Arizona immigration law prompts Mexico to extend repatriation aid program

In response to the controversial Arizona immigration law, Mexico extended a repatriation program to help ease the transition of illegal migrants back home. The governments says the Arizona law could lead to a flood of returnees when it goes into effect, but most Mexicans are skeptical.

Claudio Cruz/AP
A woman protests against the new Arizona immigration law in front of the US Embassy in Mexico City, Saturday. The sign reads in Spanish 'Death Camp. Law SB1070.'

In response to the controversial new Arizona immigration law, Mexico is extending a program that helps citizens living illegally in the US return home.

Need medical attention? Need something to eat? The website of the Mexican National Migration Institute illustrates how the voluntary repatriation program works.

But few in Mexico are expecting a flood of new returnees. Last year about 500,000 Mexicans were repatriated from the US, an average annual number, according to National Migration Institute (INM).

IN PICTURES: The US/Mexico border

While the country is spending some money to ease the transition home for Mexicans who want to return, most with steady jobs in the US are unlikely to sign up for the program.

“There will not be a massive return, unlike what is expected,” says Rodolfo Cruz, a professor in the population studies department at the College of the Northern Border in Tijuana (COLEF). “In Mexico they do not have employment options, and they are well aware of this…It would be much more expensive for them to return [to Mexico]. Because they’ll return, spend money, not find any [work] or find work that does not meet their economic needs and will go once more to the United States.”

The head of Mexico's INM, Cecilia Romero, said that the repatriation program, is being extended this year because of concerns that more Mexicans will be driven out of Arizona. “It is probable that when the [new immigration] law of Arizona goes into effect, repatriations and deportations of Mexicans will go up,” she said recently.

The program will run from June 1 through Sept. 28, during which federal, state, and local authorities will help Mexican migrants, pointing them towards medical attention should they need it and helping them avoid criminal groups who prey on them on the way home.

The new Arizona immigration law directs police to determine immigration status if they are suspicious of criminal activity. Currently, police officers can inquire about a person’s immigration status only if that person is a suspect in another crime.

Rodolfo Mendez, who parks cars for a Mexico City restaurant, says his brother is an undocumented worker in Arizona and is considering leaving Arizona for another US state but not returning home. He wouldn't be able to earn enough to support his six children working the fields in his hometown of Santa Catarina, Oaxaca. The program could help his brother, “but it is no solution to the Arizona law.”

Hilario Fuentes, a newspaper vendor in Mexico City whose daughter lives illegally in Los Angeles, says he thinks few migrants living in the US would agree to voluntary repatriation. “They wouldn’t accept it, because people go [to the US] out of necessity. They leave their families out of necessity,” he says. His daughter has been deported four times, but keeps returning to Los Angeles to be with her American-born children.

Mr. Cruz says that Mexican action against the law, which has ranged from travel alerts to canceled bilateral meetings in Arizona, is popular in Mexico.

“Any help given to immigrants in the state of Arizona will be welcomed, because the new law is one of the strongest and most racist that has passed [in the US],” he says. But the real support will need to go toward Mexican consulates in Phoenix and Tucson once the law goes into effect, he says. “They will need help in presenting discrimination cases, abuse cases, civil rights violations…More than anything they will need information about what their rights are.”

IN PICTURES: The US/Mexico border


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