The once white-hot issue of illegal immigration has taken a curious twist in American politics.
On the one hand, state and local politicians are using the polarizing topic as the foundation of their bids for public office.
But on the national level, presidential candidates try to distance themselves from that same issue. They pay just enough lip service to give the impression that they care about it, but not too much – not unless they’re campaigning in those pockets of the country directly impacted by the problems created by having undocumented residents.
To be fair, last year’s bipartisan partnership forged among Senators John McCain, Ted Kennedy, Jon Kyle, and fully supported by President Bush, which resulted in the crafting of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 was a good start at addressing the issue. That it was roundly defeated in Congress and its supporters have since tucked their tails between their legs and retreated is a disappointing commentary on where the issue now stands at the federal level. Just how loathe Washington is to touch the issue was underscored during the recent visit of Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon. Mexico’s president was received by state legislatures, governors and business groups but not by the White House where an invitation was never extended to the visiting head of state.
Political analysts, on both sides of the border, noted how unusual that a foreign leader visiting another country would not be met by the president, even if it was an unofficial trip. It’s too bad because much is changing when it comes to immigration law in Mexico – and it’s at the U.S.’ behest.
If reforming the nation’s immigration system is to ever be fully realized, it has to be on the national level. Not with work site raids, family detention facilities, border walls and intimidation tactics by neighborhood law enforcement and local and state politicians but taking it to the next level where only national players can — through nation-to-nation cooperation with the one country where the majority of undocumented immigrants originate.
There are current attempts by immigration reform critics to bolster the justification of building a wall between Mexico and the United States by citing Mexico’s historically harsh treatment of their own illegally arrived population.
It’s an argument that Mexican legislators are trying to turn into a moot point.
In May of last year, the Chamber of Deputies in the Mexican Congress revoked age-old immigration laws that mandated prison sentences and huge fines for a list of offenses that resemble current U.S. policy towards undocumented immigrants: working illegally in the country, marrying a citizen for the sake of permanent residency, staying with an expired visa and returning to the country after being deported.
Mexican legislators want to change the current policy of imposing those guilty of these violations with lengthy prison sentences by either charging a maximum fine equal to minimum salary earnings of 20 days or imposing 36 hours of community service.
And in an obvious nod towards the current negative political attitude towards undocumented immigrants in the United States, the new law in Mexico would allow for undocumented immigrants to be given a chance to legalize their situation. The legislation is now undergoing analysis in the Mexican Senate.
In the meantime, U.S. leaders continually insist in putting the immigration issue on the backburner. Luckily, some organizations have not.
In breaking with traditionally helping U.S. Latino communities through investments, California-based Hispanics in Philanthropy has awarded their first installment of a three-year $219,000 economic grant to expand a goat-cheese cooperative in Guanajuato, Mexico.
According to Diana Campoamor, president of the organization, helping expand businesses south of the border is part of a new movement in Northern California to address the root causes of illegal immigration by supplementing Mexican economic opportunities.
And thankfully it doesn’t stop there. Recognizing how much businesses in both countries are interconnected, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Tony Garza, is overseeing an upcoming joint business development event in Mexico City for American and Mexican businesses.
Titled U.S. and Mexico: Building Partnerships in Infrastructure, the event is designed to educate businesses who want to bid on over 300 projects to be built in Mexico as part of President Calderon’s National Infrastructure Plan.
Yet, these isolated efforts to help Mexico overcome their economy’s shortcomings must be supplemented with a broader immigration reform initiative from the U.S. federal government.
It is our turn to craft policy on how to address this nation’s undocumented immigrants. Immigrants who applaud the turnaround happening in their native country so that relatives won’t have to repeat their same perilous journeys, but who don’t entertain the dream of returning to live in Mexico because of one simple reason — the United States is their home.