Friday, November 23, 2007

Mexico's frustration with U.S. immigration policy builds

Mexico's frustration with U.S. immigration policy builds
Government, advocates are calling for measures to influence U.S. public opinion.

By Jeremy Schwartz
Saturday, November 17, 2007

MEXICO CITY — Anger in Mexico is growing in the wake of a number of new state laws in the United States considered by critics to be anti-Mexican, a shift probably reflected in President Felipe Calderón's verbal lashing this week of U.S. presidential candidates.

In tougher rhetoric toward U.S. immigration policies, Calderón scolded presidential candidates for using migrants as thematic hostages and announced a media campaign aimed at influencing American public opinion.

Calderón's comments represented a dramatic departure from the statements of past leaders and were welcomed by many in Mexico.

"I think the current American government has gone too far against illegal Mexicans," said Fernando Garcia, a 36-year-old Mexico City administrator. "I don't like the raids and how they destroy families (and) ... the hate they are generating against Mexicans."

Such sentiment contrasts with the cooler reaction much that Mexico gave to the millions of immigrants who took to the streets of Washington, Los Angeles, Austin and other cities in the spring and summer of 2006 to demand an overhaul of immigration laws.

The seeming indifference and lack of supporting protests in Mexico irritated many advocates of immigrant rights.

But since then, immigration reforms on Capitol Hill have stalled, while a series of stiff state laws were enacted and the U.S. government started building a wall along the border.

Supporters in the United States say such laws are designed to curb illegal immigration. But many in Mexico see them as discriminatory, while failing to address the larger issue of immigration policy.

The Calderón administration this week also blasted the U.S.-backed border wall, releasing a study labeling it medieval and an environmental risk, and calling on the U.S. Congress to reconsider the idea.

Mexico, which often reacts with anger to even a hint of U.S. meddling in its internal affairs, has been loath to comment so directly on internal U.S. politics in recent years.

"Every day, there is more demand for the Mexican government to take a stronger position," said Manuel Angel Castillo, coordinator of the Migration Seminary at the College of Mexico. "The immigration reform generated a lot of expectation, but as we all know, that didn't happen. Instead they approved a series of undesirable actions, and all these things are now creating a lot of irritation."

At an immigrant advocates' conference this week in Mexico City, attendees cited some 170 anti-immigrant measures adopted by local and state governments in the U.S. Many said the time had come to confront what is increasingly seen as a rising tide of xenophobia.

"Just the idea that our children will live in ... humiliation is something we cannot allow," said Alonso Flores, member of the Institute of Mexicans in the Exterior, a Mexican government agency that fosters ties with Mexicans living abroad.

His agency estimates that 1 million Mexicans will be deported next year from the U.S. as a result of the new laws.

Calderón, in a speech to the conference, said a new media campaign would change the distorted perceptions Americans have about Mexican workers and build consciousness of the "many contributions they make for the society in which they work and live."

Experts in Mexico say it's too early to tell whether Calderón's comments signal a change in how the Mexican government deals with American politics.

"In the coming weeks and months, we will see if (Calderón's) declarations form part of a new strategy," said Luis Escala, a researcher at the Tijuana-based College of the Northern Border.

But Calderón does appear to be taking a more active role in the fate of immigrants than past presidents, analysts say.

He favors the creation of a kind of anti-defamation league for Mexican immigrants in the United States and has supported the idea of building support centers along the border for deported Mexicans. Such centers would offer food, clothing and shelter for deportees.

Advocates also are pushing for a program to help deportees transition back to life in their homeland.

Escala said the timing of Calderón's remarks and the struggle to fight back against perceived anti-immigration attacks is not by chance.

"The engines of the presidential campaign are starting," he said. "And they are wanting to have an influence." Additional material by news assistant Julieta Gutierrez in Mexico City.Find this article at:

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