... z0205.html

Migration a 2-nation concern
U.S., Mexico need to work together

Linda Valdez
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 5, 2006 12:00 AM

The room is classic. Crystal chandelier. Dark-wood table. Tall windows that let in the warm winter air. Above each window, Mexico's symbol is carved into wooden valances: an eagle hovering over a cactus with a snake in its talons.

"We are a country full of culture," a poised young woman is saying, "we are not just a country that sends people illegally across the border."

Her name is Augusta DÃ*az de Rivera Hernández. She is a legislator from the Mexican state of Puebla. In late January, she and other Mexican government officials met in the city of Puebla with members of Humane Borders, a human rights group from the United States.

They gathered to talk about a project Humane Borders put together with the Mexican National Human Rights Commission to distribute maps of the border region. The commission pulled out of the project almost immediately after publicly announcing and lavishly praising the partnership.

The politics behind that story are no doubt fascinating.

But this is about something else.

It's about unclaimed opportunity.

Gerónimo Gutiérrez, Mexico's undersecretary for North American affairs, met with representatives of Humane Borders in his Mexico City office, which, for the record, is bigger than the houses of many Mexicans, wood paneled and outfitted with leather couches and impressive artwork.

Gutiérrez was gracious to the journalist accompanying the humanitarians; he clearly knows an opportunity when he sees one.

He sent a junior to get me a copy of a document put together by a team of Mexican legislators, executive branch officials, academics and other experts.

It deals with politics that are more than just fascinating. They are potentially beneficial to the United States.

Gutiérrez told me the paper, called "Mexico and the Migration Phenomenon," hasn't gotten nearly enough press.

He is right.

It says Mexico has a shared responsibility with the United States to solve the migration problem and acknowledges the need for Mexico to pursue "economical and social development that . . . will encourage people to stay in Mexico."

Mexico gets it, after all. It has to serve its people to keep its people.

The paper also says a guest-worker program in the United States would make it easier for Mexico to "exhort potential migrants to abide by the proper rules . . . in order to reduce undocumented immigration."

Mexico gets this, too. If rules are reasonable, people are more likely to follow them.

The paper outlines ways to keep guest workers tied to Mexico, including a bilateral medical insurance system to cover migrants and their families, and a way to let Mexicans who worked in the United States collect pensions in Mexico.

There also is the transnational mortgage, which allows Mexican guest workers to begin paying for a home in Mexico while they work in the United States.

"It's in the interest of Mexico for them to return," Gutiérrez said.

It would also be in the interest of the United States to view Mexico as a partner in efforts to gain control of the border. To do that, though, the United States would have to see Mexico as more than just a country that sends people illegally across the border.

Many Americans have a hard time doing that, just as many Americans have a hard time picturing Mexican officials speaking flawless English in well-appointed offices.

But if the United States wrote a reasonable guest-worker plan, incentives on the Mexican side could help restore circular migration patterns that benefit both countries.

In Puebla, DÃ*az de Rivera Hernández said the greatest threat to Mexico from illegal immigration is social. The money migrants send back cures a lot of economic ills, she said, but migration threatens the culture. It breaks up families. It leaves children fatherless.

As she spoke, sounds of a vibrant street life came through the open windows: a jumpy version of Cielito Lindo cranked out by an organ grinder, a police whistle, car horns.

In a nearby plaza, children splashed in a fountain, lovers embraced on the grass, venders hawked balloons, and an old woman sold onyx figures outside a massive stone cathedral.

If Americans think of Mexican culture at all, they think of this: a quaint and laid-back land.

But Mexico also has high-powered politicians with ideas.

Both George W. Bush and Gutiérrez's boss, Mexican President Vicente Fox, are ineligible to run for re-election. When they were newer presidents, these two rancher politicians vowed to work together to wrangle a guest-worker program.

Then came Sept. 11, 2001. Legitimate U.S. concerns about terrorism stalled immigration reform, which is ironic because getting control of the border would serve national security.

Now, immigration reform is likely to become what Gutiérrez calls a "political piñata" in this year's Mexican presidential election and in the U.S. midterm elections.

Imagine what could happen if two lame ducks pulled on their cowboy boots and stomped out a legacy.

Reach the writer at