Mexico is starting to care about immigration
Ruben Navarrette SAN DIEGO -- Less than two years after taking office, Mexican President Felipe Calderon is getting mixed reviews from the Mexican people. On the one hand, he gets high marks for reforming the tax system, fixing a massive public p...
SAN DIEGO -- Less than two years after taking office, Mexican President Felipe Calderon is getting mixed reviews from the Mexican people. On the one hand, he gets high marks for reforming the tax system, fixing a massive public pension fund and launching a $25 billion public works initiative. But he is also getting flak for not being vocal enough in protesting what many Mexicans see as the harsh and unfair treatment of their sons and daughters in the United States.
That is a fascinating turnabout. Not long ago, Mexicans were much too proud to think about the migrants who fled to the north searching for better opportunities. Now they're demanding that their leaders go to bat for these expatriates against what they see as a cruelty born of American xenophobia.
And that's why Calderon is on a whirlwind, five-day swing though the United States. Aides say that the main purpose of the trip is to focus attention on the Mexican immigrant community in this country.
Even before leaving Mexico City, Calderon set off fireworks with provocative interviews in U.S. newspapers. He surveyed the U.S. presidential race and noted approvingly that moderates have done well. "The most radical and anti-immigrant candidates have been left behind and have been put in their place by their own electorate," he told one reporter.
Indeed, the three leading candidates for president -- John McCain, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton -- all support a comprehensive approach that provides a path to legalization. Although McCain now says that his first priority would be to secure the border, he hasn't ruled out legalization once the border is under control.
Yet, Calderon noted to another reporter, conservative talk show hosts and others are ratcheting up their anti-immigrant rhetoric and creating a hostile environment for all Mexicans in the United States. Calderon said this has produced "an atmosphere full of prejudice, an anti-immigrant atmosphere with certain themes that are also anti-Mexican, that benefits no one." And, he said, the worst thing that can happen is that countries mistake neighbors for enemies.
Many Americans commit that error. They're so reluctant to accept any responsibility for illegal immigration -- a self-inflicted wound that they bring upon themselves by aggressively hiring illegal immigrants -- they can't wait to pin the blame on Mexico and its leaders.
I hear it all the time. It's as if many Americans are waiting around for Mexico to solve our immigration problem by creating jobs south of the border or physically restraining those intent on crossing into the United States. If so, they're going to be waiting a long time. Mexico now takes in about $23 billion annually in remittances from Mexicans living in the United States. It has no interest in turning off the golden faucet.
Calderon would probably argue with me about that, just as he did when we were graduate school classmates in 2000. He believes, as many Mexicans are slowly realizing, that the country is losing some of their best people and that the Mexican family -- perhaps the country's most beloved institution -- is disintegrating because of massive migration.
For me -- and, I dare say, for many Mexican-Americans who are loyal to this country and not the one that had little use for our parents or grandparents -- the immigration debate is an issue of national sovereignty. Calderon accepts that nations have the right to enforce their laws and control their borders. But, for him, this is also an issue of human rights -- rights that don't vanish at the U.S.-Mexico border.
That's the message Calderon intends to spread around the United States in the next few days as he tries to assure his country's runaways that Mexico hasn't forgotten them and remains attentive to their needs.
It's a good message -- and one that the poor souls would have, no doubt, appreciated hearing before they packed their bags and headed north.
Ruben Navarrette's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .