Sunday, June 18, 2006

Essay 702

From The Chicago Sun-Times…


Mexican envoy: Immigration a ‘shared responsibility’


For months now, I’ve been writing about the divisive immigration debate before Congress from the U.S. perspective.

I sat down with the Mexican ambassador to the United States, Carlos de Icaza, at the Mexican Embassy in Washington, and realized how different the story is from the other side.

To the United States, the issue is called immigration; the diplomat speaks of “migration.”

“We recognize that we haven’t created all of the economic and social opportunities for our people to stay in Mexico,” Icaza told me.

The career diplomat, posted to the embassy since March 2004, visits Chicago on Monday to speak to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations.

The House passed a bill to make illegal immigrants felons. The Senate approved a measure with a guest worker program and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Both bills provide for a fence along parts of the southern border. It’s not clear the House and Senate will reconcile their differences and send President Bush the “comprehensive” legislation he wants to sign.

“Mexico is willing to do its part,” Icaza said. He said the official position of his government is this: If the United States created a temporary worker program with plenty of visas, Mexico would agree to be responsible for guaranteeing its own citizens depart Mexico legally.

If Mexicans knew they could come and go legally as guest workers -- a concept Icaza calls “circularity” -- the incentive for border jumping and smuggling would diminish.

Last month, Bush sent National Guard troops to help seal the southern border. That prompted Mexican President Vicente Fox to raise concerns of militarization on the border.

I asked Icaza if a fence was seen as an insult.

“We need between the United States and Mexico to build more bridges,” he said.

The following is an edited conversation with Icaza:

Q. You have written Mexico “has proposed to work with the United States under the principle of shared responsibility” for legal “migration.” Does your country believe the United States shares this principle?

A. “I hope it does. … What we have between the United States and Mexico is a migration driven by wages. There is a gap in wages between our countries. The American economy is 15 times the size of the Mexican economy.

“When I speak of shared responsibility, this means … that both countries are responsible for the migration flow … as an economic, social, human and political issue. Shared responsibility means that each country has to do its part. We recognize that we haven’t created all of the economic and social opportunities for our people to stay in Mexico. … We need our people to stay. The future of our country is at stake.”

Q. The House and Senate legislation?

A. “We hope the American Congress will acknowledge that Mexico is a friendly country … that instead of blaming each other, or finger pointing at each other, we can work together. This is the only sensible thing to do.”

Q. So the message is the Mexican government wants people to come home? Do you think that has gotten out to the United States?

A. “Let’s not put this out of context. … What we want here is comprehensive immigration reform, which means several things. From our point of view, first and foremost, a solution for the people who are living here because you have millions of people who live in a state of fear; they have uncertainty of collecting their wages. They are very hardworking people. So we would hope there will be a path to legalize their situation.”

Q. Does it matter to your country that the proposals are to build fences along the southern border with Mexico and not along the northern border with Canada?

A. “We would expect the same treatment as the Canadians. That’s the least we would expect.”

Q. From your country’s perspective, is Congress agreeing on no bill better than the House bill?

A. “I don’t think the status quo is good for anyone involved.”

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