Saturday, October 6, 2007

Mexico to bolster immigrant defense

Mexico is stepping up its support of its Mexican consulate offices due to all the anti-immigrant bashing that is occurring presently in the U.S. Some think it's meddling, but who else is going to protect their rights? Surely, immigrant-rights groups play a role, but for the kinds of issues facing immigrants, they need support from consules that have deep knowledge and understanding of immigrations laws, policies, and options for those facing deportation, eviction, etcetera.

-Dra. Valenzuela

Mexico to bolster immigrant defense
Anti-defamation league weighed as consulates in U.S. go on offensive
12:00 AM CDT on Thursday, October 4, 2007

By ALFREDO CORCHADO and DIANNE SOLÍS / The Dallas Morning News
The Mexican government is giving its consulates in the U.S. wide latitude to ramp up a campaign to toughen their defense of immigrants and plans to give them more resources as well, officials familiar with the strategy said.

The move comes as deportations reach an all-time high in the toughest crackdown in decades by the U.S. government and police authorities.

Among the actions under discussion are the creation of an anti-defamation league similar to that focused on protecting Jews; budget increases for some of the 47 consulates, especially in regions such as North Texas, where Mexican migration has been swift and plentiful; and a media campaign aimed at counteracting groups opposed to illegal immigration and sometimes legal immigration.

The effort underscores the tension in U.S. communities grappling with problems created by illegal immigration. And it is sure to further incense groups demanding a crackdown on immigration, both legal and illegal.

"Our fight is no longer inside the Beltway," said one senior Mexican official, who agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity. "We have been forced to change our strategy."

But Jean Towell, president of Dallas-based Citizens for Immigration Reform, called the move "arrogant," saying that the Mexican government does not "have the right to meddle in our affairs."

"They have come out before saying it is wrong for us to meddle in Mexico's affairs," she said. "They are losing human capital. It would be better if they provided the right kind of incentives to keep their people there. It is a no-brainer."

Mexican government officials gave few additional details about the plan but said it would cover 11 million first-generation citizens, half of whom live in an "irregular migratory situation."

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said the plan "is guaranteed to backfire."

"They may feel that if they want an amnesty, they have to try," he said. But "they are going to be directly engaging in American politics. That is something American consuls would be deported for."

Mr. Krikorian said he was surprised by the new approach because Mexico's U.S. ambassador, Arturo Sarukkhán, usually chooses his words so carefully.

Mr. Sarukkhán could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.

Mexico City meeting
Nearly two dozen U.S.-based immigrant leaders, including North Texans, flew to Mexico City recently to meet with senior officials of the Foreign Ministry and the Interior Ministry to discuss the strategy. The Foreign Ministry and its Institute for Mexicans Abroad, or IME, is carrying out the government's plan.

Mario Ramírez, a Dallas businessman and Mexican immigrant who attended the meeting, said he knows his loyalty to the U.S., as a naturalized citizen, will be questioned.

But "as descendants of Mexicans and citizens of the United States, we feel it is our responsibility to create bridges of understanding because the anti-Mexican mood in the United States is causing us – and both countries – much harm," he said. "What do we have to lose anymore? We've been beaten up to the point that all we can do is fight back. ... Things will get worse before they get better."

Foreign Ministry officials called the meeting part of a strategy by President Felipe Calderón to "reinforce consultations and communications with organizations dedicated to the defense of the rights of migrants."

Quiet diplomacy has failed, said those at the Mexico City meeting. As evidence, they pointed to what they call the "venomous" immigration debate and the death of legislation this summer to overhaul U.S. immigration laws.

"There is a sense that nothing will happen in the next two years in the U.S. Congress, so Mexican immigrants are determined to keep the issue alive and defend themselves with efforts like funding their own anti-defamation league," Andres Rozental, a former Mexican ambassador and private consultant, told The Dallas Morning News last month. "That in itself is quite an impressive statement."

A more vigorous defense of immigrants, over time, might bring politicians back to the negotiating table, some said.

The Mexico City meeting took place Sept. 15, the start of Mexico's Independence Day festivities. Hours later, at the National Palace, Mr. Calderón gave the traditional grito of independence from Spain. Revelers in Dallas viewed a taped message in which Mr. Calderón boldly expressed his disappointment over the "lack of political goodwill" that led to the failure of an immigration overhaul.

Nationwide crackdown
The tension created by Congress' failure to overhaul a broken immigration system is evident in cities across the country – where local and state governments are taking it upon themselves to address problems created by illegal immigration.

Some 41 states, including Texas, have stiffened requirements for driver's licenses, placing a tourniquet on the ability of illegal immigrants to get what many workers consider an invaluable document. Scores of small communities have passed ordinances to crack down on day laborer sites. And still others, such as Farmers Branch, have adopted tough rental housing measures that have been challenged by U.S. lawyers.

In Irving – where one out of three people is foreign-born – deportations have soared to about 300 a month since city police began more rigorous interaction with federal immigration officers a year ago.

When Mexican Consul Enrique Hubbard Urrea heard reports that police had been targeting common areas in apartment complexes, asking people about their immigration status, the former ambassador spread the word in the immigrant community to stay out of Irving.

Community protests began, followed by cheers from residents against illegal immigration.

Eduardo Rea, spokesman for the Dallas Mexican consul and a key diplomat in that office, said they are very worried about the rights of immigrants in Irving.

"We are trying to defend the rights of the people and at the same time, go to more forums so that people understand the law and know that they have to respect it. And obviously, [make sure] that they understand their rights."

Mexico-born Elvia Wallace Martínez, a naturalized U.S. citizen who runs a family learning center in Irving, said she "didn't expect this to happen here."

"They hate us now," said Ms. Wallace Martínez.

Illegal immigrants now face the most significant crackdown in the U.S. in decades.

In the first 10 months of this fiscal year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement carried out more than 220,000 illegal immigrant removals – or roughly the population of Plano. That's nearly double the number in fiscal year 2001, according to ICE statistics.

Mexico has a mixed record in defending its workers in the United States, note historians and immigrant advocates.

In the 1930s, Mexico defended Mexicans and their U.S. citizen children in the San Diego, Calif., area when a school district tried to send those children to separate and inferior schools. The case was the first successful legal challenge to school segregation, said Paul Espinosa, an Arizona State University professor and filmmaker who produced a documentary on the episode called the Lemon Grove Incident.

"The 1930s is a period where they were quite active," Dr. Espinosa said of the Mexican consulates. "It was quite challenging. They had to be active without appearing to be active."

And so it is now, the professor said.

Will it be funded?
Still, it remains unclear how richly the Mexican government will finance its plan. Many Mexican consulates have complained for years about being strapped for resources. In Dallas, the last two Mexican consuls have repeatedly announced plans to shutter their overcrowded offices off Stemmons Freeway for something more spacious.

The Foreign Ministry, in a prepared statement to The News, reiterated its commitment to consulates and said it would move the Dallas office into a larger space. It also said it has approved two more consulate offices, one in Boise, Idaho, and another in Anchorage, Alaska.

Still, other questions remain.

Primitivo Rodríguez, a Mexico City resident who attended the meeting, said he worries that it's too late for the Mexican government to try a new strategy, and many Mexicans may soon be returning to a country unable to provide good-paying jobs.

"There is a tsunami, not a thunderstorm, coming toward us, and I don't think the government has a plan," said Mr. Rodríguez, coordinator of the Coalition for the Political Rights of Mexicans Abroad, which has members in Chicago, Los Angeles and Houston. "What will Mexico do with so many unhappy, desperate people? Mexico is simply not prepared for what's coming next."

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