Mexico Hosts Conference on Immigration Issues

Many of the Mexicans who leave their homeland for the United States come from the state of Michoacan. This week, hundreds of people with an interest in immigration issues — from representatives of migrant organizations to academics and politicians — gathered there for a conference on the issue. They came from all over Latin America, the U.S. and many parts of Europe and Africa.

Workshops and panels tackled issues such as the social cost of migration, migrant rights and how to make hometown associations work

Immigration is transforming societies everywhere, organizer Martina Guzman said.

"Migration affects communities on every level — communities where migrants are from to the communities where the migrants are hosted," Guzman said.

Interest in the conference was high enough that on the Monday before it began, registration was cut off.

"We were over capacity," Guzman said. "I think is an amazing indication of how important this is globally."

Immigration has exploded over the last 15 years.

"You have a greater concentration of wealth in developed countries and also in developing countries in the cities," said Arnault Peral, a deputy representative of the United Nations Development Program in Mexico. "This phenomenon is a great engine to promote migration."

Peral says that in the last 10 years globally remittances have doubled, meaning that more and more money is being sent by migrants to their families back home.

The United States and Mexico are not the only places seeing immigration trends change. Europe, Asia and Africa have also been grappling with its effects.

While the debate in the United States has focused on the influx of migrants, many of the participants here said that more attention is now being paid to the effects on the home country, especially Mexico.

Roberto Garcia Zamorra, an immigration expert from Zacatecas University, predicted that Mexico will face a crisis unless it relies less on money from migrants.

This is becoming a pressing issue because the U.S. economy is slowing in sectors that employ foreign labor, such as the construction industry.

Money sent back to the homeland will decline, he said, adding: "If we don't make a new economic policy we are going to have a very big problem."

For now, Mexico is exporting its people. Zamorra said a recent study showed that more than half the municipalities in 10 Mexican states are seeing population losses.

Mexican politicians have been accused of hypocrisy by critics. They demand immigration reform for Mexicans in the U.S., while doing nothing to stop them from leaving Mexico in the first place.

Lazaro Cardenas, the governor of Michoacan, gave a searing speech calling for a change in direction.

"In Mexico, we not only see the migrant that emigrates as a family provider but also as a pillar of support to the national economy," Cardenas said, speaking in Spanish. "This is a road that goes nowhere — a mirage that has been used as an excuse for not assuming our responsibilities as a country regarding this massive exodus."

His statement was met with rousing applause.

The conference in Michoacan was designed to turn those ideas into action, not only in Mexico, but in other countries around the world.

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