Mexico sees silver lining in Arizona immigration law

The Arizona immigration law, and a similar one passed by a town in Nebraska, is supported by a majority of Americans. But Mexico sees broader American opposition to these immigration initiatives than in the past anti-immigrant efforts.

Amanda Lee Myers/AP
Minerva Ruiz, an illegal immigrant from Los Mochis in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, smiles as she sorts through clothes that she's selling at a garage sale in Phoenix, in this photo taken June 4. She and her two best friends and their families held the garage sale to save up money to leave Arizona because of its new immigration law.

As if the Arizona immigration law intended to scare off illegal immigrants were not bad enough, Mexicans lament, now a town in Nebraska has voted to bar undocumented residents from renting homes or securing jobs.

From the view south of the border, times could not be worse in terms of America´s disregard for Mexico.

But a curious thing is happening. Mexicans are also seeing a new level of American discontent percolating over US immigration initiatives, much of it coming from unexpected corners.

 “I know that there are many Americans for the law, but there are many against it too,” says Angel Hernandez, a Mexico City resident washing his car on a recent day. “There are many Americans uniting to support us.”

IN PICTURES: The US/Mexico border

That support, note Mexicans, seems to come from the very top. President Obama says he'll challenge the Arizona initiative in court. On a recent visit to Ecuador, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed that the administration intends a lawsuit.

And beyond the Washington beltway, cities from Baltimore to Seattle have opposed the Arizona law, passing resolutions and some even barring municipal employees from traveling to the state. The Arizona Diamondbacks, the Major League Baseball team, face protesters at their games around the United States.

This is not the first time Mexico has seen support in the face of tougher measures against immigrants.

Immigration and race

Mexicans felt solidarity during mass marches in 2006 that erupted across the US, calling for comprehensive immigration reform. But those marches, though attended widely by all sectors, were perceived as being organized largely by immigrants and immigrant rights groups. This chapter has drawn criticism from many sectors of American society. It's not just seen as an immigration issue but as a racial profiling concern.

This fight resonates with the overall population, says Allert Brown-Gort, associate director of the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies. “This is starting to become a civil rights issue,” he explains. “During [the] 2006 marches, it was clear that it was a powerful movement, that there was passion behind it. … But once you start looking at the Arizona law, and the fact that it basically says, look at me, I am brown, ask me for my papers, it starts resonating with people.”

Mexico has voiced vehement opposition to the law. On Tuesday, it presented a brief in a US federal court in Arizona citing “grave concerns.” “Mexican citizens will be afraid to visit Arizona for work or pleasure out of concern that they will be subject to unlawful police scrutiny and detention,” the brief said, according to the Associated Press.

Overwhelmingly Mexicans also oppose the Arizona law. Carlos Pino, who owns an ice-cream store in Mexico City, says that even though it is a local initiative it increases the overall sentiment of being “undesirables,” he says. “Mexicans can feel that rejection.”

A Washington Post/ABC News poll from earlier this month shows that 58 percent of Americans support the law in Arizona, whose governor says it had no choice but to pass an initiative – which allows suspicious police to question those stopped for other offenses about their immigration status – because of federal inaction on immigration.

But the poll notes that race colors perceptions of the Arizona immigration law. While 68 percent of whites support it, only 31 percent of nonwhites back it.

While a definite majority of Americans support the Arizona immigration law and many more initiatives are expected, such as the most recent in Fremont, Neb., many Americans are also opposed. And that gives Jessica Fabiola Vega, a librarian in Mexico City, hope that something positive can be gained. “We are seeing support from the US too, not just from immigrants, and maybe that is something good that could come out of this.”

But, she adds, the US government needs to do more than just verbally oppose the bill. “That is welcome, but as of now the law will still go into effect.”

IN PICTURES: The US/Mexico border


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