In recent days Mexican President Vicente Fox and his Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Luis Ernesto Derbez, have sent barbed messages to the U.S.A. The main message—Mexico plans to get tough with the U.S.A. regarding the treatment of migrant workers in this country and the services they should receive.
During a speech in Leon, Guanajuato, Fox said that he would absolutely defend the matrícula consular, the Mexican identity card that is issued to qualifying nationals residing abroad, regardless of their immigration status. The president told the audience, that included U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson: “The matrícula consular (cards) are again being questioned, however we will defend them with tooth and nail because our fellow countrymen are neither criminals nor terrorists. They are people with dignity and workers who contribute a great deal to the North American economy.”
Matrícula consular cards, that in essence document the undocumented, are now accepted in many communities nationwide to open bank accounts, for leases or rentals and to qualify for needs such as utilities and public services.
Currently however a bill is pending in the U.S. House of Representatives, that if passed would make the matrícula consular an unacceptable form of identification with federal agencies. In September a House subcommittee passed a resolution that would prohibit banks from accepting the cards as identification.
Meeting with reporters in Mexico City, Foreign Minister Derbez said that after the November elections Fox would visit California—and Derbez pointed a finger directly at Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Derbez said that the Mexican president would have a “very tough talk” with the governor.
According to Derbez two subjects would top the agenda. First, the president will explain that the matrícula consular meets all security requirements, plus he will tell the governor that Mexican migrants must not be viewed as criminals.
Noting that Schwarzenegger recently vetoed the bill to allow the issuance of driver’s licenses to immigrants, Derbez secondly said that the matrícula consular “should be sufficient in order to obtain a driver’s license.” He said that the Mexican document is issued only after the applicant has met all requisites and submitted to a criminal background check.
In the meantime, some leaders of migrant rights organizations in California are calling for a series of boycotts as part of their demand that Schwarzenegger issue driver’s licenses to migrants who cannot prove legal residency in the state. As a beginning, some 1,000 people marched in Los Angeles on October 16, where California State Senator Gil Cedillo, the author of the driver’s license bill vetoed by Schwarzenegger, declared: “We are not terrorists…. The governor is an immigrant like we are immigrants, and because of that we insist that the governor honor his word and give us the same license he has.”
Hearing of the boycott plans in California, Derbez pushed the envelope right to the edge of intervention in the sovereign affairs of California.
“I believe that the Mexican community must send the message that it is sending, which is we represent (something) positive for the state and the country, therefore we ask we be treated like we should be treated … and if migrants decide to conduct a peaceful boycott, so that their positive side is taken into account, it is proper,” the diplomat told the Mexico City daily Reforma.
During all of this the Mexican Senate is reaching across the northern border in ways it would quickly condemn if done the other way around. In late September senators unanimously approved sending a letter to Schwarzenegger to express concern over his veto of the driver’s license bill. (It is currently taking similar actions with Arizona and Proposition 200.)
Actually the Mexican intervention in California was done at the request of state legislators, members of the California Latino Legislative Caucus who had met with the senators during a visit to Mexico City, this according to Assemblyman Marco Antonio Firebaugh who chairs the caucus.
Early this year Derbez made a number of changes in the consular corps in the U.S.A., that included the replacement of Georgina Lagos, then Consul General in San Francisco. But Lagos did not go quietly.
In an interview with the Mexican magazine Proceso, Lagos noted the important role she and five other consul generals in California had played in the growing acceptance of the matrícula consular. She was especially critical of the timing, saying the assignment changes should not have been made at the very time the Mexican consuls had California state legislators eating out of their hands.