Memo From Mexico | Learning About Immigration Policy From Mexico

Almost everybody believes that the U.S.A. needs immigration reform. I'd like to propose that we study immigration systems in other countries, to see what we can learn from them.

It's arrogant to assume that we Americans have all the answers, and that no other country can do anything better than we can.

Some of the biggest critics of our immigration policy are Mexicans. So let's examine Mexico's immigration policy and see what we can learn from it.

We might even decide that Mexico has some approaches to the issue that we could copy. Surely they wouldn't object to that.

Would they?

How can we summarize Mexican immigration/nationality policies? Here's how: Mexico has an immigration system tailored to fit the interests of Mexico.

And what's wrong with that?

The legal basis for Mexico's immigration law is found in the Ley General de Población [the General Population Law]. PDF.

The cabinet-level department responsible for immigration is the Secretaria de Gobernación, loosely translated as the Interior Department.

According to Article 3, section VII of the General Population Law, the responsibility of this department is to

"Subject the immigration of foreigners to the methods it deems relevant, and to achieve the best assimilation of these [immigrants] to the national environment and their adequate distribution in [Mexican] territory." [Sujetar la inmigración de extranjeros a las modalidades que juzgue pertinentes, y procurar la mejor asimilación de éstos al medio nacional y su adecuada distribución en el territorio.]

So the goals of Mexican immigration policy are assimilation and the distribution of immigrants throughout Mexican territory.

Mexico has had immigrants from many countries, from Latin America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and even the U.S.A. And Mexico has done a good job in assimilating these immigrants. Part of it is because the immigration levels are so much lower than in the U.S., and partly because the Mexican system does indeed encourage assimilation.

According to Article 32 of the General Population Law,

"The Interior Department will establish, subject to the corresponding demographic studies, the number of foreigners whose entrance to the country may be permitted, whether by activities or zone of residence, and will subject to the methods that it deems relevant the immigration of foreigners, according to their possibilities of contributing to the national progress." [Artículo 32.- La Secretaría de Gobernación fijará, previos los estudios demográficos correspondientes, el número de extranjeros cuya internación podrá permitirse al país, ya sea por actividades o por zonas de residencia, y sujetará a las modalidades que juzgue pertinentes, la inmigración de extranjeros, según sean sus posibilidades de contribuir al progreso nacional.]

So the Interior Department establishes immigration quotas based on the demographic situation of the country, and wants immigrants who will contribute to the development of the nation.

Article 34 even explains what kinds of immigrants Mexico is looking for:

"The Department of the Interior may establish for the foreigners who enter Mexico the conditions that it deems appropriate with respect to the activities to which they will engage in and the place or places of their residence. It will take care thusly that the immigrants shall be useful elements for the country and that they will have the necessary income levels for their subsistence… and of the persons who are under their economic dependence." [Artículo 34.- La Secretaría de Gobernación podrá fijar a los extranjeros que se internen en el país las condiciones que estime convenientes respecto a las actividades a que habrán de dedicarse y al lugar o lugares de su residencia. Cuidará asimismo de que los inmigrantes sean elementos útiles para el país y de que cuenten con los ingresos necesarios para su subsistencia y en su caso, la de las personas que estén bajo su dependencia económica.]

"Useful elements"?" Necessary income levels?" It sounds as though Mexico is being rather choosy. Mexico wants immigrants who are (1) useful to Mexico and (2) who have enough income to take care of themselves and their families. How discriminatory!

OK, so what kinds of immigrants does Mexico not want? Well, that's spelled out in the General Population Law, Article 37. It states that

"The Department of the Interior may deny to foreigners the entrance into the country or a change in immigration status for any of the following reasons:

(What if we did that? What if we conditioned our immigration policy on how other countries took in our people—starting with Mexico?)

  • "II. When the national demographic equilibrium demands it."

(When it doesn't upset Mexico's demographic equilibrium).

  • "III. When the quotas referred to in Article 32 of this law don't permit it."

(See Article 32 above).

  • IV. "When it is considered harmful to the economic interests of Mexicans."

(Shouldn't we also limit immigration if it's harmful to the economic interests of ordinary Americans?)

(Mexico doesn't want criminal immigrants).

  • VI. When they have broken this [immigration] law, its regulations or other applicable administrative orders in the matter, or if they don't comply with the established requirements.

(What if we did that—instead of repeatedly amnestying illegals?)

And, just to make sure everything's covered, Article 38 stipulates that

"The Department of the Interior is authorized to suspend or forbid the admission of foreigners, when it is determined to be in the national interest."

That pretty much covers everything, does it not?

There are several myths and misunderstandings about Mexican immigration policy.

Many Mexicans think that Mexico has no immigration policy, that anybody can come into the country without any kind of visa. I've been asked why the U.S. demands visas and Mexico doesn't! Reason: few Mexicans have any contact with the Mexican immigration bureaucracy, the INM [Instituto Nacional de Migracion] and they've believed the rhetoric of the Open Door Mexico.

Some Americans think Mexico has a lax immigration system because it's so easy for American tourists to enter Mexico.

Yes, it is easy. But the tourist only sees the tip of the iceberg. Mexico has a whole range of immigration options. The tourist visa is just the easiest level.

The system is carefully designed to keep out paupers, to discriminate between citizens and non-citizens, and even to discriminate between native-born Mexicans and naturalized Mexicans.

Mexican immigration law recognizes several levels of immigration status. The most temporary status is that of no-inmigrante, which includes, tourists, transmigrants, visitors, religious workers, political asylees, refugees, students, distinguished visitors, local visitors, provisional visitors and journalists. All these individuals have the right to bring a spouse or children. But they are responsible for them.

A more permanent status is that of "inmigrante," which includes rentistas (people with independent means), investors, professionals, certain administrators, scientists, technicians, artists, athletes, spouses and parents of Mexicans, and family members of such persons (once again, at the responsibility of the head of family).

After 5 years of being an "inmigrante", one may pass to the level of "inmigrado" which is more permanent still.

There are restrictions on land ownership for foreigners, as I have pointed out before. There are ways to get around this, but when a foreigner buys or gets effective control of Mexican property, he waives his rights to the intervention of his country of citizenship in case of a land dispute. And I have never seen the U.S. government take any effective action to defend an American in Mexico in a land dispute.

As far as illegal immigration, the government of Mexico detains and deports over a quarter of a million illegals annually, most of them from Central American countries, which are poorer than Mexico. All Mexican police are required to enforce Mexican immigration law, and so does the Army, which has already militarized the northern border. [Vdare.com note: Mexico's northern border is, of course, American's southern border. Mexico has a southern border of its own, of course, and it faces pressure from further south.]

Mexican immigration officials don't hesitate to use racial profiling. In a previous article, I reported how officials in the north of Mexico tried to deport Mexican Indians thinking they were Central Americans. And, in a recent case, Mexican police used tear gas to get some illegal aliens out of a trailer. What if our immigration officials did that?

Not only that, according to Article 67, any Mexican official who deals with a foreigner is responsible to verify the foreigner's legal status as part of the transaction. The "sanctuary policy" practiced in so many U.S. cities would not get very far in Mexico.

When Lilia and I were married, here in Mexico, I had to ask permission of the Mexican government to marry her, and I had to prove I was here legally. Of course, I love my wife and so it was worth it. But just imagine, once again, what if the U.S. did that?

Legal foreigners living here in Mexico can pretty much do anything we want. We're free to travel throughout Mexico to our heart's content.

However, there are limits. It is strictly verboten for us to get mixed up in Mexican politics, even to march in a protest demonstration.

The Mexican constitution has a particular and well-known article which deals very clearly with the status and expectations of non-Mexicans in Mexico. It's the famous Article 33:

Article 33—Foreigners are those who do not possess the qualities determined in Article 30. They have the right to the guarantees of Chapter I of the first title of this Constitution, but the Executive of the Union has the exclusive right to expel from the national territory, immediately and without necessity of judicial proceedings, all foreigners whose stay it judges inconvenient. Foreigners may not, in any manner, involve themselves in the political affairs of the country.

Articulo 33. Son extranjeros los que no posean las calidades determinadas en el articulo 30. Tienen derecho a las garantias que otorga el capitulo i, titulo primero, de la presente constitucion ; pero el ejecutivo de la union tendra la facultad exclusiva de hacer abandonar el territorio nacional, inmediatamente y sin necesidad de juicio previo, a todo extranjero cuya permanencia juzgue inconveniente.

Los extranjeros no podran de ninguna manera inmiscuirse en los asuntos politicos del pais.

Contrast that with the U.S.'s impossible deportation procedures, as chronicled by Juan Mann!

Article 43 of the General Law of Population (Ley General de Población) states that: 

"The admission to the country of a foreigner obliges him to strictly comply with the conditions established for him in the immigration permit and the dispositions established by the respective laws."

Americans and other foreigners are regularly expelled for overstepping these bounds. In 2002, 18 gringos were expelled for participating in May Day marches. Later in the same year, five American citizens were expelled for participating in a demonstration demanding the release of some campesinos.

In contrast, the U.S. allows even illegal aliens to march openly in the streets demanding their "rights."

Does the U.S. need an Article 33?

Mexico's citizenship laws are spelled out in the legal corpus known as the Ley de Nacionalidad. PDF

In order to become a citizen, the applicant must renounce his home country citizenship, demonstrate that he speaks Spanish, knows Mexican history and has assimilated to Mexican life.[VDARE.COM note: A previous Mexican Government had a very bad experience with some Texans who failed to assimilate. Remember the Alamo?] And he must have lived in Mexico for 5 years.

Certain classes of people, however, can get citizenship in less than 5 years. For example, an immigrant married to a Mexican, or parent of a Mexican child, can get it in 2 years. An adoptee can get it in 1 year.

And note this: Other preferences are based upon ancestry or country of origin. An immigrant of Mexican ancestry gets a preference and only has to wait two years. Immigrants from Latin America or the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) only have to wait 2 years for citizenship.

All other things being equal, this would give an immigrant from Spain a preference over an immigrant from Germany, an immigrant from Argentina preference over an American, and a Mexican-American would have preference over an Anglo-American.

Hmmm! What would happen if the U.S. gave preference to immigrants from the British Isles, Canada, and Australia? I imagine they'd call us racists. But it's a fact: Mexico gives preference to persons of Mexican ancestry, other Latin Americans and Spaniards.

In the U.S.A., a naturalized citizen can do almost anything that a natural-born citizen can do, except be president (and some people even want to change that).

But in Mexico, naturalized citizens are limited from many positions government positions, which are spelled out in the Mexican Constitution. A naturalized Mexican citizen can never serve in the military during peacetime, can never be a policeman, and can never be a pilot, captain or crew member on any vessel or aircraft bearing a Mexican insignia. (Article 32) And a naturalized Mexican can never be in charge of a port or airport.

A naturalized Mexican can never be president (Article 82), just as in the U.S. But he can also never be in the Mexican Congress (unlike ours) (Articles 55 and 58), can never be on the Supreme Court (article 95), and never be a governor of a Mexican state (Article 116) nor serve in the legislature or as mayor of Mexico City (Article 122) .

The truth of the matter is, no matter how well-assimilated a naturalized Mexican is, he will always be a sort of second-class citizen.

And, while a natural-born Mexican can never be stripped of his citizenship, a naturalized Mexican can be (Constitution Article 37). A naturalized Mexican citizen could lose his citizenship by acquiring another nationality, working for a foreign government without permission, accepting titles or decorations from a foreign government or helping a foreigner or foreign nation in a diplomatic dispute or before an international tribunal.

Hmmm again. In other words, the kind of thing a lot of our Latino officials do all the time. But Mexican law flatly prohibits that sort of thing.

If it's good for the goose, isn't it good for the gander.

Bottom line: although the Mexican elite constantly attacks U.S. immigration policy, Mexico's own system is stricter, and explicitly focused on the interests of Mexico.

There's nothing wrong with that, it's their country. But our officials should not be intimidated one whit when scolded by Mexicans about immigration.

In fact, we ought to turn the tables and ask Mexico about its own immigration policy. And, frankly, we would be wise to import many aspects of Mexican immigration policy ourselves!

American citizen Allan Wall (email him) resides in Mexico, with a legal permit issued him by the Mexican government. Allan recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq with the Texas Army National Guard. His VDARE.COM articles are archived here; his FRONTPAGEMAG.COM articles are archived here his "Dispatches from Iraq" are archived here his website is here.