"We, Mexicans, are the labor force of the USA; unfortunately they want the labor and despise the laborers." Enrique Berruga began his presentation with these words at a World Affairs Council meeting in San Antonio. I also took part in this meeting as did Raul Rodriguez, Chairman of the Board of Advisors of the North American Center for Transborder Studies at Arizona State University.
For over ten years, Arizona has been complaining about the federal government’s lack of action when it comes to immigration. Law SB 1097 is the result of the work of those who are against Mexican immigrants. In 2003, they eliminated bilingual education with 63 percent of the votes. The initiative Protect Arizona Now was approved by 56 percent of voters. This initiative eliminated public benefits to undocumented persons and forced public employees to notify federal authorities of applicants who do not provide proof of citizenship. In 2006, undocumented Mexicans lost the right to bail and could no longer receive compensation for damages or scholarships to attend state institutions. These measures were approved with 70 percent of the votes.
According to The Arizona Republic newspaper, Kelly McDonald, a professor from Arizona State University, stated: “Our hostility, our antipathy, toward immigrants is very clear.” There is a fear in Arizona that Mexican immigrants will take over the country. McDonald points out that this fear is unfounded and irrational, fictional, but it exists. So Mexico’s National Autonomous University (UNAM) had good reasons to break off its academic relations with Arizona State University.
This week President Calderon will make his first official visit to the United States. Something tells me that after almost three and a half years in office the visit should have already occurred. We would have to rummage through the president’s mind to find out if visiting powerful neighbors inconveniences him and if he prefers the opening of the world championship or singing with Joaquin Sabina. Maybe the USA’s Anglo, modern, Protestant and liberal culture clashes with the Mexican President’s conservative, provincially Catholic traditions. He has demonstrated that his interest in the North reaches as far as the northernmost neighborhood in Morelia.
The president is probably going to Washington to raise the issue of immigration reform. The U.S. president’s current priorities are to promote a law on energy and to attend to fiscal matters. Something as politically charged as immigration reform is too risky six months from mid-term elections.
The polls do not favor Calderon’s mission. According to Gallup, six out of ten U.S. citizens think that immigration should not be addressed this year. A majority of Democrats think that immigrants already in the U.S. should have priority. Border security is a top concern for 61 percent of Republicans. A majority of Independents think that securing the border is more important than resolving the situation with undocumented immigrants, 54 percent to 43 percent.
A poll by The New York Times and CBS showed that 89 percent of U.S. citizens are in favor of reform and 45 percent of these think that it should be comprehensive; 64 percent think that undocumented immigrants should stay and apply for citizenship or join a worker’s program while 32 percent think that undocumented immigrants should leave the U.S. Fifty-seven percent think that it is a federal matter; 51 percent are in favor of Arizona’s law, and 36 percent think that it went too far.
It is clear from these numbers that this matter will take time and that the details of the reform will set the schedule for the agenda. As always and in everything, the devil is in the details.