Saturday, August 11, 2012

APNewsBreak: US, Mexico disagree over border fence | Nation & World | The Seattle Times

APNewsBreak: US, Mexico disagree over border fence | Nation & World | The Seattle Times

As suggested in the previous post, the border fence is corrosive of relations between our two countries.

A View From the Border on the U.S. Immigration Debate

A View From the Border on the U.S. Immigration Debate 

 08/08/2012 4:44 pm
Nativists favor devolution when it comes to state laws like Arizona's SB 1070, but they are not so open to the collective wisdom of border communities on immigration. A recent gathering in El Paso, Texas served as a reminder of how outlandish the national immigration debate looks from the perspective of the U.S.-Mexico border region. It also revealed the potential of border communities to ground and redirect this debate. The event, organized by the Border Network for Human Rights, joined elected officials, law enforcement agencies, religious leaders, academics, journalists and community organizers in a dialogue over how to improve life in the border region.

The participants broadly supported U.S. immigration enforcement priorities and lamented the threats posed by drug cartels and human smugglers, particularly to youth. However, many wondered why the use of federal enforcement resources did not reflect these priorities. As Andrew Sellee of the Wilson Center has argued, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) "prioritizes terrorism, transnational crime, and immigration violators in that priority order, but Congress and the Department seem to actually apportion resources in the exact inverse order." At the same time, participants rejected the dominant narrative of a violent, chaotic and lawless border region, pointing out that they live in some of nation's safest communities. A consistent theme was that politically motivated rhetoric regarding an out-of-control border deterred investment, led to adventitious public policies, and otherwise ill-served border communities. As DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano has frequently pointed out, this rhetoric also dismisses the hard-work, sacrifices and judgments of federal law enforcement agents.

Border residents, many with bi-national families, tend to view sovereignty as more than an expression of a state's power to exclude and to deny membership. The El Paso conversation assumed that the United States and Mexico have an affirmative responsibility to facilitate family life, to promote trade and commerce, to protect migrants, and to work together to address environmental, public health and economic challenges that cannot be solved unilaterally. Border residents understand the immense potential of globalization to improve the material well-being of their communities, but have also experienced the displacement and insecurities that the globalized economy can cause. Several participants spoke in support "fair" trade, not just full trade, and said they would like to "humanize" the dialogue on globalization. They hope to begin a conversation that goes beyond the customary acknowledgment of globalization's "winners and losers," and that addresses how its benefits can be more broadly and equitably shared.

Border residents overwhelmingly support a secure and orderly border. The well-being of their communities depends on it. They seek a border where virtually all migration is legal, not because the two nations forego their responsibility to regulate admissions, but because their laws align with the labor, family, development and protection needs of residents, visitors and passers-through. Many speakers, particularly the public officials, questioned the symbolism and efficacy of the border wall. The federal government must repair thousands of breaches in the wall each year. Meanwhile, under-investment in ports-of-entry stunts bi-national trade and commerce, increases the nation's vulnerability to entries by drug traffickers and other transnational criminals, and degrades the environment as vehicles regularly wait for hours to enter. Participants also criticized resource disparities between traditional Border Patrol operations and initiatives to interdict the southward flow of the firearms and drug profits that fuel Mexico's murderous drug cartels.

Although illegal border crossings have fallen to rates not seen in decades, the Secure Fence Act of 2006 requires "operational control" of the land and maritime border, which Congress immodestly defined as "the prevention of all unlawful entries into the United States." Participants argued that this goal will never be achieved and that this may be the point: setting the enforcement bar so impossibly high relieves Congress of the need to pass meaningful reform legislation. Edward Alden of the Council on Foreign Relations has usefully compared this zero-tolerance approach to illegal migration, with far more modest U.S. apprehension rates for violent crimes, even murders.
On May 24, 2001, the Border Patrol found four migrants wandering east of Yuma, Ariz., in the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. The four had broken away from a group of 26, who came from the Mexican states of Guerrero and Veracruz. Smugglers had lied to the migrants about the distance they had walk and had directed each of them to carry only one gallon of water, despite 115 degree temperatures. Ultimately, search and rescue teams found six clusters from this group. Fourteen died, including Mario Castillo-Fernandez, a 25-year-old father of a 4-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter from the village of Cuatro Caminos in Veracruz. He earned 35 pesos a day -- then and now about $3 -- working on coffee and citrus plantations. He had a humble goal: to find work that would allow him to finish construction of his cinder-block house.

At their best, border communities do not see migrant crossing deaths as a statistical trend or reporting issue. Good Samaritans devote their time, sweat and toil to prevent deaths. Religious groups commemorate the lives lost, particularly of those who will never be identified. Many Border Patrol agents take a "there but for the grace of God" attitude toward the migrants that they encounter, living and dead.

Much has changed on the U.S.-Mexico border over the last decade, but migrant crossing deaths have continued. In fact, fatality rates have increased and federal officials report a sharp upsurge in crossings by unaccompanied minors, mostly from Central America. These children -- driven by gang violence, crop failure and other factors -- run the gauntlet of cartels, smugglers, criminals and deadly crossing routes.

We hear virtually nothing these days from the presidential campaigns, elected officials or the media about why migrants (including children) expose themselves to these well-known dangers, or why our nation's massive national security infrastructure fails to safeguard these most desperate of human beings. From the perspective of the U.S.-Mexico border, this still-unfolding tragedy looks like a good place to restart the trifling U.S. immigration debate.

Drone (un)Ethics on the Border

Great, reflective piece by Dr. Devon G. Peña. -Angela

Philosophers rationalize drone patrols
By Devon G. Peña
Credit: Yonatan Frimer. Team of Monkeys
What goes by the name of ‘justice’ is often merely the violence and thievery practiced by those holding the reins of power.
Mark LeVine (2012)
There is a saying, “All’s fair in love and war,” that takes on new meaning with the increasing use of Uninhabited Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or ‘drones.’ There is a fierce political and ethical debate surrounding the use of drones by the U.S. military and in particular the deployment of this technology as an assassination weapon in the so-called “War on Terror.” Less concern has been expressed over the deployment of drones as a border control and surveillance technology along the 2000 miles of the U.S.-Mexico international boundary. We can discern much about the state of exception in the U.S. by analyzing the striking convergence between what philosophers are saying about the ethics of the use of drones in Pakistan tribal areas and other locales subject to this assassination program and what partisans are touting in the context of the politics of immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border, understood as a different kind of war zone.
I will start with a quote from a recent article by an ethics professor from the University of Connecticut with the revealing title, “Moral predators: The duty to employ uninhabited aerial vehicles,” in which the author rebukes those who object to the use of these ‘faceless’ death machines:
 …we have a duty to protect an agent engaged in a justified act from harm to the greatest extent possible, as long as that protection does not interfere with the agent’s ability to act justly…Therefore, we are obligated to employ UAV [drone] weapon systems…The point…is…that there is nothing wrong in principle with using a UAV and that, other things being equal, using such technology is, in fact, obligatory.
Bradley. J. Strawser, Journal of Military Ethics (2010)
I am one of those that thinks military intelligence and military ethics are contradictions in terms; they just do not belong together.  But, the philosophers have spoken and the word is: Drones are an ethical means for the conduct of war, even if they involve faceless killing, collateral damage, and the removal of the customary constraints against going to war because the technology lowers the jus ad bellum threshold – it makes it too easy to get belligerent since the aggressor faces no prospect of casualties. 
Remote war through these technologies is said to make going to war, or engaging in acts of violence, much easier. But I do not think the U.S. has ever had a problem about going to war or using weapons to settle disputes; this is how the country was settled and stolen from Native peoples. There is seldom any hesitation and so I question the hand-wringing of the liberals who bemoan the advent of remote-controlled (qua joystick) war machines.
The U.S. is the most belligerent hegemonic power in the history of the planet. But critics are correct to object and point that this is not even close to being about war, just or otherwise. It is about the use of faceless violence to propagate an assassination program with high levels of so-called collateral damage or civilian casualties; some estimates hold that 32 percent of casualties are unarmed civilians. It is also about the collapse of our civil liberties as UAV technologies are deployed by police and other law enforcement agencies in the domestic theater [sic]; a warning pun intended.
What does this matter of assassination warfare have to do with the deployment of drones along the U.S.-Mexico border? Surely, we are not using drones to kill undocumented immigrants as they cross the border?
We must first understand that politicos have done a masterful propaganda trick convincing a majority of U.S. citizens that there is not just a War on Terror, but there is an endless litany of wars; The War on Drugs; War on Voter Fraud; War on Obesity; War on Christianity and Christmas; War on Insect Pests; and of course the War on [white male] Freedom [dominance] and War on Western Civilization, which lead to the War on Ethnic Studies; finally, we have the grand old War on Illegal Aliens [sic] and the Border Wars. We are apparently addicted to War or at least to war and belligerency as perfect tropes for the American way of life [sic] or death. These are more than metaphors invoked by over-zealous journalists or the symbols of right-wing partisans.
U.S. white settler society has been waging Border Wars for at least a hundred and fifty years. We need only recall the intense border conflagrations against Native Americans memorialized in comic books and second-rate history books, including the 1912 doozy, Border Wars of Texas (see below). The author of that triumphalist book, James T. DeShields, was able to relish in the glow of the white imaginary of Manifest Destiny and so dedicated his treatise on Army violence against Native Americans and Mexicans to
The Sons and Daughters of Those Noble Pioneer Fathers and Mothers who . . . battled so bravely for supremacy and . . . made possible all the glorious blessings that have followed…[The original dust jacket describes the book as a testament to]…the early battles of those advancing pioneers as they relentingly [sic] encroached across the borders of the territories which the Indians believed to be theirs…made invaluable by his extensive use of other primary source material such as his numerous turn-of-the-century interviews and correspondence with early Texas Rangers and frontiersmen who were yet living. Many of his accounts are found nowhere else in publications of Texas history and thus provide fresh insights into the history of Texas’ wars against the Indians. [brackets added]

At least this dedication is completely honest and clear: These Border Wars were/are totally about attaining white supremacy; this sure beats the hell out of all the post-modernist ambiguity that ends up rationalizing domination or depoliticizing the possibility of resistance while pretending we are all above the violence because we can safely celebrate difference now and become transborder subjects. Right. Try telling that to the immigrants getting shot at by Minutemen militia members, while the drones stalk them from invisible heights.

While there will not likely be any armed drones conducting border patrol duty any time soon, there are plenty of anti-immigrant nativists who harbor serious fantasies of violence against the “invading brown tides” and are rooted in this legacy of white fantasies of border wars and conquests. 
However, I advise my readers to not place this past the realm of the possible; at least not yet. I recall when I was in Juárez-El Paso in 1979 working on my dissertation that a controversial made-for-TV movie on a nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviets came out; this was before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The film was titled “The Day After” and it largely focused on the survivors’ efforts to live after the atomic holocaust.
Credit: MGM Home Video
The regional chief administrator of the Border Patrol was interviewed after the screening of the movie and asked to explain the policy of the U.S. toward border control in the event of a nuclear war. The agent explained that there were fighter jets on alert from Holloman Air Force Base and that the air forces were under orders to strafe the border with live rounds and missiles to prevent Mexicans from pouring over the border into the United States. I remind readers that Holloman AFB is the primary operations base for Air Force flights of Predator and Reaper drones.
I was, of course, astounded by this response; the racist response was striking but the more so because I kept wondering: Why would Mexicans cross over into a nuclear-devastated country? Would it not be people in the U.S. fleeing to cross into Mexico to get away from the radiation fallout? It made perfect sense though: We always think that as soon as our country is weakened or we let our “guard” down, the “wetbacks” will invade. It was a revelatory moment and its profundity was sadly missed by most and the comment passed without protest or further analysis.
More than thirty years later, we are doing a lot more than harboring plans to bomb the border in the event of a national security emergency. We are already in a state of emergency while actively pursuing a policy of militarization and encampment – i.e., making our country not so much a fortress as a concentration camp filling detention centers with disappearing bodies.

Along the way, the War on Terror and the War on Illegal Immigration got conflated, producing an especially pernicious and lethal combination on the ground. There is no doubt that the telluric partisans on the extreme right – those who want to deport all immigrants and electrify the southern border – love the idea of drone technology. As the price of the technology plummets we can be sure that the militias, Minutemen, and other border vigilantes will deploy these as well.
Border control. Credit: Fernando Llera
Killer drones are now part of the symbolic politics that permeate the entire hate-and-fear iconography of the so-called War on Illegal Aliens [sic]. A recent political cartoon (shown to the right), which was originally intended for Mexican newspapers, has gone viral across the right-wing blogosphere. It depicts a smiling drone chasing a stereotypical Mexican in a large sombrero helplessly fleeing from a missile bearing down on his back.
The Minutemen Project – which now uses the tag-line, “A multi-ethnic immigration enforcement advocacy group,” to make itself sound more civil, diverse, and palatable – is celebrating the deployment of multiple surveillance drones along the U.S.-Mexico border with this declaration:
(The Republic) - A new unmanned aircraft has arrived in Arizona and will be the fourth in the states fleet to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border. The Arizona Daily Star reports ( that the aircraft, also known as a drone, arrived Tuesday. In all, six drones patrol the border from California to Texas, doing things most manned aircraft can’t. Their cameras can determine from as far as 10 miles away if a ground sensor was set off by drug smugglers or cows. They also can collect intelligence on suspicious behavior at houses without anyone knowing because they fly so high and are quieter than other aircraft. The drone costs about $6 million, while the antennas, radar, maintenance and other operational costs total $18.5 million per drone.

Whatever the cause or future of drone technology, it should go without saying that the use of UAVs by the Border Patrol and other federal and local police agencies clearly represent a ready-made threat to our civil liberties. To appease us, the industry and the Pentagon have already developed a Drone Code of Conduct.  Promises not to accidentally spy on us are being made and the Department of Homeland Security and law enforcement agencies are asserting that no one will keep or use the results of “innocent” eavesdropping on untargeted civilians (and their conversations or movements).  Don’t we all feel better already!
UAV technology also represents a threat to the lives of undocumented immigrants who are being driven into ever more isolated and dangerous terrain during their journeys to the U.S. in search of jobs or families, but no one in government or right-wing freedom-loving groups seems overly concerned with the ethics of a border policy that is resulting in thousands of deaths. This is the nature of drone ethics: What goes by the name of ‘justice’ is often merely the violence and thievery practiced by those holding the reins of power.
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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Valenzuela: A Reflection on Age and Generation: The Raza Unida Party Reunion

Valenzuela: A Reflection on Age and Generation: The Raza Unida Party Reunion

Last Updated: 15 July 2012
By Angela Valenzuela

AUSTIN, July 15 - I had the wonderful opportunity of celebrating the 40-year anniversary of the Raza Unida Party by attending a statewide reunion in Austin last weekend.

I have been reflecting on a comment made by a young person attending the reunion: “You older folks need to make way for the younger generation.”

“In whose way are they standing?” I thought to myself. Mal educado, ese muchacho. Poor manners. What a silly thing for a young person to say, generally, but particularly at a Raza Unida Party reunion attended by activists.

Just prior to the conference, one of our elders, the renowned Martha Cotera, shared this dicho with me in the context of a conversation that we were having about our political identities and nurturing the next generation: "Al que a buen árbol se arrima, buena sombra le cobija." ("If we get close to a good tree, a good shade covers us.") This is a statement about mentorship. We shouldn’t bask in someone’s shadow, but rather in their shade. Mentorship experiences should be nurturing and fulfilling.

We need our elders. They offer much wisdom, knowledge, and experience that the younger generation can still benefit from. As I spoke to members of this earlier generation before and during the conference, what became evident is how the movement energy lit an unquenchable fire for social justice, with many holding positions of leadership and high esteem within our communities to this very day. Martha Cotera is a great example of one of them.

This was and remains a formidable generation that has left our community and the world with a continuing and enduring legacy in the righteous struggle for civil and human rights. This was a generation that decided that being Mexican and speaking Spanish was not only a private identity, but a public one, as well.

This generation used arguments about history and identity to lay claim to their charter member status, not as immigrants but as natives to this land of the Southwest.

This generation talked back to oppression and said: “We didn't cross the border; the border crossed us."

As the late Gloria Anzaldua said in her landmark text, BORDERLANDS/LA FRONTERA, there isn’t a Tejano or a Tejana alive who doesn’t know that the lands were taken away. It’s in our “cultural DNA” as this knowledge provides us with the cultural antibodies that we need to endure an entire history of conquest and colonization fraught with discriminatory laws, policies, and practices.

A lot of these persons—if not most—have continued to be civically engaged in one way or another. And many of them are now retired and with more time on their hands. They were young activists 40 years ago; they are young, retiring Baby Boomers today. This was and remains an exceptional generation regardless of their age and we need them now more than ever.

Angela Valenzuela, Ph.D., is a professor at the College of Education at the University of Texas at Austin. Valenzuela serves as the director of the University of Texas Center for Education Policy.

Mexicans Pay in Blood for America's War on Drugs

Mexicans Pay in Blood for America's War on Drugs

By Charles Bowden, Molly Molloy

published: August 02, 2012

The American press continues to report the body count in Mexico's "War on Drugs" at more than 50,000 dead. But Molly Molloy, a researcher at New Mexico State University, tallies more than 100,000 Mexicans killed to wage a war financed and mandated by American authorities and led by Mexican President Felipe Calderón.
The carnage has been so remarkable — mass executions, beheadings, mutilations, men, women, children — that the outgoing Calderón has announced he may leave the country lest he become a statistic.
And yet The New York Times on July 4 declared the War on Drugs a cruel failure, claiming that the price of cocaine, for example, is 74 percent cheaper now than it was 30 years ago. America has spent $20 to $25 billion a year to stem the flow of narcotics, to no good end.
The evening news vibrates with the mayhem in Syria, where the recent uprising has cost 17,000 lives. During the 12 years of the Vietnam War, broadcasts tracked the 50,000 Americans who perished on the other side of the world. But the 100,000 Mexicans lost supplying America's thirst for drugs are, for the most part, unremarked upon. Mexico elected a new president earlier this month. Enrique Peña Nieto promises to put an end to the killing, yet his only new proposal is to create another paramilitary force — like those implicated in much of the killing happening now.
Arizona author Charles Bowden and his New Mexico partner, Molly Molloy, have written a highly personal tale of the devastation as illuminated by the trail of murdered Mexican journalists. Survivors have gathered at a barbecue in Texas, where the story unfolds.--Michael Lacey, executive editor, Village Voice Media
___________________________________________ Children play in the pool, hamburgers and hot dogs sizzle on the grill. The exiles will be here shortly after their year in flight from a house full of dead people. Everyone at the party has dead people murdered in Mexico by the Mexican government with the silent consent of the United States government. There are 100,000 slaughtered Mexicans now. These gatherings will grow larger.
Carlos Spector hosts this fiesta. He is an American immigration lawyer in El Paso, but in the past four years his practice has been taken over by political-asylum seekers, Mexicans with no money fleeing a Mexican government that wants to kill them. He is also a product of Mexico and spent a lot of his childhood on the other side of the Rio Grande. Now he cannot go there, because the Mexican army would like to kill him too.
Like everyone here, he had planned a different life. His father came down from New York, fell in love with a Mexican girl and raised a family across the river, in the village of Guadalupe. When Carlos left the U.S. Air Force, he studied sociology, but gave that up because "it was too slow. I didn't want to study the state, I wanted to smash it."
An old woman sits silently at the party. Sara Salazar, matriarch of the Reyes Salazar clan, is about 80 years old and from Guadalupe. Carlos Spector knew her people as a child. They killed some of her grown sons — one, two, three, just like that — and two daughters, also.
The woman in the blue blouse with the bangs and the ponytail worked as the police secretary in Guadalupe "before they killed everyone," she notes. The man in the green shirt — he was a city councilman before he fled for his life. The man with the sober face — he is the sole surviving son. He was a baker before the killing got bad. Then they burned the house down; the family library of 3,000 books perished in the flames. In his bakery, he always had someone reading out loud while everyone worked. The same day the house burned, the crosses vanished from the graves of murdered family members and were deposited against the Mexican army barracks in Guadalupe. In their little town of 3,000 people, 250 have been murdered.
Saul, the baker, the surviving brother, says, "Sometimes I start to cry. I lost half my family, my job. What more can I lose? Sometimes I worry even here in El Paso, but if I am murdered here, at least it will be investigated."

He has a book in which he has carefully written down the names and dates of all the dead because he thinks someone should remember what has happened to his town and his nation and someday tell it, lest the lies become the history. Martha Gellhorn, the fearless novelist and reporter portrayed by Nicole Kidman in the recent HBO series Hemingway & Gellhorn, came out of her wars and wrote, "If nobody puts it down on the record anywhere, then the monsters win totally."

At last the exiles arrive: Miguel Angel López Solana, 32, his wife, Vanessa, younger. People came and killed Miguel's father and his mother and his brother. For months, he and his wife bounced between their home in Veracruz, Mexico City and the border. Finally, they fled to Corpus Christi, Texas, and waited for a chance to return to Mexico. Then in May of this year, four more people from their circle were slaughtered, and they knew that a return home was impossible. They called Carlos Spector.

About 40 percent of Spector's firm's time now goes to pro bono cases of Mexicans seeking political asylum in the United States. Some weeks he wonders if he can make payroll. He says, "There was a time I stopped doing these cases, and that's when I got fucked up. This is now a calling for me, not a profession."

In the United States, there are reports of a war between the Mexican government and the drug business. In the United States, drug laws fill prisons and recruit citizens to be convicts and rural Americans to be jailers. In Mexico, the whispers are of the Mexican government killing Mexicans. In Mexico, the secret history of the American War on Drugs is being written on the corpses of the Mexican people.
Carlos sits at the fiesta in his backyard surrounded by messengers from the dead.
Sara Salazar is silent, her hair gray, a face carved from stone.
Miguel Angel López Solana and his wife smile.
They also know things Americans find hard to believe.
They must tell their stories.
It is all they have left.

Miguel is determined to remember. When the killings come to his life, he sits down and writes: My father, Miguel Angel López Velasco, known as "Milo Vela," began working at Notiver about thirty years ago. My mother, Agustina Solana, was a homemaker. My younger brother, Misael López Solana, was a photojournalist and worked with my father. Milo's journalism was characterized by publicizing citizens' complaints, exposing corruption and narcotrafficking. He expressed his opinions about all of these things. Milo Vela's journalism was critical.
In the old faded photograph, Miguel the son is 2 years old and sits at the keyboard of a telex wire machine in the newspaper office in Veracruz.
Milo Vela spent most of his career at Notiver, the daily paper of the port city of Veracruz. He covered crime, became a columnist and edited the police section. He taught his sons not to believe in political parties, since they all lied and were corrupt. He taught his sons that news was a calling. Sometimes Miguel and his father would simply sit in a car outside of the Red Cross center waiting for an accident to be called in. They were newsmen.

Ever since I was a child, I remember that my father worked all day for the newspaper, Notiver. I only saw him sleeping while I was getting ready to go to school in the mornings, because by the time I got home from school, it would be the next morning before I would see him again in bed. ... I got to know his co-workers, among them, Yolanda Ordaz [de la Cruz], who covered the police beat. Nothing kept any of them from covering any kind of news. I remember once in the 1980s, Yolanda and my father were beaten up by federal police when they went to cover an intensive operation carried out in the area near the port — apparently something to do with securing a shipment of weapons.

In 2007, a severed head is delivered to a corner near the newspaper offices. Then a video appears on YouTube claiming that Milo Vela, his reporting partner, Yolanda Ordaz de la Cruz — called the "fat black woman" in the video — and the son Miguel Angel take money from the criminal group called Los Zetas and go to parties with them. Everyone but the father flees the city of Veracruz temporarily.
The family home is brick, two stories and modern, with lots of windows, two blocks from the police station. Miguel's brother Misael, 21, lives at home and works as a photographer at Notiver. Miguel lives 10 minutes away and is also a photographer for the paper. They are given to family dinners and celebrations. On June 19, 2011, Miguel and Vanessa attend a Father's Day dinner and eat salpicón made with crab and a seafood stew.
There had been signs of trouble before the dinner. Something was bothering his father, but Miguel knew better than to ask. A week before, at the funeral for an uncle, he mentioned to his father the attack against another reporter.
His father said, "Don't worry."
Miguel noticed that for the past month, his father had begun calling him early each morning and again in the evening to make sure he was OK. A few days before the dinner, his father had a loud argument with the nephew of the governor over his paper's stories, and the morning after Father's Day, he had a column coming out that questioned the reputation of two candidates for chief of traffic police in Veracruz.

During his first term at Notiver in the 1980s, Milo Vela was attacked on his way home to sleep. I don't remember the date, but I do recall that his car was shot full of bullet holes. ... I remember asking him once about what had happened and he didn't tell me much. "Well, I was driving down the Morelos bridge and passing the factory when these dark guys pulled out like 'bats out of hell (hechos la madre)' and I realized they were chasing me, so I sped up, but I saw they were going to catch up with me so I pulled over and jumped out of the car and ran toward the beach. ..." This is all he told me, but then he turned around and said, "But, Miguel, this is all over now."
The call comes at 6 a.m. from a fellow photographer at the paper, Gabriel Huge, a man who survived a bad accident and rides a scooter to crime scenes and walks with a cane. He is also a man who does not back down: Miguel has photographs of a swarm of federal police in flak jackets surrounding him for taking pictures without their permission. In the images, his face looks fierce and empty of fear.
Gabriel says, "You need to come to the house. Something has happened."
When he arrives, the city police have taped off the residence.
Gabriel says, "They have killed your father, mother and brother."
Miguel walks up the stairs to the second floor. His mother is outside the door of the bedroom, face down in a puddle of blood. His father is propped in a sitting position on the bed, his face destroyed by bullets. Down the hall, his brother Misael, known as el gordo in the family because of his weight, is face down in blood. He is wearing yellow shorts his mother had made for him because it was hard to find clothes in his size. He has three rounds in the back of his neck and head. Miguel thinks of all the times he has come here early in the morning or late at night and tiptoed down the hall lest he wake anyone. He goes back into his parents' room, sits down in front of their bodies and says goodbye. He is weeping now.
The police ask, "Is there any electronic surveillance or closed-circuit TV at this house?"
He says, "No."
Miguel knows what the question means: If there is a security camera, they want to know so they can destroy the evidence.
He helps carry out the bodies. First, his mother wrapped in sheets. Then his father — he remembers thinking as he carries him of reproaching him for not having any security measures in the house. And, finally, his brother, el gordo, the fat one, his brother wrapped in an old red bedspread. It is very hard to get him down the stairs. Miguel breaks down sobbing. He asks himself, "What happened here?" His family has just been annihilated by 35 gunshots fired at close range. While the state police are still at the house, they tell him they will send a special team of bodyguards.
No one asks him for a statement.
At the funeral home, Miguel makes arrangements. A reporter from La Jornada, a major left-of-center Mexico City daily that both he and his father had done work for, tells him he must get out of Veracruz if he wants to live. He remains at the funeral home all day, and just before dawn, makes a quick trip to his parents' house with Vanessa, then his fiancée, to get some clothes. The bodyguards ride with them. On the way back to the funeral home, a taxi follows them for 15 blocks. The guard draws his gun, tells Miguel to speed through a red light at a roundabout, and they manage to lose the tail. They get back to the funeral home, and it is under 24-hour guard by Mexican Navy troops wearing ski masks and Veracruz state police. At the funeral, he writes down later, "A neighbor told me that he had seen three trucks and two people who had gone into my parents' house. Another neighbor told me she had heard shots and that for about a week before, she had seen a group of people on motorcycles who seemed to be watching. ... She had heard them talking on their radios, saying, "We are already here guarding the spot."
None of these neighbors give statements to the police.
Officials are at the graveside, the caskets lowered into the sand that is Veracruz. Navy vehicles escort the cortege. State dignitaries promise an investigation, justice and punishment. The ceremony is surrounded by soldiers. This does not make Miguel feel safe.
The day after the funeral, the security detail escorts him and Vanessa to the airport and they flee the city where his father is famous, where he has spent his entire life. Miguel ponders the military precision he saw at the crime scene and the neighbors' whispered accounts of the killings.
He remembers opening the door to his brother's room that morning and wanting to say, "Wake up! Wake up!"
Miguel goes to the Mexico City headquarters of La Jornada. The editors give him a desk job because they do not think it is safe for him to be out on the street. Simply leaving Veracruz cannot protect him.
Yolanda Ordaz de la Cruz, Milo Vela's reporting partner, is found at 4 a.m. July 26. For the past month, she had been investigating Milo Vela's murder and had gone missing two days before. The body is dumped outside another Veracruz newspaper, Imagen, the head cut off. A message left with the corpse advises, "Friends can also betray you." The attorney general of Veracruz announces that this "unusual assassination was due to the fact that the woman and single mother maintained links with criminal gangs." He asserts her murder has nothing to do with her work as a journalist.
Miguel and Vanessa are paralyzed. For three days they cannot leave their Mexico City apartment. They have entered a new phase of exile. First they lose their native state. Now they feel their nation slipping away. In Veracruz, 15 crime reporters flee the city. Gabriel Huge gets a call informing him he will be killed. He flees, also.
Miguel had tasted threats before, as had his father. But things began to change in 2006, when the new president, Felipe Calderón, announced that he was hurling the Mexican army against drug organizations. Strange criminals suddenly appeared in Veracruz, guys who did not even know the streets, their reckless driving causing more car accidents. And killings. Miguel is covering a crime scene or accident, and someone shoves a gun in his mouth and lectures him on how he should do his job. Death threats mount.
One night in May 2010, a cop pulls Miguel over. Vanessa is riding along. The cop is hostile but allows Miguel to drive on. A few minutes later, the street is blocked by guys with AR-15s wearing federal police uniforms. They tell him, "Right now you are going to get really fucked up." ("Vas a ver, hijo de la chingada.") They take him, leaving the girl behind. They go behind a hotel, beating him all the way there.
At least four more vehicles arrive and a man with one glass eye and the look of the boss gets out and tells him that what he was doing could get him killed. Miguel asks the man if he is a Zeta and he nods. He asks Miguel if he wants to die and Miguel says no. The man says, well, you can go this time, but the next time we will kill you. They dump him where he was originally snatched. He calls his father, who advises him not to report the incident.
Miguel explains, "In Mexico, you learn to live with fear. You see bodies decapitated, you see police covered in blood. The fear just gets bigger and bigger. You see the decay of everything."

By July 2011, when Yolanda Ordaz de la Cruz is butchered, she is the seventh Mexican reporter killed that year, the third in Veracruz.
On September 20, during the afternoon rush hour, two trucks block the viaduct by a high-end shopping mall in Boca del Rio, a suburb of Veracruz. Drivers watch men methodically dump 35 bodies, 12 of them women. The men then leave, and no one stops them and no police come. The bodies are marked with the letter Z to suggest they are members of Los Zetas, a criminal organization that began as a special military unit created by the Mexican government and trained by the United States to fight drug organizations. The unit was designed to be incorruptible. Almost immediately, the DEA began secret payments to the group. Eventually, its members left for the better employment benefits of the drug industry and became the Zetas. The dumped bodies in Boca del Rio are bound with plastic ties at the wrists and ankles, restraints only available to the police and army.
The official story, that the dead are Zetas, holds for a while and is widely reported in the U.S. press. Then it cracks. Reforma, a right-of-center pro-government paper, talks to the families of the dead and discovers that they are mainly petty criminals, drug addicts and prostitutes, if they had any criminal records at all. These facts are hardly reported in the U.S. press and soon vanish from the press in Mexico for fear of repercussion.
Miguel gets reports in Mexico City. His friend and fellow photographer Guillermo Luna has a cousin who is walking to get a bag of ice in Boca del Rio on September 16, Mexican Independence Day, when he sees some adolescents celebrating in the street. Police sweep in and take the kids.
A woman goes to the police station seeking her teenage son. She is told he is not in custody. Later she learns his body is one of those dumped by the fashionable mall. A video circulates on the Internet from a group called the Zeta Killers. They wear masks and sit at a table and claim credit for the killing. Miguel learns that they are really former Veracruz policemen playacting.
Miguel and Vanessa spend the rest of the year in limbo. The United States usually denies political asylum to Mexican reporters, because to grant it would constitute an admission about the real nature of Mexico. They return to her grandparents in Veracruz and hide. Then they fly to Reynosa, on the Texas border, and begin the paperwork for a U.S. visa. They return to Veracruz, get their car and fling themselves into a new land.
They go to Corpus Christi and end up in a cheap motel as their tiny hoard of cash dribbles away. They cannot legally work. They yearn for Mexico. At times Miguel can hear his mother's voice.
The years passed, and at the beginning of the 1990s my father left Notiver ... above all because they were censoring some of his articles and his columns. ... Then my father ended up without a job and went to work as a taxi driver, saying that he knew the city perfectly from covering the news and it would be an easy job for him. 
In Corpus Christi, Miguel and Vanessa begin to learn English. Miguel remembers his father's admonition: "You have to do before you can be." So he begins traveling down this new path in the new year. January passes, and February and March, and then, on April 28, a tremor passes through their world.

Police find the body of Regina Martinez, 49, lying in the bathtub of her home in Xalapa, the capital of Veracruz state — strangled. She wrote for Proceso, the most prestigious magazine in Mexico, a publication read by the educated and powerful and generally spared much government censorship so that the state can point to it and claim a free press. She covered corruption and drug trafficking, and in 2007 had written a well-known story on Mexican soldiers raping and killing an indigenous woman. She becomes the 40th reporter killed since Calderón took office in December 2006. The government of Veracruz suggests the killing was simply a robbery because two cell phones and her laptop are missing, precisely the items one would take if looking for her contacts.
"I didn't know her," Miguel says, "but I knew her reputation and her reporting on the abuses of officials. When my family was killed, I thought nothing can be worse than this. But when Regina was killed, I thought they can do anything."
May 3 is World Press Freedom Day. Police in Veracruz find black plastic garbage bags in a canal. They hold the chopped-up bodies of four people, three of them press. Guillermo Luna, whose cousin witnessed the abductions in September 2011, worked as a photographer at Notiver, as did Gabriel Huge, the man who had called Miguel the morning of his family's murder to tell him of the slaughter. Esteban Rodriguez also had been a photojournalist. Irasema Becerra was Gabriel's girlfriend. The three men had fled Veracruz in 2011 but returned in 2012 because they could not find work. Rodriguez had gone to work as an auto mechanic. None of this mattered. On the day of the kidnappings, just an hour before he was reported missing, Gabriel had gone to a cousin's house to ask her to care for his daughter should he vanish.
Three weeks later, on May 31, Noel López Olguín surfaces from a secret grave in Veracruz. He'd disappeared on March 8, when men in SUVs took him away. He worked for La Verdad de Jáltipan, a rural paper in the state of Veracruz, and wrote a column exposing official corruption and often attacking drug people by name. After his kidnapping, some media in Veracruz denied he'd ever worked for them. The exhumed body is photographed, caked with dark-brown earth.
Miguel realizes he will never feel safe in Mexico again. For him, he explains, it is like a sheet of white paper that you crumple in your hand: No matter how hard you try to iron it, it will always show the wrinkles.
He says, "I no longer have trust in anybody or anything."
A few days later it is Memorial Day, and Carlos Spector hosts that party at his home in El Paso, and Miguel and Vanessa drive across Texas to eat and drink with the other dead men and dead women walking.
"I am an orphan now," Miguel says.
He clicks through photographs on his computer: his family and mother beaming; his brother, el gordo, laughing and acting out; the huge carnival in Veracruz each year just before Lent; the beach; the laughter of life.
He dreams of a family dinner, and in this dream his father looks up and says, "Miguel, it is OK to leave us behind now."

Since January 1, 2007, more than 100,000 people have been murdered in Mexico, according to the government. The last official release, in January 2012, said that "drug-related" or "organized crime-related" homicides totaled 47,500 through September 2011. Media estimates since have ranged from 50,000 to 80,000.
No one knows or will ever know the real death toll. Officially, the government says that 90 percent of the dead are criminals. Officially, the government admits it has investigated fewer than 5 percent of the deaths. No one knows what percentage of the homicides can be attributed to fighting between rival organized crime gangs, fighting between law enforcement and/or military and drug gangs, or fighting among different law enforcement and/or military groups. Many murder victims are retail drug sellers and other petty street criminals killed on the job or for other reasons. Some of the dead are disposable people — drug addicts, prostitutes, transvestites, migrants, street kids and others deemed human garbage who become victims of social cleansing, or limpieza social. A Mexican Senate document reveals the existence of government-sponsored death squads linked to some of the mass executions in recent years.
There is one solid fact: more than 100,000 new corpses. Calderón boasts that 90 percent of the dead are criminals — his government does not investigate the murders, and then it makes up reasons for the murders.
This is a characteristic of the slaughtered in Mexico: Officially, they deserved it. The bodies of dead reporters and photographers are still warm when the government begins insinuating they were actually mixed up in organized crime: "He [or she] was sucio [dirty]." Case closed.
Sandra Rodriguez, an award-winning reporter in Ciudad Juárez, the city with the highest murder rate in all of Mexico, studied more than 3,000 homicide case files from 2010 and 2011. Most files contain only the forensic description of the bodies, a catalog of the ballistic remains and a note about the weapons used. If a witness is interviewed at all, the only question is, "What did the victim do?" And there is always something that will be construed as a link to organized crime and so ends the investigation. Rodriguez's study also showed that in only 2 percent of the cases were weapons found near the victims' bodies. So the state claims the dead were cartel members, but if so, they were gangsters who refused to carry weapons.
The slaughter in Mexico has several other characteristics. People hang corpses off bridges, dump bodies on busy streets, move with death squads through major cities and no one ever sees them or sees anything. The U.S. press seems baffled by these feats. Mexicans are not. They know that the only entities able to move so freely and kill so publicly are the army and the police or criminals cooperating with them. They know that many, if not most, of the killings are by the Mexican state against Mexicans. Miguel, for example, thinks that at most, 30 percent of the dead are killed by drug organizations in a fight for business.
The kidnapped are almost never reported because in many parts of Mexico, the police finance themselves through kidnapping. Those who are taken (levantados) almost never return and are not counted among the dead. The bodies that turn up in mass graves are seldom counted, either, because the government says it is too hard to assign the corpses to the proper year. In Sinaloa, the key drug state on the west coast of Mexico, the governor announced in May that he suddenly had discovered ghost villages in the Sierra Madre, apparently emptied of all human beings without anyone in government noticing.
All of this death is the real violence spilling across the border, and it spills south, not north. The United States sends about $500 million annually to fund Mexico's security forces through legislation called the Merida Initiative. The Mexican army, officially tasked with killing drug people, has lost fewer than 200 soldiers in about six years, while tens of thousands of other Mexicans have perished. There may be no safer job in the world than being a Mexican soldier assigned to fight the drug industry. And there may be no more dangerous job in the world than to be a reporter or photographer assigned to cover this war.

Sara Salazar watches the children play in the pool at Carlos Spector's home as the evening shadows grow and the desert heat lingers. Spector sits with a glass of wine talking to family members about what they must do to make the world know of the killing fields of Mexico. The old woman is silent. There is a famous photograph of her at the funeral of her daughter and son. The coffins sit side by side, and Sara, with her gray hair, ancient face and black trench coat, reels backward, arms outstretched over her dead. A kinsman catches her. Her mouth is open, and in the photograph you can hear the scream roll out over the valley and across the Rio Grande into the United States. Mexican reporters asked her at the time if she felt guilty for getting her children involved in politics now that they had been murdered for their activism. The press knew better than to investigate who killed her children. There were 500 soldiers at the burial, guarding the remaining Reyes Salazar family members. None helped to dig the graves.
Protest is in the family blood. The father, a baker, got involved in politics after 300 students were murdered by the government in 1968 and many more disappeared in Mexico City on the eve of the Olympics. The family became Communists or joined other facets of the left in Mexico. In 2008, daughter Josefina Reyes, a longtime human-rights activist in the Juárez Valley, protested after her son was kidnapped. She told interviewer Julian Cardona,"Now you see all these big billboards, 'We [the army] have come to help you' — but it isn't true. They have come to pillage us, to ransack our homes. They take the food in the refrigerator, jewelry, anything ... and they destroy property. It is not a secret who they are."
Josefina leads demonstrations, and eventually her son is released. But he is arrested again in 2009 and charged by federal officials in Mexico with being part of a drug organization based in the Juárez Valley. He is imprisoned in another state in Mexico and has not been tried. Another son of Josefina's, Julio Cesar, is taken a year later by unknown parties and killed. Josefina blames the army for her son's death. Rumors spread that he also was involved in drugs. Some members of the family leave Guadalupe and try to establish their bakery business in another town about 100 miles away. On January 3, 2010, Josefina walks into a restaurant in Guadalupe. Men approach, some in uniform, and shoot her multiple times. Army vehicles are parked outside. Six months later, her brother Ruben is killed. He had continued to speak out to the media, calling the military to account for the attacks on his family and others in Guadalupe.
On February 7, 2011, Sara Salazar is riding with a granddaughter and three other family members: her son Elias and his wife, Luisa, and her daughter Magdalena. All have chronic illnesses and are barely able to walk. Just after they pass a military checkpoint, masked gunmen stop the car. They force Sara and the granddaughter to the ground at gunpoint and take the others away.
On February 15, the Reyeses stage a protest in Ciudad Juárez outside government offices. At the same time, their home in Guadalupe, less than 100 yards from an army barracks, is burned to the ground by armed men. Sara and two other daughters travel to Mexico City to protest, and they speak on national media, begging for the safe return of their missing family members. A couple of weeks later, the bodies of Elias, Luisa and Magdalena turn up by the roadside, covered in dirt and lime. The government announces that they have been killed because of their ties to the drug world.

Now the survivors sit under trees in the yard by the pool in El Paso as children play. More than 10,500 people have been murdered across the border in Juárez since 2008. The city is one of the most dangerous places on earth, with murder rates over the past five years ranging from 150 to 300 per hundred thousand. In the nearby small town of Guadalupe, the murder rate is closer to 2,000 per hundred thousand. New York City's murder rate is about six per hundred thousand.
The United States, the nation worried about terrorism, gives half a billion dollars a year to a Mexican army that murders and terrorizes Mexicans. The United States walls off Mexico on national-security grounds and then decries imaginary violence spilling north across the border. The United States constantly praises the Mexican government for its brave fight against drug organizations, even though in the five and a half years since President Calderón launched the war that has resulted in the murders of at least 100,000 Mexicans, the delivery of drugs has not been disturbed and prices have not increased. The United States has helped to create a death machine, and now the eyewitnesses come north.
Americans must ask themselves this question about their War on Terror: What if the enemy is their treaty ally Mexico, and what if the problem is the state terrorism by that ally against the Mexican people?

A businessman crosses the bridge from Ciudad Juárez to El Paso. The state police came to his business. He could not meet their increased extortion demands, so they held him down in front of his friends and cut his feet off. Now he rolls across the bridge, his mother driving him to safety. He seeks asylum. He calls Carlos Spector's law firm. He enters a system worthy of Franz Kafka.
Of the 20,000 U.S. grants of political asylum in 2010, only 192 were for Mexicans. Most such applicants arrive at the line with no money or papers. Many are cast into the gulag of U.S. immigration prisons for months or even years. If released, they are unlikely to be allowed a work permit for months. If entered into the process for political asylum, they could wait years for a hearing. No Mexican is likely to apply unless death stares him or her in the face. Political asylum is not some tactic Mexicans use to game our system. But it is a test of our claims of being for freedom and justice and elemental human rights.
After the spate of killings in Guadalupe, fliers circulated saying, "Si no se van del pueblo, les pasarán lo mismo que los Reyes Salazar" ("If you don't leave town, you will get the same as the Reyes Salazars.") Most of the Reyes family still waits to have their pleas for asylum heard. The doors to their country have closed forever behind them. A surviving sister, Marisela Reyes, says: "Nuestro nombre en Mexico significa la muerte." ("Our name in Mexico means death.")

There is a rhythm to state terrorism in Mexico. First there are threats, such as the footsteps clearly heard by Miguel's father in the days preceding the slaughter of the family. Then there is the killing itself, the indifference of the police, the pious laments of government officials. Then more terror, such as his father's partner, Yolanda, being decapitated, such as Miguel's fellow photographers winding up dismembered in garbage bags. And finally, if one refuses to follow the rules, there is the destruction of a person's reputation. This last stroke is inevitable if the person speaks out about the nature of the Mexican government.
Miguel speaks out at a forum in Austin in late May 2012 about the controlled nature of the Mexican press and state-sponsored terror in Veracruz. He repeats the same things a week later at an El Paso press conference with Carlos Spector.
Two days later, Notiver, the paper to which his father devoted his life, announces that the son never really worked there but was simply kept around as a kind of pet because of his father. They say Miguel could solve the murder because he probably knows who killed his family. They imply that he is an informant for the DEA or the FBI — a dangerous allegation in Mexico. Proceso, the influential news magazine, repeats most of the charges without any questions. The charges are all lies or smears. But that hardly matters.
Miguel is no longer simply an exile. He is no longer a victim. He is dirty, likely a criminal, never a real part of the press and hardly eligible for political asylum if he was never even a reporter. Now he is the basic Mexican, a person vilified if he complains about the fist of the state in his face. And Miguel and Vanessa are among the lucky few who just might qualify for political asylum in the United States. For the millions living in terror of the Mexican government and of Mexican drug gangs, there is no such hope.
Sara Salazar spoke about her family at a press conference in El Paso on February 8, 2012, the anniversary of the kidnapping and murders of Elias, Luisa and Magdalena Reyes:
"My family were always hard workers, honorable, always helping the poor. Our hard struggle began when the soldiers came into our houses looking for weapons, drugs and other things they said we had but they never found. But they kept on persecuting us because we got in their way. ... My daughter Josefina denounced them ... and they persecuted her to the death. We continued to protest, but what could we do, since it was the government that was after us? We got in their way. ... I had 10 children and only four of them are left. They have killed them all. And what can I do? I have gone to demand that they find who killed them, but the files are nothing but blank pages. They have done nothing. We have no protection in Mexico. No protection. This is all I can say to you. Now my heart is dry."

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Fulfillment of a Just and Worthy Dream

Fulfillment of a Just and Worthy Dream
Last Updated: 8 July 2012  
By Angela Valenzuela
Angela Valenzuela 
AUSTIN, July 8 - For us in Texas, we should be particularly proud of President Obama’s executive order to not deport DREAM act students.

Why? Because this movement began in Texas with the passage in 2001 of House Bill 1403, Texas’ “DREAM Act” bill, if you will. It was an immigrant tuition-waiver bill that allowed undocumented high school graduates to enter our public universities at in-state tuition prices.

I remember that it was undocumented high schools students and their teachers and other civil rights leadership, including myself as the only scholar, who had organized and testified on former StateRepresentative Rick Noriega’s bill. The late, formidable Chairwoman of the Texas House Committee on Higher Education Irma Rangel heard this legislation and passed it out of committee and ultimately it came out of both houses with strong, bipartisan support and was signed into law on June 16, 2001.

Governor Perry himself has been consistently supportive, casting this as a state’s rights and workforce development issue. California followed suit in that same year and now, according to the last report from College Board, there are a total of 14 states with some type of in-state, tuition waiver law benefitting talented high school graduates like these.

Early on, way before the passage of this bill in Texas, skeptics were concerned that immigration is a federal issue and so graduating college students who are undocumented sets these young people up for false hopes and dreams. The response by state leadership is that we should press forward, not only because it is right, but also because this would create pressure from the grassroots to Washington for policy change.

Interestingly, legislation across our nation together with the DREAMer movement, did just exactly this. Increases in college enrollment of undocumented students helped create this very constituency that has now resulted in President Obama’s executive order. This constituency would not have happened—or happened as quickly—however, without the very important—even legendary—leadership role that Texas DREAMers, in particular, played. 

Students like Julieta Garibay, her sister, Montserrat Garibay, Charim Guadarrama, Erik Fajardo, Rebecca Acuña and so many others led the marches, media blitzes, sit-ins, Freedom Rides, Congressional lobbying and so on. They are an exceedingly skilled and very politically saavy group. Dr. Alejandra Rincón, who earned her degree in Education Policy and Planning at UT also merits recognition both for her advocacy on behalf of undocumented youth in higher education and her book on this very topic, Undocumented Immigrants and Higher Education: Si Se Puede! (LFB Scholarly Publishing, 2008).

Not only does this decision by the president result in support from the Latino community in his bid for re-election, but it will also likely encourage untold numbers of currently undocumented students to pursue higher education. While the executive order appears to encourage only a temporary reprieve from deportation for undocumented college graduates, this is nevertheless a shot in the arm for literally legions of activists that have been long engaged in pursuit in this just and worthy dream.

Angela Valenzuela, Ph.D., is a professor at the College of Education at the University of Texas at Austin. she serves as the director of the University of Texas Center for Education Policy.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mexico: Lack of tax incentives discourages giving

December 1, 2011 2:30 pm
By Adam Thomson

A few years ago, when Carlos Slim was asked about philanthropy, the Mexican telecoms billionaire said he disagreed with “going around like Santa Claus”. His views seem to have changed little since then.
“Poverty doesn’t go away with charity, social services, paternalism or speeches,” the world’s richest individual told the FT in June this year.
“You can only defeat poverty with jobs and with people who create jobs.”
To judge by some studies, many of his countrymen feel the same way. Mexico may have a $1tn economy, be home to 112m people and at least 12 billionaires. But it also has some of the world’s most frugal givers.
According to a 2003 investigation by the US-based Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project, private donations to the country’s not-for-profit sector are equivalent to just 0.04 per cent of gross domestic product – about 40 times lower than in the US, and the lowest in the Johns Hopkins study of 35 developed and developing countries.
Regional peers such as Brazil, Argentina and Colombia, which were also in the study, give considerably more on a proportional basis.
As Michael Layton of the philanthropy unit of Mexico City’s Itam university says: “The sector is really under-developed in Mexico and that makes it hard to get things moving.”
One of the problems is that few people pay taxes. With a large informal sector and plenty of loopholes in the tax code, it is little wonder that Mexico has one of the lowest takes in the region – less than 10 per cent of GDP a year excluding oil revenues.
This is a challenge for philanthropy: legislation that allows Mexicans to deduct donations from their tax bills – an approach that works in the US – is much less effective. As Mr Layton puts it, “the tax incentive is hollowed out”.
Moreover, the not-for-profit sector is small, even by Latin American standards. According to the finance ministry, there are only about 5,000 organisations that are legally registered to receive tax-free donations. Compare that with 50,000 in Ecuador, a country of 15m people.
Lourdes Sanz of the Mexican Center for Philanthropy argues that part of the reason is that national laws impose many rules on organisations that want to register with the finance ministry. For example, they have to renew their registration every year, generating paperwork.
They also have to obtain a letter of approval from one of the government’s ministries but few ministries are legally able to provide this.
Not only that, but registered organisations cannot spend more than 5 per cent of their donations on administrative costs – a level far below what most international not-for-profit organisations consider viable.
Ms Sanz concludes, “the institutional side of giving in Mexico is very weak”.
Francisco Marmolejo at the University of Arizona, an authority on higher education, says that the resulting low levels of philanthropy could spell serious problems for Mexico’s relatively young population, nowhere more so than in education.
“There is a huge demand for educational services, but governments in Latin America cannot provide adequately because of competing needs,” he says.
“Philanthropy could help fill the void, but there is not enough of it in Mexico.”
So acute is the lack of philanthropic funding for education that some universities have had to come up with novel alternatives.
For example, the Tecnológico de Monterrey, one of the country’s best known universities, has gone to the extraordinary measure of funding part of its monthly salary bill through a lottery system.
Like many things in Latin America, there is a certain lack of clarity over Mexico’s philanthropic sector.
Donations to the Catholic Church are not included in many statistics, a fact that probably underplays significantly the amount that Mexicans give away.
And donations to help people affected by natural disasters tend to be generous.
There are also several notable examples of Mexican billionaires working with regional governments on development programmes.
In spite of his public disdain for charity, Mr Slim has two foundations, with an endowment of at least $5bn.
Among other things, they fund health and education programmes throughout Mexico.
Ricardo Salinas Pliego, one of the country’s wealthiest businessmen, has joined forces with the state government of Chiapas to build urban communities to provide basic services to people who once lived in rural areas.
But in a recent interview with the FT, Mr Salinas Pliego admitted that philanthropy in Mexico was not easy. “In the rest of the world, rich people will give a donation and businessmen give to charities,” he said.
“But in Mexico, the execution capacity of what we call the social sector is missing. I find it much more effective to set up the actual social organisation and then fund it with my money.”

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Immigration: Obama Changes the Game for Illegal Immigrants

The incalculable suffering that our policies have caused: "The Obama administration has built the fence and has tried the "send 'em all home" route, to the tune of more than three-quarters of a million deportations in 2009-2010." Unbelievably, 300,000 prosecutions are under review, filling up our for-profit prisons and jails. Glad to see that neither our non-criminals or DREAM Act students will likely get deported. We'll see what the DHS and DOJ develop, but all else equal, this is a step in the right direction.


Immigration: Obama Changes the Game for Illegal Immigrants
August 19, 2011 07:25 PM EDT

Obama has pushed immigration change to a "no takers" Congress. On May 10th, in his speech at the US-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas, he accused Republicans of demanding unrealistic crackdowns and refusing to consider policy and legal reform.

"They wanted a fence," the president said of Republicans. "Well, that fence is now basically complete. Maybe they'll need a moat. Maybe they'll want alligators in the moat." His intent was obvious... using ridicule of the Republican insistence on physical barriers and their "...send 'em all home" approach to illegal immigration.

The Obama administration has built the fence and has tried the "send 'em all home" route, to the tune of more than three-quarters of a million deportations in 2009-2010. Hispanics who expected Obama to change America's response to illegals have been appalled. They are threatening to abandon him if he can't get a reform package through Congress. In May, he began suggesting he would make immigration reform a campaign issue, and now he has.

Three hundred thousand prosecutions are under review. An interdepartmental group—Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Justice (DOJ)—will develop criteria for selection of cases to be dropped from prosecution. If there is no history of criminal activity, the person has been in the USA since he or she was a small child, and they are in school (DREAM Act students), they will likely not be prosecuted or deported. Immigrants classified as low-priority cases could receive a stay of deportation and the chance to apply for a work permit.

The president has thrown down the gauntlet, saying in effect, "Fences and barriers don't work. Arrests and deportations don't work. Criminal prosecution just fills up our jails. It's time and past time to do something that will work." He is proposing a program that concentrates on dangerous criminals and people who pose a threat to society. A substantial number of the cases now in court are not criminal cases.

Meanwhile, Border States are trying to create their own control system by building a patchwork of laws aimed at illegal aliens and those who employ them. The federal government has so far been successful in court in asserting that illegal alien control is a national problem and that federal law supersedes State law.

There is some indication that the recession has acted to slow illegal immigration, and may even have caused a substantial mini-exodus of illegal immigrants. However, it's likely that such effects are temporary, lasting only until an upturn is well confirmed, and will have little long-term effect on the issue.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Texans will train Mexicans for the drug war

Aug. 17, 2011

LAREDO — U.S. law enforcement will train local and state police officers from Mexico as part of the next phase of the two countries' joint fight against transnational drug cartels, a U.S. State Department official said Wednesday.

U.S. agencies have been training Mexican federal police on both sides of the border for several years. However, William Brownfield, assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, said it is clear that local forces face the most concentrated violence, especially in northern Mexico, and are in the most need of training.

"If we do not address these problems cooperatively today, we will be addressing them on our own front doorsteps in five years," Brownfield said.

Brownfield was in the Texas border town of Laredo on Wednesday, signing an agreement outlining how deputies from the Webb County Sheriff's Office could spend periods of three months, six months or more training their counterparts in Mexico.

It was the first such agreement the State Department has signed with a local law enforcement agency anywhere on the U.S.-Mexico border. Brownfield said more trainers are needed and the high rate of bilingual deputies with border experience made Webb County an attractive place to start such a program.

Police training has been a significant part of the Merida Initiative, which outlined the U.S. partnership with Mexico and Central America in the drug war and has committed $1.4 billion since 2008. However, the focus now shifts to historically out-gunned and ill-prepared local forces ducking bullets and facing ominous threats on a daily basis.

Mexico received $327 million for police training in fiscal 2009 from the U.S. State Department through Merida, placing it behind only Afghanistan and Iraq in total funds received for police training from the departments of State or Defense, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office in April.

Details of the proposed training programs have not been worked out, but Brownfield envisions three or four training centers in Mexico. He is holding complementary meetings with Mexican officials on this trip to begin working out the program's shape. He said he spoke with officials in Juarez on Monday and will hold similar meetings in Monterrey Thursday.

Chihuahua and Nuevo Leon states, respectively, have been two of Mexico's hardest hit by drug gang violence.

According to official figures, at least 35,000 people have been killed in drug violence in Mexico since late 2006, when President Felipe Calderon launched his crackdown on organized crime. Other sources, including local media, say the number is closer to 40,000. The federal government has not released an update of its numbers since December.

U.S. involvement in Mexico has drawn attention there recently after Mexico's government confirmed that U.S. intelligence agents operate there, analyzing and exchanging information. The New York Times had reported that CIA agents and former U.S. military personnel are working at a Mexican military base in the fight against drug gangs.

Brownfield stressed that involvement of U.S. trainers will come only with Mexican approval and that the training centers would be under Mexican authority. He also said a longer-term vision could include pairing trainers from an agency such as the Webb County Sheriff's Office with a National Guard deployment from Texas. The National Guard has been active in the drug war on the U.S. side of the border in intelligence analysis.

The agreement signed Wednesday "sets guidelines for the Webb County Sherriff's Office to train, advise and mentor international law enforcement agencies and officers." The sheriff's office will pay the upfront costs and receive reimbursement from the State Department. Its trainers, which it will release on a voluntary basis, will not carry weapons in other countries and will have to be approved in advance by the State Department. The State Department will be responsible for screening any trainees and will give pre-deployment training to trainers.

The agreement leaves open the possibility of training on U.S. soil, but Brownfield said from a cost standpoint it made more sense to send a few trainers to Mexico than bring hundreds of trainees to the U.S.

Brownfield said U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo was very active in pushing the venture. Cuellar's brother, Martin Cuellar, is Webb County sheriff.

The congressman said the benefits worked both ways. "When the teacher goes down there, the teacher will learn from the students."

Monday, July 11, 2011

Miss Ana is free: El Paso teacher released from Juárez cereso

by Daniel Borunda \ El Paso Times
Posted: 07/11/2011

An El Paso teacher was freed from a Juárez prison late Sunday after the Mexican attorney general's office announced it had dropped drug charges against her.

Protesters had marched Sunday demanding the immediate release of Ana Isela Martínez, whose freedom had been expected since a Mexican judge decided on Friday to drop all charges.

"She was freed unconditionally with all charges dropped," said Martínez's lawyer, Salvador Urbina. "We are very happy. There were more than 200 people here (outside the Cereso prison), cheering and praying."

The Mexican attorney general's office, or the PGR, on Sunday said it confirmed that Martínez was innocent and a target of a scheme that picked on commuters. The PGR also warned people who cross the international bridges regularly to be on alert.

Urbina said the PGR ratified the judge's order but Martínez's release had been delayed until the signed documents arrived in Juárez.

"Proceedings by Mexican authorities, how can I say this, are bureaucratic sometimes," Urbina said.

Martínez spent Sunday night in Juárez with her family and she planned to attend a Mass to give thanks this morning at her church, Urbina said.

Martínez lives in Juárez but has a U.S. work permit and commutes daily to work at La Fe Preparatory School in El Paso, where she is known as "Miss Ana."

Martínez had been jailed since May 26 when Mexican soldiers found marijuana in two duffel bags in her car¹s trunk on the Juárez side of the Stanton Street bridge express lane.

Soldiers found 88 pounds of marijuana, the Mexican attorney general's office said Sunday.

Martínez and her supporters have said she was innocent and did not know about the marijuana. A Mexican judge ordered her detained until trial.

Yet Martínez received a big break last week with the FBI's arrest of a suspected drug smuggler in a scheme of transporting drugs across the border in the trunks of unsuspecting commuters.

A criminal complaint stated smugglers would get a car's vehicle identification number and copies of car keys. A Juárez crew would use those keys to secretly load marijuana into a vehicle's trunk. The marijuana would then be removed in El Paso by a crew with duplicate keys.

According to the FBI document, Martínez's case was discussed by the alleged drug traffickers in recorded conversations.

Daniel Borunda may be reached at; 546-6102.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Better Lives for Mexicans Cut Allure of Going North

I knew this was happening. Just wasn't sure of the extent of it. This will certainly impact the U.S. economy over the long term. -Angela

Published: July 6, 2011

AGUA NEGRA, Mexico — The extraordinary Mexican migration that delivered millions of illegal immigrants to the United States over the past 30 years has sputtered to a trickle, and research points to a surprising cause: unheralded changes in Mexico that have made staying home more attractive.

A growing body of evidence suggests that a mix of developments — expanding economic and educational opportunities, rising border crime and shrinking families — are suppressing illegal traffic as much as economic slowdowns or immigrant crackdowns in the United States.

Here in the red-earth highlands of Jalisco, one of Mexico’s top three states for emigration over the past century, a new dynamic has emerged. For a typical rural family like the Orozcos, heading to El Norte without papers is no longer an inevitable rite of passage. Instead, their homes are filling up with returning relatives; older brothers who once crossed illegally are awaiting visas; and the youngest Orozcos are staying put.

“I’m not going to go to the States because I’m more concerned with my studies,” said Angel Orozco, 18. Indeed, at the new technological institute where he is earning a degree in industrial engineering, all the students in a recent class said they were better educated than their parents — and that they planned to stay in Mexico rather than go to the United States.

Douglas S. Massey, co-director of the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton, an extensive, long-term survey in Mexican emigration hubs, said his research showed that interest in heading to the United States for the first time had fallen to its lowest level since at least the 1950s. “No one wants to hear it, but the flow has already stopped,” Mr. Massey said, referring to illegal traffic. “For the first time in 60 years, the net traffic has gone to zero and is probably a little bit negative.”

The decline in illegal immigration, from a country responsible for roughly 6 of every 10 illegal immigrants in the United States, is stark. The Mexican census recently discovered four million more people in Mexico than had been projected, which officials attributed to a sharp decline in emigration.

American census figures analyzed by the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center also show that the illegal Mexican population in the United States has shrunk and that fewer than 100,000 illegal border-crossers and visa-violators from Mexico settled in the United States in 2010, down from about 525,000 annually from 2000 to 2004. Although some advocates for more limited immigration argue that the Pew studies offer estimates that do not include short-term migrants, most experts agree that far fewer illegal immigrants have been arriving in recent years.

The question is why. Experts and American politicians from both parties have generally looked inward, arguing about the success or failure of the buildup of border enforcement and tougher laws limiting illegal immigrants’ rights — like those recently passed in Alabama and Arizona. Deportations have reached record highs as total border apprehensions and apprehensions of Mexicans have fallen by more than 70 percent since 2000.

But Mexican immigration has always been defined by both the push (from Mexico) and the pull (of the United States). The decision to leave home involves a comparison, a wrenching cost-benefit analysis, and just as a Mexican baby boom and economic crises kicked off the emigration waves in the 1980s and ’90s, research now shows that the easing of demographic and economic pressures is helping keep departures in check.

In simple terms, Mexican families are smaller than they had once been. The pool of likely migrants is shrinking. Despite the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico, birth control efforts have pushed down the fertility rate to about 2 children per woman from 6.8 in 1970, according to government figures. So while Mexico added about one million new potential job seekers annually in the 1990s, since 2007 that figure has fallen to an average of 800,000, according to government birth records. By 2030, it is expected to drop to 300,000.

Even in larger families like the Orozcos’ — Angel is the 9th of 10 children — the migration calculation has changed. Crossing “mojado,” wet or illegally, has become more expensive and more dangerous, particularly with drug cartels dominating the border. At the same time, educational and employment opportunities have greatly expanded in Mexico. Per capita gross domestic product and family income have each jumped more than 45 percent since 2000, according to one prominent economist, Roberto Newell. Despite all the depictions of Mexico as “nearly a failed state,” he argued, “the conventional wisdom is wrong.”

A significant expansion of legal immigration — aided by American consular officials — is also under way. Congress may be debating immigration reform, but in Mexico, visas without a Congressionally mandated cap on how many people can enter have increased from 2006 to 2010, compared with the previous five years.

State Department figures show that Mexicans who have become American citizens have legally brought in 64 percent more immediate relatives, 220,500 from 2006 through 2010, compared with the figures for the previous five years. Tourist visas are also being granted at higher rates of around 89 percent, up from 67 percent, while American farmers have legally hired 75 percent more temporary workers since 2006.

Edward McKeon, the top American official for consular affairs in Mexico, said he had focused on making legal passage to the United States easier in an effort to prevent people from giving up and going illegally. He has even helped those who were previously illegal overcome bans on entering the United States.

“If people are trying to do the right thing,” Mr. McKeon said, “we need to send the signal that we’ll reward them.”
Hard Years in Jalisco

When Angel Orozco’s grandfather considered leaving Mexico in the 1920s, his family said, he wrestled with one elemental question: Will it be worth it?

At that point and for decades to come, yes was the obvious answer. In the 1920s and ’30s — when Paul S. Taylor came to Jalisco from California for his landmark study of Mexican emigration — Mexico’s central highlands promised little more than hard living. Jobs were scarce and paid poorly. Barely one of three adults could read. Families of 10, 12 and even 20 were common, and most children did not attend school.

Comparatively, the United States looked like a dreamland of technology and riches: Mr. Taylor found that the wages paid by the railroads, where most early migrants found legal work, were five times what could be earned on farms in Arandas, the municipality that includes Agua Negra.

Orozco family members still talk about the benefits of that first trip. Part of the land the extended family occupies today was purchased with American earnings from the 1920s. When Angel’s father, Antonio, went north to pick cotton in the 1950s and ’60s with the Bracero temporary worker program, which accepted more than 400,000 laborers a year at its peak, working in the United States made even more sense. The difference in wages had reached 10 to 1. Arandas was still dirt poor.

Antonio, with just a few years of schooling, was one of many who felt that with a back as strong as a wooden church door, he could best serve his family from across the border.

“I sent my father money so he could build his house,” Antonio said.

Legal status then meant little. After the Bracero program ended in 1964, Antonio said, he crossed back and forth several times without documentation. Passage was cheap. Work lasting for a few months or a year was always plentiful. So when his seven sons started to become adults in the 1990s, he encouraged them to go north as well. Around 2001, he and two of his sons were all in the United States working — part of what is now recognized as one of the largest immigration waves in American history.

But even then, illegal immigration was becoming less attractive. In the mid-1990s, the Clinton administration added fences and federal agents to what were then the main crossing corridors beyond Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez. The enforcement push, continued by President George W. Bush and President Obama, helped drive up smuggling prices from around $700 in the late 1980s to nearly $2,000 a decade later, and the costs continued to climb, according to research from the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California, San Diego. It also shifted traffic to more dangerous desert areas near Arizona.

Antonio said the risks hit home when his nephew Alejandro disappeared in the Sonoran Desert around 2002. A father of one and with a pregnant wife, Alejandro had been promised work by a friend. It took years for the authorities to find his body in the arid brush south of Tucson. Even now, no one knows how he died.

But for the Orozcos, border enforcement was not the major deterrent. Andrés Orozco, 28, a middle son who first crossed illegally in 2000, said that while rising smuggling costs and border crime were worries, there were always ways to avoid American agents. In fact, while the likelihood of apprehension has increased in recent years, 92 to 98 percent of those who try to cross eventually succeed, according to research by Wayne A. Cornelius and his colleagues at the University of California, San Diego.
A Period of Progress

Another important factor is Mexico itself. Over the past 15 years, this country once defined by poverty and beaches has progressed politically and economically in ways rarely acknowledged by Americans debating immigration. Even far from the coasts or the manufacturing sector at the border, democracy is better established, incomes have generally risen and poverty has declined.

Here in Jalisco, a tequila boom that accelerated through the 1990s created new jobs for farmers cutting agave and for engineers at the stills. Other businesses followed. In 2003, when David Fitzgerald, a migration expert at the University of California, San Diego, came to Arandas, he found that the wage disparity with the United States had narrowed: migrants in the north were collecting 3.7 times what they could earn at home.

That gap has recently shrunk again. The recession cut into immigrant earnings in the United States, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, even as wages have risen in Mexico, according to World Bank figures. Jalisco’s quality of life has improved in other ways, too. About a decade ago, the cluster of the Orozco ranches on Agua Negra’s outskirts received electricity and running water. New census data shows a broad expansion of such services: water and trash collection, once unheard of outside cities, are now available to more than 90 percent of Jalisco’s homes. Dirt floors can now be found in only 3 percent of the state’s houses, down from 12 percent in 1990.

Still, education represents the most meaningful change. The census shows that throughout Jalisco, the number of senior high schools or preparatory schools for students aged 15 to 18 increased to 724 in 2009, from 360 in 2000, far outpacing population growth. The Technological Institute of Arandas, where Angel studies engineering, is now one of 13 science campuses created in Jalisco since 2000 — a major reason professionals in the state, with a bachelor’s degree or higher, also more than doubled to 821,983 in 2010, up from 405,415 in 2000.

Similar changes have occurred elsewhere. In the poor southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, for instance, professional degree holders rose to 525,874 from 244,322 in 2000.

And the data from secondary schools like the one the Orozcos attended in Agua Negra suggests that the trend will continue. Thanks to a Mexican government program called “schools of quality” the campus of three buildings painted sunflower yellow has five new computers for its 71 students, along with new books.

Teachers here, in classrooms surrounded by blue agave fields, say that enrollment is down slightly because families are having fewer children, and instead of sending workers north, some families have moved to other Mexican cities — a trend also found in academic field research. Around half the students now move on to higher schooling, up from 30 percent a decade ago.

“They’re identifying more with Mexico,” said Agustín Martínez González, a teacher. “With more education, they’re more likely to accept reality here and try to make it better.”

Some experts agree. Though Mexicans with Ph.D.’s tend to leave for bigger paychecks abroad, “if you have a college degree you’re much more likely to stay in Mexico because that is surely more valuable in Mexico,” said Jeffrey S. Passel, a demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center.

If these trends — particularly Mexican economic growth — continue over the next decade, Mr. Passel said, changes in the migration dynamic may become even clearer. “At the point where the U.S. needs the workers again,” he said, “there will be fewer of them.”
Praying for Papers

The United States, of course, has not lost its magnetic appeal. Illegal traffic from Central America has not dropped as fast as it has from Mexico, and even in Jalisco town plazas are now hangouts for men in their 30s with tattoos, oversize baseball caps and a desire to work again in California or another state. Bars with American names — several have adopted Shrek — signal a back and forth that may never disappear.

But more Mexicans are now traveling legally. Several Orozco cousins have received temporary worker visas in the past few years. In March, peak migration season for Jalisco, there were 15 people from Agua Negra at the border waiting to cross.

“And 10 had visas,” said Ramón Orozco, 30, another son of Antonio who works in the town’s government office after being the first in his family to go to college. “A few years ago there would have been 100, barely any with proper documents.”

This is not unique to Agua Negra. A few towns away at the hillside shrine of St. Toribio, the patron saint of migrants, prayers no longer focus on asking God to help sons, husbands or brothers crossing the desert. “Now people are praying for papers,” said María Guadalupe, 47, a longtime volunteer.

How did this happen?

Partly, emigrants say, illegal life in the United States became harder. Laws restricting illegal immigrants’ rights or making it tougher for employers to hire them have passed in more than a dozen states since 2006. The same word-of-mouth networks that used to draw people north are now advising against the journey. “Without papers all you’re thinking about is, when are the police going to stop you or what other risks are you going to face,” said Andrés Orozco.

Andrés, a horse lover who drives a teal pickup from Texas, is one of many Orozcos now pinning their hopes on a visa. And for the first time in years, the chances have improved.

Mexican government estimates based on survey data show not just a decrease in migration overall, but also an increase in border crossings with documents. In 2009, the most recent year for which data is available, 38 percent of the total attempted crossings, legal and illegal, were made with documents. In 2007, only 20 percent involved such paperwork.

The Mexican data counts attempted crossings, not people, and does not differentiate between categories of visas. Nor does it mention how long people stayed, nor whether all the documents were valid.

Advocates of limited immigration worry that the issuing of more visas creates a loophole that can be abused. Between 40 and 50 percent of the illegal immigrants in the United States entered legally with visas they overstayed, as of 2005, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

More recent American population data, however, shows no overall increase in the illegal Mexican population. That suggests that most of the temporary visas issued to Mexicans — 1.1 million in 2010 — are being used legitimately even as American statistics show clearly that visa opportunities have increased.
Easing a Chaotic Process

One man, Mr. McKeon, the minister counselor who oversees all consular affairs in Mexico, has played a significant role in that expansion.

A lawyer with a white beard and a quick tongue, Mr. McKeon arrived in the summer of 2007. And after more than 30 years working in consular affairs in China, Japan and elsewhere, he quickly decided to make changes in Mexico. Working within administrative rules, State Department officials say, he re-engineered the visa program to de-emphasize the affordability standard that held that visas were to be denied to those who could not prove an income large enough to support travel to the United States.

In a country where a person can cross the border with a 25-cent toll, Mr. McKeon said, the income question was irrelevant. “You have to look at everyone individually,” he said in an interview at his office in Mexico City. “I don’t want people to say, here’s the income floor, over yes, lower no.”

This led to an almost immediate decrease in the rejection rate for tourist visas. Before he arrived, around 32 percent were turned down. Since 2008, the rate has been around 11 percent.

Mr. McKeon — praised by some immigration lawyers for bringing consistency to a chaotic process — was also instrumental in expanding the temporary visa program for agricultural workers. Called H-2A, this is one of the few visa categories without a cap.

Around 2006, as the debate over immigration became more contentious, employers concentrated in the Southeast began applying for more workers through the program. Mr. McKeon began hosting conferences with all the stakeholders and deployed new technology and additional staff members. The waiting time for several visa categories decreased, government reports show. For H-2As, Mexican workers can now receive their documents the same day that they apply.

Mr. McKeon also pushed to make the program more attractive to Mexicans who might otherwise cross the border illegally. Two years ago, he eliminated a $100 visa issuance fee that was supposed to be covered by employers but was usually paid by workers. And he insisted that his staff members change their approach with Mexicans who had previously worked illegally in the United States.

“The message used to be, if you were working illegally, lie about it or don’t even try to go legally because we won’t let you,” said one senior State Department official. “What we’re saying now is, tell us you did it illegally, be honest and we’ll help you.”

Specifically, consulate workers dealing with H-2A applicants who were once illegal — making them subject to 3- or 10-year bans depending on the length of their illegal stay — now regularly file electronic waiver applications to the United States Customs and Border Patrol. About 85 percent of these are now approved, Mr. McKeon said, so that in 2010 most of the 52,317 Mexican workers with H-2A visas had previously been in the United States illegally.

“It’s not easy to go through this process,” Mr. McKeon said, “and I think people who are willing to go through all of that and risk going back to the United States where they have to pay taxes, and withholding, I think we should look favorably on them.”

Speaking as the son of a New Jersey plumber, he added: “My bias is toward people who sweat at work because I really think that’s the backbone of our country. With limited resources, I’d rather devote our efforts to keeping out a drug kingpin than trying to find someone who works a couple of months at Cousin Hector’s body shop.”
A Divisive Topic

In the heated debate over immigration, however, this topic is inevitably divisive. Pro-immigrant groups, when told of the expansion to legal immigration, say it still may not be enough in a country where the baby boomers are retiring in droves.

Farmers still complain that the H-2A visa program is too complicated and addresses only a portion of the total demand. As of 2010, there were 1,381,896 Mexicans still waiting for their green-card applications to be accepted or rejected. And the United States currently makes only 5,000 green cards annually available worldwide for low-wage workers to immigrate permanently; in recent years, only a few of those have gone to Mexicans.

On the other side, Steven A. Camarota, a demographer at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, which favors reduced immigration, said that increasing the proportion of legal entries did little good.

“If you believe there is significant job competition at the bottom end of the labor market, as I do, you’re not fixing the problem,” Mr. Camarota said. “If you are concerned about the fiscal cost of unskilled immigration and everyone comes in on temporary visas and overstays, or even if they don’t, the same problems are likely to apply.”

By his calculations, unskilled immigrants like the Orozcos have, over the years, helped push down hourly wages, especially for young, unskilled American workers. Immigrants are also more likely to rely on welfare, he said, adding to public costs.

The Orozco clan, however, may point to a different future. Angel Orozco, like many other young Mexicans, now talks about the United States not as a place to earn money, but rather as a destination for fun and spending.

Today he is just a lanky, shy freshman wearing a Daughtry T-shirt and living in a two-room apartment with only a Mexican flag and a rosary for decoration.

But his dreams are big and local. After graduating, he said, he hopes to work for a manufacturing company in Arandas, which seems likely because the director of his school says that nearly 90 percent of graduates find jobs in their field. Then, Angel said, he will be able to buy what he really wants: a shiny, new red Camaro.