Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Second-Class Mexicans

Chicago.- Ever since I came to the United States 20 years ago, I’ve felt like a second-class Mexican. For example, I’ve been calling the Mexican consulate for months now to try to get a passport with no success. If their phone line is not busy, I get one of their monotonous operators who always ask me for all kinds of information just to tell me that “there are no appointments available for the current month. Please call us next month.” I’ve given up on the idea of getting a Mexican passport. Thank goodness I can get a license here in Illinois.

I stopped shipping packages to my mom in Monterrey many years ago as well, because the Mexican postal service (run by the government) is full of thieves that will steal anything of value that they can. They’ve stolen my money orders, small electronics, and even an old passport that my mom tried to send to me years ago. It is so sad that I cannot even rely on my country’s agencies to help me make my life as an immigrant in the United States a little easier.

While all Polish citizens, Colombians, Europeans and many other immigrants can vote in their countries presidential elections, I cannot, because México’s politicians have not passed broad legislation to make it easier for people like me to vote. You can only do it if you have a voter card issued in México, and very few people have it. And many fewer use it to vote. I believe the real reason most of us can’t vote is because many politicians are afraid of the choices immigrants will make if we were allowed to vote. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that there are 34 million people of Mexican origin in the United States. Eleven million of them were born in México. When we all earn the right to vote in our country’s elections, we will certainly influence the political landscape in great ways.

Immigrants in the United States are one of the main drivers of Mexico’s economy. They sent over 22 million dollars in remittances in 2012. But the services, benefits and representation they receive from the Mexican government are inadequate. This fact, no doubt, is largely due to the everlasting inefficacy of Mexico’s foreign policy, a fact that seems very unlikely to change in the near future. Mexico’s political system is still trying to catch up after a 70-year dictatorship by the PRI party (Institutional Revolutionary Party), a political force which handed out government jobs to those in its circle, creating a corruption problem that still plagues the country.

Don’t Expect Any Help from México

Undocumented Mexicans are citizens without a country. Millions of them cannot get U.S. identity documents because they don’t have a Social Security card, and have no right to disability or unemployment benefits in case of an emergency. And this population cannot ask for help from México either. Besides issuing passports and offering legal counsel, México’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its politicians have not been firm enough when it comes to defending the rights of their migrants. They know—just like U.S. politicians—the contribution of immigrants to the economies of both countries, but they lack a solid front to demand a broad immigration reform from U.S. lawmakers.

Mexico’s biggest accomplishment for his immigrants in decades is the consular ID card (matrícula consular), a document that allows migrants to proof their identity and do simple things like open a bank account. The consular ID card is recognized as a legal form of ID by many states, thanks largely to the support of many financial institutions that wanted to cater to the immigrant market.

México’s demands are also never loud enough for the United States because theirs has mostly been an unequal relationship. Take ex-CIA contractor Edward Snowden’s recent revelation that the NSA (National Security Agency) spied on then-presidential-candidate Enrique Peña Nieto (he’s now president), and former President Felipe Calderón. México demanded an explanation and an investigation, but nothing was done. However, when France and Germany (who were also spied on) demanded action, the United States listened, and promised that they would not spy on their “allies” anymore. México was ignored just like Brazil. Was it because they are just poor countries that can be bullied as pleased?

Ironically, U.S. politicians are the ones stepping in to demand better services from México. Last month Wisconsin Gov., Scott Walker, hand-delivered a letter to Mexican Consul General Carlos Jiménez Macías, requesting a consulate office in his state, where Mexicans have to wait for months to get their documents. Many have to come to Chicago to get it done. “Wisconsin has built a tremendous relationship with México over the years,” Walker’s letter read. “A consulate office in Wisconsin would help continue this pattern of economic growth.”

The states of California, Illinois and New York have all passed laws to give drivers’ licenses to undocumented immigrants as well. They are not waiting for Congress to do its job and pass comprehensive immigration reform, which has been delayed time after time since the 9-11 attacks. Many states have also passed legislation to allow immigrants who came here as children pay in-state tuition if they want to go to college. And President Obama pushed passage of the “Dream Act,” which gave temporary legal residence to these immigrant children while Congress address the broken immigration system. 

So Mexicans on both sides of the border may complain that the United States is being unfair with immigrants, but I beg to differ. I believe that Mexican lawmakers are the ones who have failed to do their job decade after decade. I bet that if our politicians were a little bit like the Germans or the French, a lot more would have been done to improve the lives of immigrants. México, the United States and Canada worked out the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in the 1990’s, but they were very selfish. They eased the exchange of goods and duties, but did nothing to regulate migrants, a problem that has been going on since my grandfather’s time and needs urgent attention in North America and all around the world.

Enlace a historia en español/link to Spanish version.