Sunday, November 25, 2012

NAVARRETTE: Mexico's strained relations

 with its diaspora

Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 7:00 p.m.


In the United States, some on the nativist fringe suspect that Mexican-Americans are reconquistas.

As if we’re agents of the Mexican government working quietly to undermine U.S. sovereignty in the Southwest and hasten the day when that real estate reverts to its previous owner. That’s loco.

But here in the most populous city in North America, I’ve just heard a competing argument that is just as far-fetched. Some Mexican politicians and intellectuals now want to bestow another title upon the estimated 35 million Mexican-Americans who live north of the border: ambassador. They want us to represent Mexico, and its people, in the United States.

I’ve come to Mexico City as part of a delegation of Mexican-American and American Jewish leaders organized by the Latino and Latin American Institute of the American Jewish Committee, a global Jewish advocacy organization, with the goal of strengthening relations between Latinos and Jews in the United States.

Perhaps Mexicans view Jewish people as the model. They see American Jews advocating for Israel and sending millions of dollars to the Holy Land to build schools, museums and hospitals, and they want the same things from Mexican-Americans living in the United States. After all, they say, both groups are part of the diaspora — people forced to live outside their ancestral homeland who have historically been subject to prejudice.

Speaking of ancestral homelands, I’ve come back to the country where my grandfather was born — at almost the centennial of that destiny-altering moment when a young boy and his family crossed what was at the time little more than a line in the dirt and started a new chapter in the United States.

The hundreds of thousands of Mexicans who fled their country during the Mexican Revolution, from 1910 to 1920, weren’t so much immigrants as refugees. Many of them didn’t come just for better lives but, literally, to save their lives.

Now, as their children and grandchildren take their place in American society, some Mexicans are calling the new generations to come back — at least in spirit. They want Mexican-Americans to reconnect with Mexico.

“We need a closer relationship with the Mexican-American community in the U.S., because there is a tremendous opportunity there,” Luis de la Calle, a scholar and political analyst, told us. “We need to make an effort so that this community sees Mexico as an asset. And Mexico needs to see the Mexican-American community in the U.S. as an asset — in terms of business, of course, but also in terms of representing Mexico in the U.S. We need to see Mexican-Americans as our ambassadors. It’s a difficult thing for Mexicans to accept, but that is exactly the way we should see them.”

Timeout. How about we take a minute and consider how Mexican-Americans see Mexicans and, for that matter, Mexico? This ambassador thing isn't just difficult for Mexicans to accept. For many Mexican-Americans, it’ll be a nonstarter.

One Mexican-American in the delegation pushed back against the idea. If we are ambassadors for Mexico, he told de la Calle, then we are “ambassadors without portfolio.” Part of the reason, he said, is that we have a “love-hate relationship” with Mexicans who often consider us to be “not Mexican enough.”

That’s absolutely right. Those in the Mexican ruling class were indifferent to our parents and grandparents, and now they’re insulting to us. Our Spanish will never be good enough, our roots never strong enough.

I’m not alone in my resentment. Show me a Mexican-American, and I’ll show you someone with a family tree that includes an expatriate who fled to the north because Mexico had nothing to offer. For many of us, the grudge endures.

Ironically, many of the economic opportunities that Mexico now enjoys come from expatriates living in the north — the dishwashers in Las Vegas, the housekeepers in Phoenix, the gardeners in Dallas. These expatriates send home more than $20 billion in remittances. It’s a generous gift that helps sustain the Mexican economy, but many of the Mexican elite are too proud to acknowledge it. They like to think they’re the ones keeping Mexico afloat.

Now, Mexican officials want to enlist Mexican-Americans to help give Mexico a makeover. The relationship is still an open wound, and yet they expect us — the children and grandchildren of the throwaways — to open our wallets.

That’s not going to happen, amigos. First, acknowledge the wound. And do whatever you can to heal it. Then we’ll talk.
Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group.

Report: Illegal Mexican migration to US stabilizes

Updated 2:48 p.m., Tuesday, October 23, 2012

  • FILE - This April 19, 2011 file photo shows a member of the National Guard checking on his colleague inside a Border Patrol Skybox near the Hidalgo International Bridge in Hidalgo, Texas. Illegal immigration has slowed in recent years, with the Border Patrol recently recording the fewest arrests in almost 40 years. But many people worry that the Mexican border, the most popular crossing point for newly arriving illegal immigrants, still isn’t secure more than a decade after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Photo: Delcia Lopez / AP

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The number of migrants crossing illegally into the United States from Mexico appears to have risen some in the first half of 2012, while the number of migrants returning to Mexico decreased, a report by U.S. and Mexican researchers said Tuesday.
It was the first time the net outflow of migrants from Mexico has increased since the 2007 economic slump caused a sharp drop in both migration and the amount of money sent home by Mexicans working in the U.S. as migrants found it harder to find work north of the border.
The report by Mexico's Colegio de la Frontera Norte and the University of Southern California's Tomas Rivera Policy Institute said the number of Mexican-born people in the United States seemed to have stabilized at around 11.7 million and might grow slightly by year's end. The number included Mexicans who migrated legally and those who crossed over illegally.
"The recession-induced decline of undocumented migration from Mexico appears to have stopped in the first half of 2012 amid tentative signs of a renewed northbound flow," the study said.
The report is based on surveys done at Mexican border crossings, bus stations and airports and on U.S. deportation, repatriation and demographics data. It says heightened U.S. enforcement of immigration laws and state initiatives like one enacted in Arizona didn't appear to have persuaded illegal migrants already in the United States to leave.
"Despite evidence of growing psychological effects on the migrants who are removed, the available data suggest that these efforts have failed to have substantial, ongoing effects on the size of the Mexican migrant population," the report said. "Neither the border survey nor the other indicators examined here offers any evidence that those efforts have had any effect on the number of Mexican migrants leaving the country. On the contrary, fewer Mexican migrants have left the United States since those enforcement efforts went into effect."
The report added that "the available data for migration trends in 2012 suggest that the size of that (U.S. Mexican migrant) population might show a small increase across the entire year unless the U.S. economy flattens or declines in the third and fourth quarters."
Rodolfo Garcia Zamora, an immigration expert at the state university in Zacatecas, a Mexican state that is home to many migrants to the U.S., expressed caution about the report, which he was not involved in.
Garcia Zamora feels it is too early to say illegal migration is rebounding, even with a slight uptick in the number of migrants heading north. He said considerable evidence suggests many migrants continue to return to Mexico voluntarily in the face of difficult economic conditions in the United States.
"The evidence we have is that the flow of undocumented migrants to the United States continues stagnant and blocked, and that the number of migrants returning from the United States continues to increase," Garcia Zamora said.
He said about 1,000 families had returned to Zacatecas so far this year. He said returning migrants inform their fellow townspeople about difficult conditions north of the border, thus discouraging them from making the trip.
The report, "The Mexican Migration Monitor," said the prospect for getting a job remains the determining factor for would-be migrants. "Economic conditions in the United States have been, and remain, the primary determinants of the size of Mexican migration flows," it said.
Garcia Zamora said some evidence suggests there may have been "a very slight, very temporary rebound" in migration in the first half of 2012, "because of a rebound in some specific industries where Mexicans work" in the United States, like food service and janitorial service.
The report also cited an increase in the percentage of migrants crossing illegally into the U.S. In 2006, at the height of the migration boom, eight of 10 would-be Mexican migrants sought to enter the U.S. illegally. That dropped to less than half following the 2007 downturn, but now about 60 percent of migrants are crossing illegally, the report said.
Mexico's most recent national census, in 2010, said migration had fallen to about one-third of its peak level of about 450,000 Mexicans who left each year from 2000 through 2005.
Garcia Zamora said the U.S. no longer serves "an escape valve for our country, as it has for the last 50 years." The result, he said, is that Mexico will probably now see increased internal migration, with people moving from farm states to Mexico's industrial cities.

Ruben Navarrette: Immigration debate shows hypocrisy on both sides

By Ruben Navarrette
Washington Post
Published: Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 4E
Last Modified: Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012 - 11:23 am

MEXICO CITY – If you think the debate over immigration from Mexico into the United States is complicated, just take a trip south of the border and look at it from that side.

Complicated isn't the half of it. The immigration debate is also dishonest and hypocritical and filled with people who would rather pursue their own interests than solve the problem. And it all revolves around a broken system that stays broken because important and powerful interests want it that way.

This is true in both countries. Mexico is just as reluctant as the United States to confront the larger issue of migration – both of its own people north to the United States and along its own southern border, where Central and South Americans want to get into a country that many natives are desperate to flee. Nor does the Mexican elite want to swallow its pride and admit that the real engine behind the Mexican economy isn't people like them but Mexicans who don't even live in Mexico anymore – immigrant workers in the United States.

In Mexico City, politicians, journalists and intellectuals are eager to avoid the issue altogether. They point out that migration to the United States from Mexico has slowed to a trickle. With a U.S. economy that is sluggish and a Mexican one that is bouncing back, many would-be migrants find that going north isn't worth the trouble.

The part about the trickle is true enough. Take it from Princeton professor Douglas S. Massey, an expert on Mexico, whose research shows that net migration between the two countries has fallen to its lowest level since the 1950s. Or take it from the Pew Hispanic Center, which found that the illegal immigrant population in the United States is shrinking and that fewer illegal immigrants are arriving than in previous years.

But things change, and migration is unpredictable. When the U.S. economy improves, and if the Mexican one falters, the flow of illegal immigrants is likely to increase. Besides, for many young men in Mexico, going north is a rite of passage. Grandpa did it. Dad did it. And they want to do it.

Mexico is a permanent fixture of the immigration debate in the United States, whether Americans like it or not. It is no secret that this country is responsible for most of the migration into the United States – both legal and illegal. By some estimates, Mexicans account for as many as six out of 10 illegal immigrants in the United States.

Better make that, partly responsible. It's also well-known that Mexico has a co-conspirator: U.S. employers. These folks often prefer to hire Mexican laborers over American counterparts. And not because the foreigners work for lower wages but because they tend to have more of a work ethicand less sense of entitlement.

The way that many Americans see it, Mexico gave up the right to comment on how the United States treats immigrants when it failed to provide opportunities for its own people so they had to look elsewhere.

Not that the Mexican people, or their leaders, are likely to keep quiet. When the immigration debate starts up again in Congress, as is likely to happen in the next few months, we can expect Mexicans to put in their 2 cents.

With a full 5 percent of its population living north of the Rio Grande, and countless Mexican families feeling the strain that comes from having parents separated from their children, Mexico can't afford not to defend the expatriates. The catch? If it comes off as too aggressive, its advocacy could backfire – and hurt the very people it wants to help by hardening the views of Americans.

For much of the 20th century, when it came to migration, Mexico had a good thing. It got rid of millions of people that its economy didn't have room for, and then those people went on to send home remittances that today total more than $20 billion.

Now it's time for Mexico to develop a 21st-century approach. This includes acknowledging the enormous contribution that Mexicans living abroad make to the motherland, and working diligently to provide them better services through Mexican consulates across the United States.

But it also involves not lecturing a neighbor about how to treat people that you've expelled.

For much of the 20th century, when it came to migration, Mexico had a good thing. It got rid of millions of people that its economy didn't have room for, and then those people went on to send home remittances that today total more than $20 billion. Now it's time for Mexico to develop a 21st-century approach.

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