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Memo From Mexico | Will "Returning Migrants" Remake Mexico—Or Take US Southwest Back With Them?
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August 04, 2008, 05:00 AM
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Ending mass illegal immigration, and drastically reducing legal immigration is necessary for the survival of the United States as we know it. These things must be done.

But reforming our immigration policy is going to involve a lot of Mexicans in the U.S. going back home to Mexico. What happens to Mexicans who return to Mexico? And what would happen to Mexico if all the Mexicans in the U.S. went home?

I`ve been arguing for years that closing our border would help Mexico, principally by cutting off the safety valve which allows the Mexican government to avoid real reform.

Right now, for example, Mexican lawmakers are continuing to dither over the anemic reforms President Calderon has proposed for the Mexican state oil monopoly PEMEX. But even those anemic reforms are too much for leftist Mexican politicians.

Imagine though, if the northern safety valve were definitely closed. Is it possible they might be more serious about reforming their petroleum sector?

Well, maybe, maybe not. But we have to do what we have to do anyway.

Supposing we do get control of our border and drastically cut immigration as we should. In the short run, it`s going to be tough for Mexico, because the whole society has become addicted to mass emigration to the United States. Just as with a drug addict, withdrawal is not easy.

Being a (legal) resident of Mexico myself—in full compliance with Mexican immigration law—I`ve met deported illegal aliens here in Mexico. I`ve even had them come to my door asking for alms.

Once in a bus station, a recently-deported illegal alien asked me for money so he could eat. Concerned that he might use cash for a harmful substance, and since I had some time to spare anyway, I took him across the street and bought him something to eat. This also gave us the chance to chat.

Despite the fact that he`d recently been deported, he wasn`t bitter. He spoke about his experience in a rather matter-of-fact manner, as the deportees I`ve spoken to usually do. I asked him where he was from in Mexico, and if there were any jobs there. Yes, there were, he replied. Not, however, at the wage rates he can work for in the U.S.

Mexicans who return from the U.S. are a varied lot. Some barely spent time in the country, having been detained upon entry. Others have spent years north of the border, and returned voluntarily after accumulating a large sum of money. Some of those returning are just plain criminals, as the Attorney General of Baja California recently pointed out.

Some are just going to cause trouble in Mexico (as they did in the U.S.). On the other hand, some can make positive contributions to Mexico`s development.

A recent article by Jeremy Schwartz deals with one class of returnees – those who are getting into politics . Returning migrants remaking Mexico through politics, [Austin American-Statesman, June 22, 2008], is subtitled "Migrants are coming home from U.S. with dollars, ideas and little patience for the old way of doing things".

It`s a rather upbeat article about the contributions returning migrants make to Mexican society. But at the same time it raises some difficult questions about sovereignty and citizenship.

Schwartz is focusing on Mexicans who have lived for years in the U.S., who have returned to Mexico and are getting into local politics in rural areas. Most returning migrants are not running for office in Mexico, but it does represent a phenomenon that helps us see the big picture. Here`s how Schwartz sums it up:

"In isolated pockets throughout Mexico, especially in far-flung rural areas, groups of migrants are entering the political arena. For many returning migrants, the lessons they learned in places such as Austin are guiding their forays into politics. Before they left Mexico for the United States, many of them were the poorest, and often the least educated, residents of their towns and villages. They are returning with dollars, ideas and little patience for the old way of doing things".

This is potentially a good thing. Rural Mexico is the least developed, most-ignored and underdeveloped sector of the economy, having suffered years of government mismanagement and misguided socialist policies.

Schwartz begins the article with a description of Seir Benitez, who came from the state of Mexico. As is typical of contemporary journalistic style, you have to read a ways down to figure out what`s going on :

"Seir Benítez left this remote town high in the Sierra Madre mountains 12 years ago in hopes of escaping a harsh life in its dusty fields. He traded dramatic mountain views and grinding poverty for an apartment in Austin and a job in a tool factory. He spent eight years in the United States, venturing as far as Florida and Nebraska, before returning home with enough money to build a house. Benítez, 28, also came back filled with new ideas of how Luvianos, in the state of Mexico, should be governed. He is considering a run for mayor, joining a wave of politically active migrants who many in Mexico believe have the potential to reshape the countryside. `I want to create jobs so that other young people don`t have to migrate,` said Benítez, who works for Luvianos` city government and peppers his conversation with references to Austin`s flea markets and Riverside Drive restaurants."

Schwartz` article includes another profile of some returning migrants in the southern state of Guerrero, one of Mexico`s poorest states, and explores the situation in the central Mexican state of Zacatecas.

Zacatecas is a bellwether state for several reasons. For one thing, it has an extremely high rate of emigration.

Indeed, "high rate of emigration" just doesn`t do justice to the Zacatecas situation. It`s ground zero for the "Mexodus"—and "mass exodus" is the only term for what`s happened. It`s estimated that half the state`s population of 1.8 million lives outside of Zacatecas. About a million Zacatecans reside in the U.S.A.

The state has also been a pioneer in the rise of migrant political power. In 2003, Zacatecans living in the United States gained the right to run for office in Mexico while living in the U.S. The unicameral Zacatecas state legislature now includes two seats (out of 30) specifically reserved to represent Zacatecans residing in the U.S.

One of the most colorful Zacatecas characters is Andres Bermudez, aka the "Tomato King". Bermudez became a wealthy man raising tomatoes in California, and fought for years to be able to run for mayor in his home town of Jerez, Zacatecas. Mexican residency laws for candidates tend to be strict, so he wasn`t able to. But after the Zacatecas law was changed in 2003, Bermudez won the election for mayor of Jerez in 2004, promising to make the town into a "little United States".

But everything didn`t go smoothly for The Tomato King. Accused by the locals as being dictatorial, in turn he blamed his problems on entrenched local interests.

Maybe both sides were right. After all, there is a built-in conflict between returning migrants, loaded with money, and the traditional local authorities. It`s inevitable in a country where emigration has been so widespread.

In Michoacan, another Mexican state with a high rate of emigration, migrants have also gained political power. Last year Luis Magana, a michoacano resident in California ran for governor of Michoacan. [Border no barrier for long-shot candidate | Dual citizen runs in U.S. for Mexican state governorship. By Susan Ferriss, Sacramento Bee, August 15, 2007] Like Zacatecas, the Michoacan legislature now has seats reserved for U.S. residents.

As time goes by, if more states authorize designated emigrant seats, you will see more and more examples of dual U.S.- Mexican citizens living in the U.S. yet running for office in Mexico.

An even more ambitious program has been suggested for the Mexican Congress, and was supported by 2006 presidential candidate Lopez Obrador. It would enlarge the Mexican Congress to include an entire delegation of federal lawmakers exclusively to represent Mexicans living in the United States. It would be called the Sexta Circunscripción Electoral—the 6th electoral super-district. For a circunscripción map of Mexico, click here and count them, there are 5. Therefore, the Sexta Circunscripción basically consists of the millions of Mexicans living in U.S. territory.

Certainly, this constitutes a loss of sovereignty for the U.S., which would then undeniably be hosting a colonizing Fifth Column.

But it also constitutes a loss of sovereignty for Mexico.

Just imagine if every Mexican in the U.S., including dual citizens, were registered to vote and voted in Mexican elections. This would effectively make Mexicans residing in the U.S. the kingmakers of Mexican elections.

In other words, people residing outside of Mexico would be deciding Mexican elections. Maybe the majority of Mexicans, who still reside in Mexico and have to live with the consequences of Mexican elections, would resent that.

It all fits in, though, with today`s transnational politics.

Mexican candidates have campaigned in U.S. territory and Mexican political parties organize in the U.S. John McCain has visited Mexico in what is essentially a campaign visit—over the July 4th holiday! And now Obama`s half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, visited Mexico recently to raise funds among American expatriates. [Obama`s sister wooing expats in Mexico, By Jeremy Schwartz, Austin American-Statesman, July 17, 2008] (I didn`t contribute).

The politics of Mexico and the U.S., against the wishes of most citizens of each country, are becoming entangled in an increasingly complex web. And it`s getting more and more difficult to untangle.

American citizen Allan Wall (email him) resides in Mexico, with a legal permit issued him by the Mexican government. In 2005, Allan served a tour of duty in Iraq with the Texas Army National Guard. His VDARE.COM articles are archived here; his Mexidata.info articles are archived here and his website is here.