Monday, July 31, 2017

out of the frying pan

Mexico is in the news these days.

The fact that the issue is immigration is not news. Mexico's treatment of illegal immigrants is.

During the past two days in Oregon, illegal immigration has come up in conversation a lot. Washington may be focused on health care and taxes, but a lot of voters are concerned about immigration -- mostly of the illegal variety.

Central Oregon survives on agriculture. And agriculture, to a great degree, depends on migrant labor -- primarily from Mexico.

For a lot of reasons, farmers are finding it difficult to find workers to pick crops this year. Some lemon farmers in California are paying up to $19 an hour -- and that is still not filling the orchards with workers.

The people I have talked with, who are concerned about illegal immigration, are surprised that Mexico also has an immigration problem. And a number of world observers are concerned about how Mexico is reacting.

Here is a fact that most of the people I have talked with were not aware of: since about 2009, The States have experienced a net loss of Mexican migrants -- legal and illegal. That means more Mexicans have left the country than entered it.

That has been true for a lot of reasons. The American economy was not attractive to some workers in the recession. There has been a great negative demographic change in the Mexican population. The Obama administration administered a record number of Mexican deportations. And then there is the obvious message from the current Washington administration that illegal immigration is not welcome.

Most of the illegal immigration crossing from Mexico is done by Central Americans, People escaping the social train wrecks in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

Anecdotal information from the Suchiate River (Mexico's southern border with Guatemala indicates there has been a decrease in illegal immigration from Central America into Mexico. But what has changed is the stimulate destination of the migrants. Most pf them are now interested in seeking asylum in Mexico, rather than in The States.

That makes some sense. Culturally, Mexico is far more familiar to someone from Tegucigalpa than is Denver. And Mexico has a rather liberal asylum law for those escaping persecution from a cornucopia of woes: race, religion, nationality, gender, social group membership, and political views.

Historically, Mexico has opened its doors to political exiles of the left. Trotsky. Castro. Supporters of the republic in the Spanish civil war.

But it has never been faced with large numbers of potential asylum seekers. Now that they are arriving from Central America, Mexico is uneasy. And its unease is evidenced by behavior that is not getting it high public relations marks.

Illegal immigrants can change their status by seeking asylum in Mexico. Most do not. They remain in the shadows. People escaping bad circumstances are often reluctant to have any official dealings. And, let's face it, Mexican bureaucracy does not have a sterling reputation.

Those who do seek asylum have increased in numbers. 9000 applied last year. That pace has increased. For the first half of this year, 7000 have applied.

Mexico prides itself for its ability to quickly process the requests -- much faster than either Canada or the United States. The speed is for one reason: to quickly deport unsuccessful applicants. In the past, only 40% of the applications were approved. As a result of the speed, not all decisions are based on well-founded facts.

Unaccompanied children are hit the hardest. 77% are deported. The number in The States is 3%.

Local Mexicans have not taken kindly to the illegal immigrants. There are complaints of job and housing discrimination, robbery, assault, and an incredibly high rate of rapes. Officials have shown their disdain for the law by deporting children born in Mexico -- in violation of Mexican law.

And the response from the Mexican government? The attorney general is investigating crimes committed against the migrants. And the president has promised more efforts to integrate the migrants into Mexican society. That sounds a bit like the fluff the government promises the public concerning the drug cartels.

But there is some progress. The number of children illegally deported has decreased. And the asylum application approval rate has 
increased to 63%.  
My favorite American president once said: "They say the world has become too complex for simple answers. They are wrong. There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right."

I believe that is still true. Mexico is at a great turning point in its history. For over a century, its gaze has been internal. It can no longer shield its eyes from what is happening on its southern border.

As the 12th largest economy in the world, and the largest Latin power in the region, Mexico can be a positive force in giving guidance and assistance to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Unless the social problems are somewhat ameliorated on its southern border, Mexico will face the same illegal immigration problem that faces a large portion of the world's nations.

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