What Americans Should Know About Immigration and President Fox of Mexico
By Allan E. Wall
February 12, 2001
THE ELECTORAL TRIUMPH of Vicente Fox as Mexico's president has blown through the body politic like a breath of fresh air, shaking up the status quo and giving hope for those desiring change. And after 71 years of one-party PRI rule, such a change was certainly in order. As an American who has lived and worked in Mexico since 1991, I was glad to see Fox win. My Mexican wife and her relatives voted for him. I even sent an encouraging email to candidate Fox.
Fox has challenged long-standing shibboleths of Mexican politics, and looks set to sweep out a lot of cobwebs. The new Mexican president wants to root out corruption and put the Mexican economy on a solid footing to benefit all its citizens. Fox has renounced the paternalism of the past, has recognized that economic productivity is of more value than populist-oriented decrees and that the only funds government has at its disposal come from the people, and seeks to empower small and medium-sized businesses. I believe that in all these challenges Fox has the sympathy and best wishes of the American people, as I know he has has mine.
However, the American people should also be aware of Fox's stance on immigration. On the one hand, he has correctly asserted that the real problem lies in the Mexican economy, and that it must provide jobs for Mexicans so they don't leave the country to seek employment. Fox has also recognized that the PRI was utilizing the U.S.A. as a "safety valve."
But in contradiction to such positive points, Fox has fallen into the same old trap of the PRI of utilizing the U.S. as a safety valve - and all evidence indicates that he will attempt to expand the safety valve. In fact, Fox not only wishes to increase Mexican immigration to the U.S., but he himself wishes to control U.S. immigration policy, as it relates to Mexicans. Vicente Fox plans to manage the INS!
Americans should understand that it is they, not Vicente Fox, who should have control over U.S. immigration policy. This is extremely relevant now, since this Friday, February 16th, Bush and Fox are scheduled to meet at the latter's ranch here in Mexico, with immigration on the agenda (possibly at the top of the agenda). President Bush, though we admire him for many good qualities and proposals, seems to have done little, if any, serious thinking on important questions of immigration and assimilation. His whole approach to such matters seems rather to be based on sentimental slogans and wishful thinking. (During the primary Bush inadvertently revealed that he didn't even know how the U.S. immigration system functions!). The very real danger is that our president, with such a muddled outlook, could come away from the summit having, in effect, turned U.S. immigration policy over to the Mexican government without considering the will of the American people.
So what immigration policies does Fox plan to impose on Bush? Earlier proposals of open borders and an EU-style political arrangement were temporarily shelved as being too far-fetched. Or were they? The truth is, Fox is still working toward open borders by other means. The Mexican government has announced that it will ask for more visas for Mexican workers (Mexicans already receive more U.S. visas than any other nationality). Fox also promises to push Bush for yet another illegal alien amnesty (which is presently under consideration in Congress anyway). Fox says that illegal aliens should be amnestied so they can receive the "education and health benefits they deserve." Deserve? For what, being illegal aliens? And, in a recent visit by American senators led by Phil Gramm, Fox and his U.S. collaborators cooked up a massive "guest worker" scheme which, incredibly enough, Gramm asserts will end illegal immigration. None of the backers of such proposals, of either country, have paid much heed to the idea that the American citizen-taxpayer might have any stake in the matter. And that's a shame, because what is really at stake is U.S. sovereignty itself.
A bigger picture of Fox's immigration plans can be afforded by studying the statements of three key Cabinet members: Jorge Castaneda, Juan Hernandez and Adolfo Aguilar-Zinser. These three men, like most if not all the members of Fox's cabinet (and Fox himself) are white Mexicans. And this fact could be significant. In Mexico, the higher one travels up the socioeconomic ladder, the whiter the people are. And the reverse is true - the lower one goes down the socioeconomic ladder, the darker-skinned the people are. In the Mexican media, any American who supports a restriction on immigration is accused of being "racist." I suggest we turn the "racist" question around and see if Mexico's white elite might have any "racist" motives. An objective observer might accuse the white Mexican elite of cynically using the U.S. as a dumping ground for Mexico's poor, dark-skinned masses. Remember that the next time you hear the "racist" term being batted around.
Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda, son of a previous foreign minister of the same name, has led a charmed life. Castaneda has had the privilege of playing several roles: left-wing Yanqui-basher, university professor (in the U.S., natch!) and columnist for Newsweek magazine (its resident "Mexico expert"). Though not a member of Fox's National Action Party (PAN), Castaneda jumped on candidate Fox's bandwagon and was rewarded by the coveted Foreign Ministry post. This fits right in with another Castaneda role - telling Americans how to conduct their immigration policy. In 1995, in an article in The Atlantic Monthly, Castaneda explicitly defends the safety valve argument, writing that "Any attempt to clamp down on immigration....will make social peace in....Mexico untenable....Some Americans....dislike immigration, but there is very little they can do about it." At his meeting with Secretary of State Powell, Castaneda waxed eloquent with theatrical indignation over border tragedies: "There are too many Mexicans dying on the border--Mexicans who die of exposure, dehydration, starvation...some....die as a result of hostile action...."
Yes, too many Mexicans die on the border, but they die because they do things like crossing deserts without sufficient water, and other dangerous undertakings. If Mexico's rulers were really concerned about such poor, misguided people, they would prevent them from crossing- but they find it more convenient to let them die to score political points. Castaneda has called border violence "intolerable" and has threatened that Mexico will not tolerate it. Strong words, but what do they actually mean? Yes, there is violence on the border, but the violence is a direct result of lax U.S. immigration policies. Probably what Castaneda wants to accomplish by such theatrical indignation is to up the ante until the U.S. promises to allow more and more Mexican immigrants, in return for a "promise" to stop illegal immigration from the Mexican side of the border. Fat chance of that! On a personal note, I myself have been threatened with violence on the Mexican side of the border. But if I had been killed or even injured, somehow I doubt that Jorge Castaneda would have blamed the Mexican government!
Juan Hernandez is chief of the new office for assistance of Mexicans living in the U.S., a new post invented by Vicente Fox to underscore his northern ambitions. Hernandez, another white Mexican, was recently in the U.S., where he lectured America on the need to legalize all illegal aliens (well, all Mexican illegal aliens, that is!). In a splendid display of chutzpah, Hernandez said that Mexican illegal aliens deserve the right to become members of society and should not have to hide. There you have it, open borders by another name.
Adolfo Aguilar Zinser serves as Fox's national security adviser. To say that Aguilar-Zinser also thinks U.S. immigration laws are too strict goes without saying. But Americans should be aware that Aguilar, in an editorial in 2000, has called for the mobilization of Americans of Mexican ancestry to be used as a tool of Mexican foreign policy (hmm, that would include FrontPageMagazine.com editor Richard Poe, wouldn't it?). That the president shares such a strategy seems obvious. Shortly after his inauguration, Fox met with representatives of MALDEF and other U.S. pressure groups purporting to speak for Americans of Mexican ancestry. The topic of that meeting was immigration. During Fox's term, look for Mexico's leaders to attempt to blur the distinction between Americans of Mexican ancestry and Mexicans who live in the U.S., to further the interests of the Mexican government.
Clearly, Fox plans to control U.S. immigration policy. I expect his administration to pursue that goal by several tactics, employed simultaneously. Pressure for an amnesty, crocodile tears over border violence, deal-making with U.S. politicians and ethnic identity activists, and any other means will likely continue. Any attempt of the U.S. to control its own border with Mexico will be pronounced "racist" by Mexican politicians and journalists, as they have done for years already. Such critics wave the banner of "human rights", but scratch the surface and you can see that their real goal is open borders with the U.S. (Mexico's own immigration policies are much stricter than ours already, but somehow that never makes it to the negotiating table).
Many Americans have sincere misgivings about America's mass immigration policies, and with good reason. The present system is seriously flawed and in need of reform. According to a 2000 Zogby poll, 72% of Americans polled supported a lower level of immigration. But unless ordinary Americans speak out more forcefully on the subject, their interests will not be addressed. After all, big business (seeking cheap labor), ethnic identity activists (seeking political power) and the Mexican government (seeking to expand its "safety valve") have already carved out their spheres of influence and are working together to ensure that the system continues and grows. Immigration is, and should be a subject of debate. Isn't immigration policy the decision of American citizens? Or does Vicente Fox have the right to tell us how to run our own immigration policy? Nature abhors a vacuum, and if ordinary Americans don't speak up, Fox and his American allies will make your decisions for you.
Finally, another question should be asked, and I ask it as a friend of the Mexican people, who has lived here since 1991. My question is, Does mass immigration to the U.S. really help Mexico, in the long run? Many people would answer in the affirmative, but I'm not convinced. Certainly, Mexico's (mostly white) elite sees it as being in its interest. Their goal is to get as many of their poor darker-skinned countrymen out of the country for as long as possible. Get them to the U.S., where even illegal aliens receive public benefits and can even bring lawsuits. That way, they won't make the government look so bad, they won't use up resources, they won't commit crimes (well, at least not here in Mexico, and they won't cause trouble for the ruling elite (essentially the view advanced by Castaneda in The Atlantic Monthly). Furthermore, when the poor Mexicans in the U.S. have troubles, as they undoubtedly will, they can be loudly "defended" to score domestic political points and even used as a "Trojan horse" to influence U.S. immigration policy and perpetuate the system. Sounds like quite a deal for the elite, doesn't it? They get to have their cake and eat it too.
Bur from my vantage point, I see things differently. I perceive the overwhelming attraction of the American "safety valve" as, in the long run, detrimental. It casts a giant shadow over Mexico's social and economic life. The attraction entices men to leave their wives and children for months on end end, and it may be related to growing family disintegration here in Mexico, especially among the lower socioecomic classes.
In the words of Samuel Fernandez, a Catholic priest, " Yes, they have raised their lives a bit economically, but it is a pity, the divided houses we have here. The people morally, psychologically, have many problems. The families lose control, they lose unity, they lose the sense of being families. Every year more people leave. Every year the towns are more and more alone." Entire villages have practically become ghost towns as their menfolk (and sometimes womenfolk) have headed north. The "safety valve" phenomenon skews economic development, even enticing middle class Mexicans and Mexicans who already have employment here in Mexico to go north "for a few dollars more". Already some sectors of the Mexican economy are complaining of labor shortages they blame, at least partially, on the northward exodus of workers.The migration "safety valve" is taken into consideration as part of economic planning and fosters a collective mentality of dependence, and attitude of "why resolve the problems here, if they can go work in the U.S.?
In short, Mexico's "safety valve" addiction has a corrosive effect upon Mexican society, and, like any addiction, requires ever bigger "fixes" to continue getting high. It's disappointing that Vicente Fox, with all his good ideas and intentions, has opted not to end this corrosive addiction, but to increase the dosage. Maybe the American people need to help him end it.
The fact is that there are more constructive ways to help Mexicans than by continuing the mass immigration cop-out. Already there is a great amount of American private investment which helps the Mexican economy, and private American charities which help meet social needs. Instead of increasing mass immmigration, Bush should work on ways to stimulate more American investment and charity going to Mexico, to help Mexicans construct a future in their own country. It sounds suspiciously like "compassionate conservatism," does it not? And it would be much better than exacerbating the present problems caused by an immigration system that is really not good for either country.
Allan E. Wall is an American citizen who has lived and worked in Mexico since 1991. Presently employed as an English instructor and administrator, Allan has legal permission from the Mexican government to live and work in Mexico under the rubric of an FM-2 migration document (No. 312448) for which he had to pay $1,816.00 pesos for renewal this past year. Allan would be glad to receive questions or comments (pro or con), at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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