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Opinion

Mexico should take a more active stance on US immigration reform

The Mexican government cannot afford the luxury of ignoring what is happening on immigration reform in the big and powerful North. And yet, it has taken a passive attitude. There are good historical reasons for this, but not a good one today.

By Luis Rubio / April 17, 2013

Sens. John McCain (R) (left) and Chuck Schumer (D) walk away after speaking to reporters about their meeting with President Obama on a bipartisan immigration reform bill April 16. Oped contributor Luis Rubio writes: Mexico 'should be willing to commit to a broad migratory arrangement whereby it would control the flows of future potential migrants moving from or through Mexico’s territory.'

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

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Mexico City

The Mexican government cannot afford the luxury of ignoring what is happening on immigration reform in the big and powerful North. And yet, it has taken a passive attitude. There are good historical reasons for this, but not a good one today.

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Within the Mexican government as well as in Mexican society at large there are two clearly differentiated positions vis-à-vis the immigration debate in the United States. Some people consider the migratory theme an internal matter of the US and some consider it a matter of national interest for Mexico. The former would prefer to put on blinders; the latter would embark upon a crusade. Each has relevant arguments to support their claim.

Those who would rather stay aloof believe that immigration is a domestic issue because it involves what is most essential to any nation: the composition of its society. A sovereign government has the authority to decide on the legal treatment of people that may have violated its laws at the very instant of entering the country or when overstaying the time permitted on an entry stamp. Those taking this position do not want to tell the US what to do because they don’t want the US to tell Mexico what it should do on this or other hot topics.

Then there are those who see the other side of the coin. More than 10 percent of the country’s population lives outside of Mexico, the vast majority of them (97 percent) in the US. This constituency is directly linked with a large part of the population (siblings, parents, children) back in Mexico. In some Mexican states, those connections represent more than half of the total number of its inhabitants. The government cannot ignore the obvious. Whatever decision the US ends up making on immigration, Mexico and Mexicans will be greatly affected. Hence, as much as the government might wish to lie low, this debate concerns vital matters that cannot be skirted.

As a result, Mexico’s government seems to be straddling both views. On the one hand, the government is preparing Mexican consulates (a network of 51 offices directly linked to Mexican communities in the US, including Puerto Rico) to inform those potentially affected of the possible legal changes – and of their rights. Second, it is actively stating its position and preferences and, most likely, proposals that would help control future flows of workers in exchange for a broad liberalization for those already in the US. Finally, it is preparing to work with communities that are most affected by migrants in order to allay fears and advance its own perspective on the matter.

A decade ago, Mexico’s government went out on a limb trying to advance legalization of those Mexicans working without papers in the US. Although there are disputes as to how advanced that process was, the fact is that September 11, 2001 ended all discussions and the then-Mexican president, Vicente Fox, was left with nothing to show for his efforts.

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