Recently, Mexican President Felipe Calderon visited the United States in an effort to strengthen foreign relations between the two neighboring countries. Usually, diplomatic trips are given a brief obligatory blip in the local papers, but President Calderon became a headline when he decried Arizona's new immigration law before the U.S. Congress. It's a headline for multiple reasons, but the principal purpose is that foreign dignitaries seldom rebuke domestic policy on U.S. soil. His timing appeared opportune, and it underscored the reason why he visited the United States.
To say that times are tough in the U.S. is an understatement, but it isn't much different in Mexico either. Last year, Mexico's GDP fell by 6.5%, which is comparable to the 6.1% drop experienced in the United States. All of Mexico's revenue streams are trending downward including their remittances.
A remittance is a money transfer from a foreigner to his native homeland. In 2008, Mexican immigrants living in the U.S. sent $25.3 billion back to their homeland, roughly equalling 3% of Mexico's GDP. Remittances from immigrants living in the U.S. have become Mexico's largest source of revenue second only to their oil industry.
President Calderon's visit to the U.S. shortly after Arizona passed their immigration law was not a mere coincidence, but an effort to protect Mexico's vital economic interests. If Arizona's immigration law were aggressively implemented, it is logical to conclude that the corresponding decrease in illegal immigrants would reduce remittances to Mexico as well. This would be detrimental to Mexico's economy.
President Calderon condemned Arizona's law as "criminalizing migration" and treating "people that work and provide things to this nation" as criminals. He also said that Arizona "introduces a terrible idea using racial profiling as the basis for law enforcement." This is an odd analysis coming from a president who's own immigration policy "criminalizes migration" and uses racial profiling as "the basis of their law enforcement". Let's go over some of Mexico's immigration policy and see how it compares to Arizona's new law.
First, illegal immigration in Arizona is considered a misdemeanor punishable by a fine and a day in court. In Mexico, illegal immigration is deemed a felony that carries a penalty up to 10 years in prison for a repeated offence. In terms of punishment, Mexico's law is more severe.
Second, illegal immigrants in Arizona have a right to "due process", which means they are provided with free representation in court by an attorney. In Mexico, illegal immigrants are thrown into unsanitary detention facilities and access to justice is denied unless they can prove their legal status. If they cannot, they are rounded up en masse and deported to places like Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. There are no sanctuary cities in Mexico, and they do not release you back into the general population to await another court date.
According the Mexican National Human Rights Commission, nearly 10,000 immigrants in Mexico were abducted and held for ransom in 2009 alone. Also, a stunning 60% of female migrants experienced some sort of sexual violence.
Amnesty International has called Mexico's immigration policy "a major human rights crisis leaving them with virtually no access to justice, fearing reprisals and deportation if they complain about abuses". Rupert Knox, Amnesty's researcher in Mexico, said that Mexico's failure to tackle abuses against migrants makes travelling through Mexico one the most dangerous [trips] in the world.
Third, illegal immigrants in Arizona have access to free Emergency Rooms, Ob Gyn centers, food stamps, legal representation, subsidized housing, and education up to the 12th grade. In Mexico, migrants have to show immigration papers to receive any public education or health care services. And unlike Wisconsin, illegals in Mexico don't get in-state tuition reimbursement for college.
Fourth, in Mexico, citizens must be able to show identification for proof of citizenship. This is the same component of the Arizona law that President Calderon publicly condemned as racial profiling. But in Mexico, authorities frequently ask "gueros" for identification. They also require bank statements to show that immigrants can sustain themselves economically. For emphasis, let us repeat that Mexican officers routinely target gueros or miclos (light-skinned Mexicans) when determining one's immigration status. In Arizona, a law must be broken or prevention measures must be taken before the police can build a case based upon articulable evidence to warrant checking one's immigration status. Yes, it's a mouthful, but a law must be broken first before a cop can build a reasonable suspicion, not the other way around.
It's reasonable to presume that President Calderon didn't come to the United States to fight for the human rights of Mexican immigrants fleeing from the homeland. It is more likely that Calderon stood up to Arizona to secure an interest vital to Mexico, otherwise called remittances.
Right now, Arizona is the only state that has made it a state crime to live in the country illegally. This will cause a problem for Mexico if it reduces the total amount of illegal immigrants in the United States. Now imagine if Texas, New Mexico, and California joined Arizona in enforcing federal law. This would be tantamount to Calderon's worst economic nightmare. It would essentially freeze the revenue spigot that flows into Mexico.
No, . . . President Calderon didn't come here to fight for human rights. My bet is that he doesn't care any more about Mexican immigrants in the U.S. than he does about Cuban immigrants in Mexico. Instead, he came to protect the $25 billion a year that flows into Mexico, most of which will never return to the U.S. economy.