Mexico Develops Strategies to Combat Controversial Immigration Bill Approved by U.S. House of Representatives

SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico, January 11, 2006 | Go to article overview

Mexico Develops Strategies to Combat Controversial Immigration Bill Approved by U.S. House of Representatives


The Mexican government has launched a major campaign to oppose a comprehensive immigration-reform proposal approved by the US House of Representatives in mid-December. The legislation, known as the Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005, sponsored by Rep. James Sensebrenner (R-WI), was approved 239-182, mostly along party lines. The US Senate is expected to consider its own immigration measure sometime in early 2006.

The House measure has drawn strong criticism from human rights and immigrant-rights advocates and Latin American governments, particularly Mexico, because of its strongly punitive provisions.

Proponents argue that the legislation, which would also expand law-enforcement capabilities along the US-Mexico border and discourage employers from hiring undocumented workers, is needed to enforce the rule of law in the US.

"Illegal immigrants are coming for many different reasons," said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). "Some are coming for jobs. Some are coming to give childbirth. Some are coming to commit crimes. Addressing this problem is needed if we're going to try to combat illegal immigration on all fronts."

A minority of Republicans opposed the House measure because it lacked any provision similar to the guest-worker program promoted by US President George W. Bush (see SourceMex, 2004-01-14 and 2005-01-12). "[The House bill did] nothing to solve the real problems of illegal immigration," said Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ). "In fact, it's worse than nothing."

While critics have trouble with the entire legislative initiative, there is particular concern about two measures, one that would treat unlawful entry into the US as a felony and another that proposes expanding the network of walls and fences along the US-Mexico border.

Mexico, which provides a large majority of the undocumented immigrants entering the US, was especially critical of the legislation. Shortly after the passage of the House bill, President Vicente Fox accused the US of hypocrisy. "When we look at their roots, the immense majority are migrants, migrants that have arrived from all over the world," the president said in a speech to Mexicans who returned to Guanajuato state for the Christmas holidays.

Mexico's Foreign Relations Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez also criticized the US immigration bill during a visit to Washington, following a meeting with US deputy secretary of state Robert Zoellick and other US officials in late December. The Mexican foreign relations minister described the proposal to extend the border fence as "myopic" and "stupid."

Mexico hires public-relations firm, tries to sway Congress

The Fox administration is expected to continue to publicly attack the House immigration proposal, but the government also quietly hired Dallas public-relations firm Allyn & Company to help improve Mexico's image among the US public. This move is part of a strategy to get public support from US voters, who would then press legislators to reverse their stance on immigration.

Hiring the public-relations company could be a wasted effort, some experts say. "Even that kind of diplomatic strategy may be akin to locking the barn door after the horse has escaped," said Wayne Cornelius, director of the Center for Immigration Studies at the University of California-San Diego. "The Mexican government cannot hope to accomplish much by lobbying the US Congress, on this or any other immigration-related issue."

Mexican officials are also attempting to place their own spin on the issue at home. In an interview with W Radio in Mexico City, Mexico's Ambassador to Washington Carlos de Icaza said the House bill is widely opposed in the US. He said US businesses, church groups, and even politicians have "clearly indicated their opposition to measures that could put the economy of the country in danger."

De Icaza said he has been instructed to make the same point in the US and "intensify efforts. …

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