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La Jornada, Mexico

Immigration Reform:
To Participate or Not?

By Ana María Aragonés

Translated By Karen Posada

19 February 2013

Edited by Natalie Clager


Mexico - La Jornada - Original Article (Spanish)

In the State of the Union address he gave on Tuesday Feb. 12, President Barack Obama emphatically indicated he is now willing to carry out immigration reform and urged members of Congress to present a proposition as soon as possible. Now, there are many possibilities for this reform to become a reality for various reasons, among which is Republicans have a less virulent position against immigrants than before. They are convinced candidate Mitt Romney lost the presidency for his stance against them. We all remember his proposal of making their life so hard that they would end up “self-deporting.” Those kinds of declarations were costly to the candidate, and now Republicans are extremely worried for the midterm elections of 2014. If they don’t soften their speech it could be devastating for them. Senator Marco Rubio seems to have understood this. He’s known for his anti-immigration position, but in a response speech to Barack Obama on February 12 he took a completely different, well-calculated position. The Republicans hope he’s their next candidate for president.

However, this doesn’t mean the road will be easy for this reform to have the necessary basis for the undocumented to move from the juridical limbo they find themselves in to conditions that allow them to live and work like any other citizen. That’s exactly one of the big controversies immigration reform faces. Republicans, especially those to the far right, do not want the undocumented to have that right, unlike the Democrats who propose that condition so that the reform is meaningful.

On the one hand, Republicans insist the president has to first strengthen border security to even discuss immigration reform. In response to this request, which is unclear as to what it entails, Obama has reinforced the border, investing more money and personnel than other administrations, and the “wall of disgrace” is still there. On the other hand, he’s the president who has overseen the most deportations in his administration’s time, without caring about the devastating conditions in which families are left. For example, in the fiscal year of 2012, 410,000 immigrants were deported.

Without a doubt, an influential electoral convenience marks this story, but don’t forget the United States has structural problems difficult to solve in the short-term, demographic as well as educational. Low birthrates affect the reproduction of the economically active population and allow immigrant women, to some extent, to revert that tendency. Barack Obama was very clear about education in his speech, stating the difficulties the country faces: expensive universities, low graduation rates, too much falling behind in subjects like mathematics, engineering, sciences, computers and technology, which prevents workers from being competitive. These subjects are needed so the United States can regain leadership in the knowledge economy. In this framework, we find the children of undocumented immigrants, the so called dreamers, talented students who require the knowledge economy, the ones the Republicans still haggle over their support so they can get permanent resident visas when the country needs them.

Without a doubt there’s a suitable, historic electoral moment occurring, and whether it’s recognized or not, it’s a job for the whole country. This reminds me of what happened in 2001 when President George W. Bush was presenting his immigration reform proposal. His spokesman explained what the reform entailed in front of a certainly conservative audience. When it ended they asked him why, instead of a reform, the government didn’t simply deport undocumented immigrants. The spokesman’s response was blunt: Because the country would be paralyzed by it.

The year 2001 was also a turning point when immigration reform was nearly realized; it was suspended by the events of September 11. But if it was so close it was also because of the role Mexico played by presenting proposals about what immigration reform could be and how it would benefit the United States and immigrants as well. The former Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda was crucial in that discussion. He maintained that they needed to discuss more than a program for temporary workers; they needed to include what is called colloquially “the whole enchilada,” meaning the regularization of undocumented immigrants. Much was made of the “migratización” in the Mexico-U.S. relationship, a word that, besides being strange, was used as a form of criticism. I also don’t understand the position of the highly respected ambassador Montaño, who indicated that the current situation shouldn’t be “Mexicanized.”

I disagree with these viewpoints. Of immigrants are in the United States it’s because Mexico hasn’t offered them the conditions to live and work decently and the country has a debt with them. The least it should do is hire from the most reactionary sectors to convey the importance of workers and reach immigration reform that in some way settles this debt so the best conditions for undocumented immigrants are reached.

Mexico has an enormous responsibility. However, it is very worrisome that the current government, in the word of Peña Nieto, moves aside, as if the undocumented workers were the ones risking the future.



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