U.S. Immigration Debate a Factor in Mexican Politics

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The debate over changes to immigration policy in America has become a factor in Mexico's current presidential race. Madeleine Brand talks to Denise Dresser, a professor of political science at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico, about how the U.S. immigration battle is affecting Mexican politics.


Mexico's President Vicente Fox is on this side of the border today, touring western states. Fox will meet with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and address the State Assembly.


Immigration here is affecting politics in President Fox's country. It's part of he upcoming presidential election there between the candidate Mr. Fox backs, that's Felipe Calderon of the right-leaning National Action Party, and Andres Manual Lopez Obrador, on the left.

BRAND: And here to tell us more about this is Denise Dresser. She's a Professor of Political Science at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico.

And welcome to the program.

Professor DENISE DRESSER (Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico): Thank you very much.

BRAND: How important is this issue of immigration to the United States for Mexicans actually living in Mexico?

Prof. DRESSER: Well, it hadn't been a big issue in Mexico up until the decision that President Bush made to send the National Guard to the border. That was perceived here as militarization of the border.

Now it's being used by the enemies of Vicente Fox, and by the adversaries of Felipe Calderon, the presidential candidate, to criticize them both for having promoted a policy of engagement with the United States on immigration. As you recall, Vicente Fox was very emphatic about the need for an immigration accord early on in his administration, an accord that never went through due to 9/11.

And now the issue has resurfaced, and has been used as a political football by those who don't want the National Action Party to win.

BRAND: So the leftist candidate, Lopez Obrador, he is criticizing President Bush's plan to put National Guard troops on the border. He's also criticizing Vicente Fox for not standing up to the President, right?

Prof. DRESSER: Well, this is something that Mexican politicians do time and again in order to garner political capital in the country where Mexicans have been taught for years to think that the United States is an adversary and not a partner that can be trusted.

However, I think relations with the United States were not an issue in this campaign, and even the leftist candidate, Andres Manual Lopez Obrador, had sought to present an image as a conciliator, as someone who wasn't going to be anti-American, as someone who said in a speech on foreign policy that he too would seek an immigration accord with the United States.

BRAND: And what about Calderon? What is his position?

Prof. DRESSER: Calderon, if elected, would continue with a policy of what he calls constructive engagement with the United States, which I think is much more reflective of the reality. This is a country where one in every four families depends on remittances sent from those who live in the United States. It's a country where one in every five men between the ages of 24 and 36 work in the United States. Anti-Americanism still can gain political capital among certain sectors, but I think it is a diminishing force in the public rhetoric of this county.

The attitude of many Mexican politicians, unfortunately, has been quite hypocritical. We are casting stones while living in a glass house. This a country that is blaming the United States for building fences while at the same time the real causes, the sources of immigration, lie here in Mexico, in a country that is unable to create enough economic opportunities and provide social mobility for millions of people who cross the border in search of precisely that.

BRAND: Well, thank you very much.

Prof. DRESSER: Thank you.

BRAND: Denise Dresser is a Professor of Political Science at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico. She spoke to me from Mexico City.

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