Memo From Mexico | The Long and Short Reach Of Mexican Labor Law

Having read Mexican newspapers for years, I`ve ceased to be amazed at how such contradictory views of immigration and sovereignty can be expressed, with no apparent sense of irony, in the same article.

Several years back I was reading a rather predictable criticism of the U.S. Border Patrol`s dastardly practice of detaining illegal aliens who enter the U.S.

The journalist decrying this policy employed a common slogan used here in Mexico–the assertion that “they (illegal aliens) are not criminals!” The same article, nevertheless, quoted an official on the Mexican border complaining that when would-be-emigrants prevented from crossing the border stay on the Mexican side then crime increases!

That would mean that illegal aliens are not criminals if they commit a crime in the U.S. -but they are if they commit a crime in Mexico.

For a more recent example, consider two affirmations of Carlos Abascal, Mexico`s “Secretary of Labor and Social Security” Spanish link Google Translation, which appeared in an article in Mexico`s “La Jornada” (May 12th, 2002): 

 “In the opinion of Carlos Abascal (Mexican Secretary of Labor)…Neither German law nor German courts have jurisdiction in Mexico.”

And in the exact same article (!), with no apparent sense of irony: 

“….Carlos Abascal…will travel to Europe tomorrow with the principal argument that every person, regardless of his migratory status, should be protected by American law and receive the same benefits….”

So according to the Mexican Labor Secretary, German law has no jurisdiction in Mexico but American law has no jurisdiction in the United States–since American labor law should make no distinction between a U.S. citizen and an illegal alien. That`s the position of the Mexican government.

As for the German connection, Abascal is referring to the Euzkadi case.

A plant owned by Euzkadi, the German tire company, was closed in El Salto, Jalisco because the plant`s owners had deemed it was no longer economically viable.

The laid-off workers were obviously not happy about this, and planned a strike to avoid the plant`s closure. The planned strike, however, was prohibited by the Mexican government. Mr. Abascal told the strikers they should just pick up their severance checks and leave it at that.

Unfazed, however, the Euzkadi workers sent a delegation all the way to Euzkadi headquarters in Germany to complain about their situation.

Secretary Abascal, however, said that going to Germany wouldn`t do them any good at all. According to La Jornada

“In the opinion of Carlos Abascal, the Euzkadi laborers have every right to express themselves, but neither German law nor the German courts have any jurisdiction in Mexico….”

So here we have an official finding by the Mexican Secretary of Labor, that German courts have no jurisdiction in Mexico, even when a German company is involved in the case.

The same article, with no apparent sense of irony, displays Mr. Abascal`s very different opinion about a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Secretary Abascal, along with the entire Mexican political establishment, is not pleased with a U.S. Supreme Court decision of March 27th, which ruled that illegal aliens have no right to back pay.

Using Secretary Abascal`s previous reasoning (see above), we might say that, whatever one thinks of that decision, the Mexican government has no jurisdiction in the case. That`s not how the Mexican government sees it, however.

The Mexican government is working hard to reverse that (U.S. Supreme Court) decision. Mexican Secretary of Labor Abascal has been involved in negotiations since early April with the U.S. Secretary of Labor. According to Abascal, “first it is necessary to limit the reach of the interpretation of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling to only the case at hand. This is the discussion between both countries.”

Abascal is absolutely correct about this. The U.S. and Mexican Departments of Labor have held negotiations on the subject of the Supreme Court decision. On the website of the U.S. Embassy in Mexico, you can read (in Spanish) a joint declaration , dated April 15th, 2001, in which Mexican Secretary of Labor Abascal and U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao “ratify their commitment to promote to the fullest the fulfillment of labor laws for the protection of all laborers…..”

Chao and Abascal assure us that 

” The vigorous application of said laws includes basic protections to guarantee the payment of the minimum wage and healthy and secure workplaces for all workers, regardless of their migratory status.”

The declaration continues  

“The recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court ….has raised questions in both countries with respect to these labor laws. The compliance with these laws….is a priority shared by the Mexican Secretary of Labor and Social Prevision and the U.S. Department of Labor….both secretaries ….instructed high-level functionaries to hold consultations over the implications for migratory workers in the United States….the functionaries designated by the secretaries met ten days ago in Mexico to begin the consultations…..the U.S. Secretary of Labor gives assurance that the decision of the Supreme Court of her country in the Hoffman case neither impedes nor inhibits the permanent application of the pertinent labor norms, in particular those which guarantee minimum wages, secure and healthy workplaces for all workers in that country, regardless of their migratory condition.”

In other words, yes the Supreme Court handed down a ruling. But the Mexican government didn`t like it, so the U.S. Secretary of Labor has to negotiate the decision with her Mexican counterpart.

Doesn`t it make you feel good to know that U.S. Supreme Court rulings are now subject to modification if the Mexican Government does not agree with them? Sounds like the Fox Administration is becoming the 4th branch of government.

An update: according the The News of Mexico, on June 11th in Geneva, Chao and Abascal 

signed an agreement to cooperate on labor issues of mutal concern, including protection for immigrant workers…..The U.S. Labor Department said it would distribute information in Spanish regarding the rights  of immigrant workers to Mexican consulates, federal agencies and non-governmental organizations in the United States.”

However, issuing the joint declaration with Secretary Chao was not sufficient for Secretary Abascal. He still felt compelled to take the case all the way to Europe anyway. That`s right, to Europe!

On May 14th, 2002, in Valencia, Spain, Abascal attended the “Conference of Ministers of Labor and Social Security of Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean.” Besides the virtues of Vicente Fox`s “humanistic and modern legislation,” the Secretary of Labor felt compelled to bash the treatment of Mexican illegal aliens in the United States:

According to Abascal, illegal immigration is bad because of “the abuse of victims” and the “lack of the most elemental social protection.”

If illegal immigration is so bad, why does the Mexican government promote it? Well you see, the Mexican government`s solution to the problem is to legalize all Mexican illegal aliens–in the U.S., not in Mexico!

The secretary`s European speech wouldn`t have been complete without a denunciation of the March 27th U.S. Supreme Court decision:

“(Abascal) lamented the recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that, he said, could be interpreted to mean that immigrants could be fired without rights to severance pay….(the Fox government) ´ ratifies its commitment to comply with the laws that protect all migrant workers, regardless of their juridical status…..the rights of laborers as persons do not disappear with the ….disappearance of labor borders`.”

Just a few days later an article in the Siglo of Torreón (May 17th, 2002) referred to a labor situation in the eastern Mexican state of Chiapas. A group of 150 laborers, including Guatemalans, were protesting at the offices of an agricultural company. Why? Because for the past few months, the owner has failed to pay them all their salaries.

The protesting laborers were received with threats of a beating and with being tossed into jail. To emphasize company policy, a shotgun was fired into the air to disperse the crowd.

Was that an example of the “humanistic and modern” labor legislation Abascal was bragging about in Europe? 

Possibly if Secretary Abascal were not so busy jetting off to Europe to complain about the situation in the United States, he could pay more attention to this labor problem–and others–in Mexico.

Allan Wall is an American citizen who has lived and worked in Mexico since 1991. Presently employed as an English instructor, Allan has legal permission from the Mexican government to live and work in Mexico under the rubric of an FM-2 migration document.  His VDARE.COM articles are archived here; his Frontpage.com articles are archived here. Allan Wall welcomes questions or comments (pro or con) at allan39@prodigy.net.mx.

June 25, 2002