Monday, June 16, 2008

Jorge Castañeda's Ex Mex: From Migrants to Immigrants

Jorge Castañeda’s Ex Mex: From Migrants to Immigrants is a very good analysis of the current immigration debate, and is particularly interesting since he has been participating in the academic side of the debate for years and so is conversant with the literature, but also of course was Foreign Minister right after George W. Bush was elected and through 9/11, so was a participant at a critical moment.

Naturally, a good part of the book takes aim at the absurdities of U.S. immigration policy, especially the so often repeated notion that this is simply a matter of law.

The laws that have alternately authorized and prohibited immigration, or the rules that have always allowed and encouraged it? How do the Lou Dobbses of the world want young Mexicans, whose ancestors, over four or five generations, have been migrating in one fashion or another to the United States, to understand and abide by what has largely been an American fiction, i.e., that the United States, being a nation of laws, has always dealt with this issue respecting the laws? (37-38).

Toward the end of the book he also outlines the Mexican government’s stance on immigration. It can be summed up as follows: if the U.S. is willing to enact comprehensive reform—including a temporary worker program—then the Mexican government is (or at least has been--of course he no longer speaks for the Mexican government) willing to take on the responsibility of helping to coordinate it. Thus far, that has been the job of Mexican states, and the federal government has not been involved. The government would also work to stop people from leaving, as long as it knew that there was a reasonable way to cross legally. These changes would constitute a major shift in Mexican immigration policy.

However, as long as the U.S. refuses to pass such reform, the Mexican government will continue to protect its own citizens as best it can. He writes that the Mexican government’s decision to issue IDs (matrículas) to Mexicans in the U.S. was consciously intended to promote legalization, making it easier for Mexicans to open bank accounts, rent apartments, buy homes, etc. in the United States. The book’s title refers to the fact that U.S. policy has sharply curtailed circularity, so that more and more Mexicans are choosing to stay, legally or illegally, and so the Mexican government plans to work for the benefit of its expats.

He appreciates President Bush’s general attitude toward immigration, and sees him as someone who genuinely cared about the issue, but that he just would not take advantage of available opportunities for reform:

He allowed his right wing to dominate the agenda, and…he will be remembered in Mexico, and by many Latinos, as “el president del muro”: the man who tried to
build the wall (164-165).

Unfortunately, this will likely be true.


Anonymous,  1:17 PM  

However, as long as the U.S. refuses to pass such reform, the Mexican government will continue to protect its own citizens as best it can.

As they should, but the center-right in Mexico has always been eager to send what amounts to a headache for them north. What I always find interesting is that AMLO (and Correa in Ecuador for that matter) would prefer that their citizens stay. Here's AMLO in 2006:

But López Obrador speaks of emigration as a tragedy for Mexico and as something Mexico needs to put a stop to out of its own national interest. Unlike many Mexican political figures, AMLO doesn't seem to expect the U.S. to continue to accept the current levels of immigration. Nor does he base his economic calculations on the $20 billion that emigrants to the U.S. send home each year, in the process helping to prop up the Mexican economy. And he says that addressing the question will be a priority for his administration.

"If I am elected," he told me, "I will propose a conference on migration with the United States. Building a wall is not a viable solution. The only thing that will work is creating jobs in Mexico. Fox was not able to maintain good relations with Washington. But I can't see any reason why I can't succeed in doing so."

Greg Weeks 1:32 PM  

I should point out that the center-right is not necessarily so easy to characterize anymore. Castaneda writes about how, while he was Foreign Minister, they had lengthy conferences in Mexico to address migration and economic development, which then became a point of negotiation with the U.S. This isn't to defend the PAN per se (in fact, Castaneda has plenty of criticisms) but rather to suggest that since 2000 the government's attitude has shifted to some extent.

Anonymous,  5:44 PM  

Agreed, but AMLO's comments that I quote were in strong opposition to Calderon's policy. Rafael Correa also would prefer to have his citizens remain than head north.

Up and down Roosevelt Avenue, the main artery of New York’s South American communities, Ecuadoreans have been debating the same questions as Mr. Polanco’s caller for the past three weeks, ever since Rafael Correa, the president of Ecuador, announced a program to entice emigrants back to the mother country.

The program, called Plan Retorno, will be open to Ecuadorean citizens worldwide and will take effect for Ecuadorean-Americans in February. To lure them home, Ecuador will raise or end ceilings on the value of cash and goods they can bring back; offer them attractive loans to build houses and start businesses; and let them ship home their cars without paying the usual high import duties.

Mr. Correa, who took office in January with strong support from the expatriate vote, announced the plan in Murcia, a city in Spain with a large Ecuadorean population. In presenting the plan, he described emigration as “the most palpable proof of the political, economic and social disaster” of his predecessors.

In my mind, Calderon has done little if anything to move over to the position of discouraging emigration.

jennifer rose 10:48 PM  

This is the best resource yet for understanding immigration as well as Mexican people living in the U.S. See

Tambopaxi 6:26 AM  

Correa's idea is a good one; unfortunately, aside from naming a cabinet level person as head of Migrant Affairs, little come of it, and I've not heard of anyone coming back permanently as a result of this initiative.

Anonymous,  2:43 PM  


Neither have I, but the larger point I have been making is that left-leaning leaders have had a better understanding of the long-term deleterious impact of emigration on their society. The right doesn't seem to care provided that they are not maltreated and continue to send remittances.

Greg Weeks 2:59 PM  

I don't agree that there are clear ideological lines. Evo Morales' recent open letter about European immigration policy, for example, is aimed at allowing Bolivians to stay in Europe. He emphasized the importance of remittances for the Bolivian economy.

Anonymous,  11:00 PM  

Fair enough, Greg, but I don't see anyone in political leadership on the right (granted a small number) lamenting the exodus of their nation's citizens out of the country.

Tambopaxi 12:37 PM  

Randy's right in the case of Ecuador, Greg. Correa is the fourth administration I've seen here, and he's the first guy who's even lamented the fact that over a million people have bailed out of here, let alone tried to do something about it. Since it's fair to say that the previous aministrations have been conservative, compared to Correa, and they did nothing, the "Paul Paradigm" on immigration return would hold here....

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