There are many strange elements in the current debate over illegal immigration, but none stranger than the mostly ignored role of Mexico.
Mexico is a severe critic of U.S. immigration policy, often damning Americans as ruthlessly insensitive for trying to close our border. It has gone so far as to join lawsuits against individual American states to force relaxation of our border enforcement. Former Mexican President Felipe Calderon sharply criticized the United States for trying to “criminalize migration.”
Is Mexico, then, a model of immigration tolerance?
Far from it.
Until 2011, when it passed reforms, Mexico had among the most draconian immigration laws in the world. Guatemala has criticized Mexico for initiating construction of a fence along its southern border.
Mexico has zero tolerance for illegal immigrants who seek to work inside Mexico, happen to break Mexican law or go on public assistance — or any citizens who aid them.
If the United States were to treat Mexican nationals in the same way that Mexico treats Central American nationals, there would be humanitarian outrage.
In 2005, the Mexican government published a “Guide for the Mexican Migrant” — in comic book form. The pictographic manual instructed its own citizens how best to cross illegally into, and stay within, the United States. Did Mexico assume that its departing citizens were both largely illiterate and without worry about violating the laws of a foreign country?
Yet Mexico counts on these expatriate poor to send back well over $20 billion in annual remittances — currently the third-largest source of Mexican foreign exchange.
People should be a nation’s greatest resource. Fairly or not, Mexico has long been seen to view its own citizens in rather cynical terms as a valuable export commodity, akin to oil or food. When they are young and healthy, Mexican expatriates are expected to scrimp, save and support their poorer relatives back in Mexico. When these Mexican expats are ill and aged, then the U.S should pick up the tab for their care.
The current problem for Mexico is that the U.S. might soon deal with illegal immigration in the way Mexico does. But for now, to the extent that Mexican citizens can potentially make, rather than cost, Mexico money, there is little reason for our southern neighbor to discourage its citizens from leaving the country — by hook, crook or comic book.