Posted on November 8, 2004

Mexico Seeks U.S. Immigration Changes

Mark Stevenson, AP, Nov. 6

Mexico is holding out hope that Latin America will get more attention during President Bush’s second term and obtain changes in what a senior Cabinet minister calls “absurd” U.S. immigration policies.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and several other U.S. Cabinet members are expected to begin a two-day visit to Mexico City starting Monday. During the talks, Mexico will push for a long-awaited accord on migrants’ rights — and seek to put the region back on the White House agenda.

“It’s absurd that (the United States) is spending as much as it’s spending to stop immigration flows that can’t be stopped . . . instead of using that money on real threats that pose risks for both countries,” Interior Secretary Santiago Creel said earlier this week.

Creel said he sensed “an openness to talking about immigration issues” but warned against “raising expectations beyond what is politically viable and really possible,” a reference to resistance among U.S. legislators, despite a pair of temporary worker bills already before Congress.

Mexico acknowledged it suffered a setback in the Nov. 2 elections, when Arizona voters approved Proposition 200, a ballot initiative aimed at keeping illegal immigrants from voting and obtaining some government services.

The Arizona initiative would “foment racial discrimination and limit (migrants’) access to basic services like health and education,” Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department said in a news statement.

Despite the differences, Mexican officials say they may get more attention in a second Bush term.

Recounting meetings between Latin American leaders this week, Assistant Foreign Secretary Miguel Hakim said “there was talk about hopes that Bush, after winning his second term, will give Latin America much more emphasis and more U.S. action in his last four years.”

“A lot of presidents hope for this, and obviously, they’re going to be working together to achieve it,” Hakim said.

President Vicente Fox — who historically has had a close relationship with Bush — has said he could serve as point man in that effort.

“Several Latin American presidents have asked Mexico to try to strengthen the U.S. government’s relations with Latin American nations,” Fox told participants at the recent Rio Group Summit in Brazil. “We’re going to try to be the bridge so that that relationship can become much closer than it was over the last three years.”

While the Bush administration has had sometimes testy relations with the leaders of Venezuela, Argentina and other Latin nations, Mexico suffered perhaps the greatest disappointment of the first Bush administration, when the Sept. 11 terror attacks put Mexico’s hopes of a comprehensive migration accord on the back burner.

Mexico has responded by adopting a more piecemeal approach to defending migrants. While the country once demanded “the whole enchilada” in migration reform, Fox said this week “it’s hard to say how quick, how complete, how integral the accord will be.”

Creel said Mexico will also discuss security issues with U.S. officials, including organized crime, arms and migrant trafficking, and terrorism.

But it’s clear migration is Mexico’s main concern.

Fox said he has told Bush the next year will present “a window of opportunity” for passing migration reforms, “given that neither of our countries will be in elections.”

That chance may not present itself again for some time, “so we have a year to get this accomplished,” he said.

“Relations with the United States are excellent, deep, friendly, productive, and we have to be optimistic that we will take advantage of this one-year window of opportunity we have.”