Mexican president Felipe Calderón is supposed to be a little more conservative and a little bit more in tune with the current political climate in the United States than predecessor Vicente Fox.
But Calderón sounds quite a bit like Fox when he defends rampant migration, even by illegal means, as he did Thursday at a conference of governors from Mexico and the U.S. in Rocky Point. Capitol Media Services reported in the Tribune that Calderón called northward migration a “natural phenomenon (that is) socially and economically unavoidable.
“Mexican workers in the United States are a complement to workers, not a substitute,” Calderón also said. “Mexican workers deserve dignified treatment.”
Such statements strike many Americans as hypocritical when the Mexican army has standing orders to stop Guatemalans and other Latin Americans from drifting into Mexico, at gunpoint if necessary. But Calderón’s sentiments reflect just how critical U.S. migration has become to his country’s economy and how it overshadows domestic politics and foreign relations. Calderón has little choice but to object to a U.S. crackdown on illegal immigration as long as we refuse to open more avenues for Mexican workers to legally reach American employment.
Migration has become the key release valve for crushing poverty in a country rich with natural resources but unable to effectively utilize them. Shutting off that valve would only complicate Mexico’s attempts to reduce widespread drug trafficking and murder in its northern states, and could fuel the social unrest that frequently erupts further south.
Migration is definitely a mixed blessing for Mexico. Calderón said Thursday his country has lost many of its most talented and hard-working residents. Some critics claim such a drain of human capital has delayed the growth and evolution of Mexico’s economy by removing those with the greatest potential to generate new wealth. Still, most of those who have departed are sending a large portion of their foreign earnings back home. The Bank of Mexico estimates such remittances climbed to $22 billion in 2006, which is more money than Mexico brings in from tourism or crude oil, according to Mexidata.info.
This is one reason why the Tribune Editorial Board advocates for immigration policy reforms along with tougher border enforcement. We must significantly reduce illegal immigration, but refusing to admit more legal foreign workers could cripple the Mexican economy. An unstable Mexico likely would be at least as dangerous to the U.S. as our open borders have been.