Immigration: Mexico Stays Out of Debate


Published January 30, 2013

| Fox News Latino

There are an estimated 6.8 million undocumented immigrants from Mexico living in the United States who are closely watching the new immigration push from the Obama administration and Congress.

Yet the Mexican government has remained relatively silent on the issue.

The country’s foreign ministry put out a press release welcoming “the principles that have been set out.” Other than that statement, the Mexican government has maintained its formal position of watching the immigration debate from the sidelines.

“In 2000-2001 the Mexican government was quite active and vocal about immigration reform, and many feel it backfired, and the quest for the ‘whole enchilada’ failed,” Shannon O’Neil, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, said in an email to Fox News Latino.

She said the government this time changed its approach – by just releasing a statement.

“[The government is now] saying they hope for change, but also see it as a domestic policy issue in the United States, letting the domestic debate take its course bolstered though this time by the activism of grassroots advocacy groups and an increasingly important electoral demographic in Latinos,” she said.

The Mexican Embassy in Washington did not return phone calls by Fox News Latino seeking comment.

The last Mexican president to really broach the issue of comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S. was Vicente Fox.

Fox pushed then-President George W. Bush for a reform plan that included both a guest worker program and increased border security. While Bush supported the plan and it was approved by the Senate, a joint punch of the House rejecting it and the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks drowned any hope of comprehensive immigration reform in Bush’s first term.

Fox continued his efforts for immigration reform in the U.S., but the U.S. focus on the border dealt more with security than reform in the post-9/11 world. In the Calderón and now Peña Nieto administrations, Mexico appears reluctant to give anything more than tacit support for immigration reform, claiming that it is a domestic policy issue of the U.S. and not part of Mexico’s foreign policy.

“Mexico is trying to be careful in terms of how it gets involved in the immigration debate,” said Christopher Wilson of the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. “It will talk about border security, trans-migration, issues like that, but Mexico will weigh its involvement in immigration very carefully.”

Before inauguration, Peña Nieto did say that he would support any move by the Obama administration to pass immigration reform during a meeting with the U.S. leader back in November. Their talk, however, focused more on border security and Mexico’s ongoing struggle with the country’s drug cartels.

Peña Nieto has remained more or less mum on his drug policy, instead touting education, fiscal and energy reforms. On Monday, he told a summit of Latin American and Caribbean leaders in Chile that he wants Mexico to focus on being a player in solving world and regional problems.

The Mexican government did urge a U.S. court in December to block a part of Arizona’s controversial immigration law that prohibits the harboring of undocumented immigrants.

"México cannot conduct effective negotiations with the United States when the foreign policy decisions of the federal governments are undermined by the individual policies of individual states," lawyers for the Mexican government said in a friend-of-the-court brief.

Despite their plea to the U.S. court, Mexico does not appear to want to discuss immigration on a national level.

Some experts say that while Mexico has remained silent on the immigration debate, it doesn’t mean that the country is not concerned with reform.

Remittances from the family member in the U.S make up a huge amount of many Mexicans incomes and comprehensive immigration reform could ostensibly make cross-border travel for work much easier, said Petra Guerra, the associate director of the Chicano and Latino Studies program at the University of Wisconsin.

“The Mexican government will welcome immigration reform because it will help many people out economically,” Guerra said. “But they’re staying out of it because it’s not foreign policy issue for them.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.