Mexico’s Diplomats Step Up For Immigrants
Oscar Avila, Chicago Tribune, Jun. 16
Mexican President Vicente Fox arrives in Chicago on Wednesday for a two-day visit that will highlight a growing and sometimes controversial campaign that has Mexican diplomats fighting for their countrymen at City Hall and in Springfield.
From promoting acceptance of an identification card issued by the consulate to pressing state legislators to raise the minimum wage, Mexican diplomats based in Chicago have made themselves heard by elected officials throughout the Midwest.
Fox will meet Wednesday with Mayor Richard Daley at the new Mexican Consulate on Chicago’s Near West Side, the epicenter for this new activism and an increasingly important focus for the nation’s second-largest Mexican community.
But not everybody is cheering the consulate’s higher profile.
Local officials in Waukegan and elsewhere have chafed at what they see as pressure from a foreign government, while the most vocal anti-immigration activists say that some of the cooperation verges on treason. Some scholars, meanwhile, wonder whether the new, higher profile of the Mexican government in the U.S. works against integrating immigrants into the American mainstream.
Others note that the United States has made its will felt within Mexico for centuries.
In an interview last week in Mexico, Fox said part of the mission of his Midwest trip will be to build on his government’s efforts to advocate for Mexicans in the U.S.
Fox said he plans to free up an additional $12 million so consulates in the U.S. can further promote the immigrant agenda.
“We are working in steps big and small to advance in that direction,” Fox said. “All of it has to do with advantages and improvements for the Mexican immigrants in the U.S.”
The Mexican consul general in Chicago, Carlos Manuel Sada, one of the most active Mexican diplomats in the U.S., says his office’s transition from a bureaucratic outpost to a political player is a natural part of the growth of the Mexican community here.
“These efforts are more of the role that we have to play as a consulate,” Sada said. “It isn’t just issuing documents to Mexico. It keeps expanding in the way our community is expanding.”
But, Sada added, his job is to provide his government’s point of view without leaving the impression that he is intruding on U.S. decision-making.
In this push, Sada is following the lead provided by Fox, who has devoted an unprecedented amount of attention to Mexican nationals in the U.S.
In addition to a celebration at the consulate, Fox will meet with Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Wednesday afternoon and speak to the U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce in the evening.
He will meet with students, residents and federal banking officials at Unity Junior High School in Cicero on Thursday and speak to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations before departing for visits in Michigan and Minnesota.
The local Mexican Consulate’s political activism began in earnest two years ago when it started promoting a consulate-issued ID card known as the matricula consular, available to any Mexican. Although consulates have issued the card for decades, Mexican government officials nationwide are lobbying cities and counties to accept the card as an official document.
After Waukegan aldermen initially resisted the consulate’s sales pitch in 2002, Mexican-American activists staged a raucous protest at City Hall. Waukegan’s mayor eventually agreed to accept the card. Chicago and Cook County also have agreed to recognize the document, though some cities, such as Elgin, have rejected it.
The Midwest Coalition to Reduce Immigration, based in Lombard, has cast such Mexican lobbying in ominous terms, criticizing some U.S. lawmakers who cooperate with the Mexican government for “sleeping with the enemy” and “working with Mexican subversives to undermine U.S. sovereignty.”
“The tactics they’ve used when they lobby local governments like Elgin and Waukegan, that’s really over the line,” said Dave Gorak, the group’s executive director.
Gorak and other activists also have invoked “reconquista,” a theory advanced mainly by militant Latino activists who say Mexico should take back parts of the U.S. that used to be its land. Gorak says that while it is unthinkable that Mexico would regain control of U.S. territory, the aggressive lobbying by Mexican consulates is a way that government can exert political control within U.S. borders.
Consulate officials say their tactics are part of the legal and ethical obligation to protect their citizens, not interference in the internal affairs of the U.S.
The Mexican government has tried to make inroads with U.S. politicians by reaching out to a natural liaison: Mexican-American politicians who share cultural and linguistic ties with both camps.
This spring, a delegation of Hispanic legislators from the United States met with two Mexican Cabinet officials to identify issues in which they could cooperate. On Thursday morning, Fox will be host to an informal meeting with Hispanic legislators in Chicago.
State Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-Cicero), who attended the meeting this spring, said it is natural that he would work with the Mexican Consulate because, as the son of undocumented immigrants, he has a personal understanding of the social needs of the community.
But he rejects the argument that he somehow has dual loyalties. “The Mexican government doesn’t pull my strings,” Sandoval said. “I am not going to be manipulated by the Mexican Consulate or President Fox’s agenda. They don’t dictate what happens here.”
In fact, Sandoval and other U.S. officials say their agenda often overlaps with that of the Mexican government as they try to improve the financial, educational and social health of Mexican immigrants.
Mexico has emerged as an example for other foreign consulates in its approach to local officials and issues. Efrain Saavedra, the consul general of Peru, recently joined Cook County Commissioner Roberto Maldonado in pressing state authorities to investigate firms that sell prepaid phone cards that make false promises to their customers.
`Protection of Peruvians’
“Mexico has cleared the trail for us,” Saavedra said. “They have showed how it is important that we work with authorities on the issues where we are all on the same page. . . . I cannot offer opinions about the politics of the Fire Department or about the CTA, but when it comes to the defense and protection of Peruvians, that is acceptable.”
In recent months, the Mexican Consulate also has pushed issues that are less contentious, such as a bill that would punish phony immigration consultants who prey on Mexican citizens.
When the Illinois General Assembly took up the question of driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants this year, a measure publicly supported by Fox during a 2001 visit to Chicago, Sada stayed out of the debate.
But Sada said he has spoken with Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White behind the scenes about the proposal. And consulate officials say they expect Fox to raise the issue with Blagojevich.
“What we don’t want is that people interpret my work as trying to force something,” Sada said. “We are merely informing these officials about our point of view.”
Mexican President Presents Bill To Give Mexicans Abroad Right To Vote
Detroit Free Press, Jun. 16, 2004
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexican President Vicente Fox said he will send a bill to Congress asking lawmakers to give Mexicans living abroad the right to vote for president in 2006.
Currently, Mexicans have to return to their home country to vote. More than 20 million people of Mexican heritage live in the United States, and half of those are Mexican-born.
Fox’s initiative, announced Tuesday at a hastily organized news conference at the presidential residence of Los Pinos, came on the eve of his three-day trip to Chicago, Minneapolis and Detroit, home to millions of Mexican-Americans and Mexican migrants.
“The right to vote is a right that they cannot continue to be denied,” the president said.
The enormous voting power of Hispanics in the United States has been recognized by President Bush, who earlier this year proposed a guest-worker program for Mexican migrants, and by Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, who is lobbying for the Hispanic vote.
Fox’s National Action Party and opposition groups trying to defeat National Action in the 2006 elections are also courting Mexicans living in the United States.
Fox also announced Tuesday that he had instructed Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez to lodge “an energetic protest” to the U.S. State Department and the Interior Department “for the recent operations against Mexicans” in the United States.
The president did not elaborate, but Fox spokesman Agustin Gutierrez said later that he was referring to recent roundups of Mexican migrants inside California by U.S. authorities.
Roving U.S. Border Patrol agents have arrested hundreds of people this month, often far from the Mexican border. Mexican consular officials in the United States have complained publicly that the recent arrests, many of them made on public streets, are creating a climate of fear.
A formal complaint will be presented through diplomatic channels, following up on Fox’s comments, Gutierrez said.
In April, Fox’s party and the two main opposition parties, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, and the Democratic Revolution Party, agreed to promote Mexicans’ voting rights abroad with a four-point plan now being debated in Congress.
That plan, like the president’s, would allow Mexicans living in foreign countries to vote only for president and would prohibit Mexican candidates from campaigning outside this country.
The four-point plan also would require that voters return to Mexico to register prior to the elections.
Fox’s initiative, while vague, would allow the country’s National Electoral Institute, or IFE, to determine how best to ensure that Mexican voters are registered. His plan also mandates stiff penalties for candidates who campaign outside Mexico’s borders.
“It’s a good foundation that Congress will analyze, enrich and finally approve,” Interior Secretary Santiago Creel said at the Los Pinos news conference.
Both voting-rights overhauls would allow IFE to establish the mechanics of suffrage abroad, such as whether Mexicans would vote electronically, by mail, or at polling booths.
Mexican-Americans sent home a record US$13.3 billion in remittances from the United States last year, creating Mexico’s second-largest source of foreign income behind oil.