A Mexican View of the Border

Juan Hernandez, former head of Mexico's Office for Mexicans Abroad, talks with Renee Montagne about President Bush's televised immigration address. Hernandez is the author of the book The New American Pioneers: Why Are We Afraid of Mexican Immigrants?.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Joining us from Fort Worth, Texas is Juan Hernandez. He is the former head of Mexico's Office for Mexicans Abroad. He is also the first American member of the Mexican cabinet, and was an advisor to Mexico's President Vicente Fox.

Hello, good morning.

DR. JUAN HERNANDEZ (Former Senior Advisor, President Vicente Fox): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: The National Guard is already patrolling the border on the American side. It's not a new idea, is it?

DR. HERNANDEZ: Well, I think it has caught a lot of people by surprise - the idea that we would militarize the border. I know that George W. Bush says that he's not militarizing. Nevertheless, here that there are going to be people from what sounds like the Army, had surprised especially our friends to the south.

MONTAGNE: Well, of course, the National Guard, they're uniformed, you know, Americans. But certainly the Border Patrol can be quite tough as well.

DR. HERNANDEZ: Yes, of course. But Mexico and the United States are very close. And to then suddenly call in the troops to protect the United States from its neighbor to the south - I know this maybe is a little bit exaggerated on my part to presume it this way, but that's the way it does sound to some people, especially in Mexico.

MONTAGNE: And what do Mexicans think of President Bush's call for a temporary worker program? That's come up, obviously, before last night's speech.

DR. HERNANDEZ: You know, it's very interesting what has happened in Mexico and in the United States in the last few years. For many years, Mexico saw the Mexicans who would leave to come to work in the United States…

MONTAGNE: Mm-hmm.

DR. HERNANDEZ: …not quite like traitors. But many of them in Mexico would say, well, you have left the country. You should not have maybe then the right to vote when you come back. There were really many Mexicans that did not feel that it was right for some to be able to leave and find a U.S.-American dream. Now that has changed, especially with Vicente Fox.

There is much more - not maybe the hero description, as Vicente Fox has called them - but definitely looking to these individuals as being important. And not just for the remittances they send home, but for being individuals that have risked their lives to try to find a better way of life.

MONTAGNE: There was a long time where people came into the U.S. and just went back again. That was the idea. Make some money. Go home, build a house. Is citizenship an important thing?

DR. HERNANDEZ: Well, there are 12 million people. So it's difficult to say what one wants, all want. Nevertheless, those who arrived, let's say, yesterday and the last few months, maybe the last year - are here only for the job that they can get, of course, today. And they have desperate needs. They need to send the money home so that the mom can get the medicine, so that the children can go to school, so that food can be put on the table.

Now, those who have been here two, three, four, five, 20 years - and let's remember that amnesty in 1986-87 was 20 years ago with Reagan - those, of course, are individuals who've had family members already born here. They have created roots here. They have been paying taxes, Social Security. They may be have even purchased homes. And hundreds of thousands, by the way, have purchased homes. So those individuals, of course, see the path of citizenship as a wonderful idea.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

DR. HERNANDEZ: And I thank you very much.

MONTAGNE: Juan Hernandez is the author of The New American Pioneers: Why Are We Afraid Of Mexican Immigrants? You can hear the President's speech along with NPR analysis at npr.org.

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New American Pioneers

Why Are We Afraid of Mexican Immigrants?

by Juan Hernandez and Dick Morris

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