplomats formally protested to state and federal officials, and helped the two beaten Mexicans file multimillion-dollar lawsuits against the deputies and Riverside County. The State Department abjectly apologized and promised to set the FBI and Justice Department on the case. Had American authorities responded to the Tijuana beating with comparable anger and PR savvy, the Mexican backlash would have been fierce.
And if American politicians, presiding over a grotesquely mismanaged economy and the exodus of millions of citizens, adopted the grandiose rhetoric of Mexican politicians, they would be a laughingstock from one end of Mexico to the other. Heralding the creation of the IME and its parent agency, the National Council for Mexican Communities Abroad, President Vicente Fox argued that these bodies were necessary to “defend the human, civil, and labor rights [of Mexican migrants] more effectively, as well as to protect them against adversity or arbitrariness.” The idea that the American government represents a heightened threat of “arbitrariness,” compared with the corrupt Mexican bureaucracy, or that Mexico needs to protect its refugees from “adversity” abroad when it can’t provide them with a reasonable living at home, is simply delusional.
Mexico’s struggle to hold the hearts of its fleeing countrymen has worked. Mexican migrants have maintained a strong nationalism, exhibited through the “unfailing celebration of Mexican national, religious, and regional holidays, the conspicuous displays of patriotic symbols in Mexican neighborhoods and businesses, and in the low naturalization rate,” writes University of California professor Luis Eduardo Guarnizo. In the last decade, the rate of naturalization among legal Mexican immigrants did improve, in response to the 1996 welfare-reform law, which reduced welfare eligibility for non-citizen immigrants, and to Mexico’s authorization of dual nationality in 1998 (not exactly ideal motives for becoming citizens). The rate is still well below the immigrant norm, however. In 2001, just 34 percent of eligible Mexicans became citizens, compared with 58 percent of other Latin Americans, 67 percent of Asians, and 65 percent of Canadians and Europeans.
The Mexican government will push to control as much U.S. immigration policy as it can get away with. It’s up to American officials to stop such interference, but the Bush administration simply winks at foreign attacks on immigration laws that it itself refuses to enforce. President Bush should worry less about upsetting his friends at Los Pinos and more about listening to the American people: illegal immigration, they believe, is an affront to the rule of law and a threat to American security. It can and must be stopped.