Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Calderon, in U.S., Says Jobs to Cut Mexico Emigration (Update1)

Do check out this study conducted by U of Az researchers about the contributions of the undocumented to the U.S. economy. -Dra. Valenzuela

Calderon, in U.S., Says Jobs to Cut Mexico Emigration (Update1)
By Thomas Black and Matthew Keenan

Feb. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Mexican President Felipe Calderon, on a tour of the U.S., said emigration will be reduced by creating jobs and fostering economic growth at home.

``It's possible to transform Mexico from a nation that loses its best people to migration into a nation capable of generating opportunity for Mexicans on their own soil,'' Calderon said yesterday at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

To help foment that growth Mexico's government and private companies will invest 500 billion pesos ($46.4 billion) annually to build highways, ports and airports during the next four years, said Calderon, who earned a master's degree in public administration from the Kennedy School.

The Mexican president spoke on the second day of a six-day trip to the U.S. His visit is aimed at drawing investment to Mexico and improving the image of Mexicans living abroad as immigration looms as a central issue in campaigning by U.S. presidential candidates.

``We are neighbors, we are friends and we must be allies,'' he said. ``Whoever is the next president of the United States, this country can count on Mexico to deal in that direction.''

`Big Mistake'

Calderon said the countries share a 3,000 kilometer (1,860 mile) border, with the Americans having a capital-intensive economy and Mexico's being abundant in labor.

``Clearly we are two complementary economies,'' he said. ``The American economy is suffering, but if you take the point of view that the solution for this situation, the lack of competitiveness of the American economy, is closing the border, you're making a very, very big mistake.''

Immigrants bolster the Mexican economy by sending home more than $20 billion in cash each year -- the second-largest source of foreign income after oil exports.

``My mom lives on what we send her,'' said Amalia Tostado, 58, who operates a machine that plants cabbage and celery in Oxnard, California, a coastal city some 60 miles north of Los Angeles. ``If the illegal Mexicans didn't come, the product would be ruined.''

Tostado, from Jalisco, Mexico, said she overstayed her tourist visa twenty years ago, encouraged her family to immigrate as well, and then became a legal resident.

Mexican Workers

Immigration provides an outlet for workers who would otherwise be swelling the ranks of the unemployed in Mexico's job market.

``One can attribute Mexico's political stability to that escape valve,'' said Armand Peschard-Sverdrup, director of the Mexico Project for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. ``Calderon has come to realize he can't afford for there to be a vacuum on the immigration debate.''

Calderon's predecessor, Vicente Fox, made a high-profile push for U.S. President George W. Bush to introduce reform that would allow for temporary work visas and make it possible for immigrants to become legal U.S. residents. Fox's political adversaries labeled his foreign policy a failure when his efforts proved unsuccessful.

While being seen as protecting Mexican workers in the U.S. is popular in Mexico, the strategy could cause a backlash among U.S. anti-immigration groups.

``Calderon has to be very careful what he says,'' said James Jones, a former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico from 1993 to 1997 who heads a consulting firm. Calderon runs the risk of provoking a ``dangerous, emotional, anti-Mexican response.''

U.S. Election

U.S. presidential candidates such as former Arkansas Governor Michael Huckabee have brought the immigration issue to the forefront of current policy debates. He has proposed completing a wall across the U.S.-Mexico border and opposes granting legal status to people already living in the U.S. without proper documents.

``I will take our country back for those who belong here,'' Huckabee said on his campaign Web site.

An increase in migrant deportations and U.S. funding for a border wall have prompted responses from Calderon. In a December speech in Tijuana, he defended Mexicans working in the U.S., saying they add more to the U.S. economy than they take away.

``Those who because of ignorance, bad faith, political or economic interests seek to present Mexican immigrants and even Mexicans in general as enemies of the United States are wrong,'' he said.

`Out of Necessity'

Calderon's administration is touting studies such as one published by the University of Arizona that found immigrants, including undocumented persons, contributed $940 million more in taxes than they cost the government in services in 2004.

Petra Soto, her husband and two children used to cram into a one-room dwelling and sleep on a dirt floor in the Mexican state of Hidalgo. Eight years after migrating, her family has a two-bedroom house, a television and a kitchen in Oxnard, California.

In Mexico, ``there isn't work and if there is, it's badly paid,'' said Soto, who earns between $200 and $400 a week picking strawberries. ``We're here out of necessity. I don't want my children to work in the fields like us.''

The push from Calderon coincides with a $100 million television advertising campaign that pro-migrant group Mexicans and Americans Thinking Together plans to air by May, said Lionel Sosa, the 68-year-old advertising executive who founded the group.

``It's a problem that needs to be addressed,'' Sosa said. ``It can't be solved without the Mexican president and the Mexican leadership weighing in.''

To contact the reporters on this story: Thomas Black in Monterrey, Mexico, at tblack@bloomberg.net ; Matthew Keenan in Boston at mkeenan6@bloomberg.net

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