Mexican Secretary of Governance
Distinguished members of the conference, a very good day to all of you.
First, I would like to convey the warm greetings sent by the president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, who follows with great interest the work carried out by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference on behalf of migrants.
It is a privilege for me to be here with you and to share some considerations regarding the Mexico-United States migratory phenomenon, a topic addressed in the recent Pastoral letter issued jointly by American and Mexican bishops.
The document suggests solutions for the achievement of security, order and protection of human rights, in favor of those who must leave their homes to seek employment in another country. I fully agree with the idea that, and I quote: “our nations live an interdependence never before seen in their history.” And that Mexico and the United States “share social and cultural values,” just like they share “interests and hopes for the future.”
We must understand that borders are no longer what they used to be. Borders should not divide people and nations. Borders must be, increasingly, points of encounter and integration, not of division and, even less, of segregation. We cannot be distant neighbors, nor can we look at the border as an historical scar that sets us apart.
What is the meaning of our border when nearly one million people cross it every single day, when the economies of the border region are so closely linked, and, moreover, when cultural expressions mix with each other. The border is not only the place where two nations come together. It is, above all, a mirror that reflects how much our two countries have in common.
Today, the merging of cultures is a growing trend. This especially takes place when two nations, like Mexico and the United States, have had a common history.
If we look as far back as Father Kino, who founded the missions in northwestern Mexico and in the southern part of the United States, if we consider the settlement of thousands of Mexican families in Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico, even before the nineteenth century, and the millions of people who have moved back and forth since then, it is clear that Mexico and the United States have shared their historical conformation. We have learned a great deal from each other. The roots and traditions of our nations have flourished despite our borders.
It has been an intense exchange in which migrants have played a central role. Today, 23 million people, who were either born in Mexico or are descendants of Mexicans, live in the United States. However, for many years we did not address the migratory issue with the intensity that it demands. On occasion, we preferred to postpone it or put it aside. At other times, we approached the issue only in a partial way.
Since the so called “Bracero Program” established back in the 1940s, Mexico and the United States have not had a bilateral agreement to manage this flow of people. For many years, the bilateral agenda was dominated by the fight against drug trafficking. Likewise, the same happened with NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which opened up the flow of goods and services, but not the flow of people. We must not continue to repeat this mistake – the mistake of omission.
The policy of containment implemented by the United States along its southern border has not been able to stop the migration flow. The widespread surveillance has only changed the traditional routes taken by the migrants and increased the price they have to pay to get across. This situation has strengthened the smugglers who risk the migrants’ lives, taking them through dangerous and isolated places. An important part of the substantial resources allotted to migration control in both countries could be used in a more humane and efficient manner. It is time for us to explore new alternatives.
With the election of President Vicente Fox in the year 2000, a new political era was born in Mexico, characterized by a democratic opening, and a fresh approach to Mexico’s bilateral relations with the United States. With the arrival of the new government, a five point migratory agenda was presented to the United States, as follows:
- First, to regularize the migratory status of the nearly 4 million undocumented Mexicans living in the United States.
- Second, to establish a temporary workers’ program, which will allow the authorized access of the Mexican labor force to specific industries and regions in the United States.
- Third, to expand the number of visas available to Mexicans, with the aim of bringing the number closer to the current migratory reality that exists between both countries.
- Fourth, to strengthen border security through coordinated actions, with a special emphasis on preventing the deaths of migrants and combating the trafficking of people.
- Fifth, to establish regional development programs in the communities and regions of origin with high numbers of migrants.
September 11th signified a wound in the universal conscience. It was a clear indicator that civilized relations among people had come under a terrible threat. Since then, security became a core issue for democracies around the world, especially for the United States. Despite the fact that for Mexico the migratory issue with the United States continues to be a top priority, we immediately took steps to establish unprecedented cooperation with our partner, neighbor and friend on border security.
The work done in coordination with the United States led to what is known as the “Border Alliance,” a 22-point action plan meant to protect strategic facilities and ensure the efficient transit of people, goods and vehicles with state-of-the-art technology. In the face of the impending war with Iraq, we proceeded to take further steps.
Parallel to our pacifist tradition, we decided to strengthen our alliance with the United States, launching the Sentinel Plan, a strategy for safeguarding our coasts and borders, and for preventing our territory from being used for the entry and transit of terrorists. The plan also aimed to safeguard the lives and assets of U.S. citizens in Mexico. This is why today we can say that our alliance with the United States against terrorism has been made stronger than ever.
Now we want to demonstrate that security and an orderly, safe and legal migration, are unquestionably linked. Paradoxically, the terrorist attacks that delayed the discussion on migration make even more evident the need to reach a migratory understanding between our two nations.
Let us talk then, about security and migration. Today, there are nearly four million Mexicans working in the United States, with no record of who they are, where they live, where they work, and when they entered the United States. Does it not make sense to improve security through allowing them to become fully recognized and legal? Migrant regularization would provide the United States with a greater security margin than the one it currently has. Moreover, with regularization, a large part of the resources used to deter and control undocumented migration could be allocated to what does have a real impact on security: fighting crime and terrorism. Those are the challenges and threats upon which we need to focus our resources.
With limited budgets, our two countries must adequately assess and manage risks and concentrate efforts in those areas where menaces really exist. The Mexican migratory flow represents no risk whatsoever, especially if it is documented. That is the policy that Mexico is proposing – the policy of Safe Neighborhood. This is precisely where migration and security policies meet.
Documented migration undoubtedly contributes to the preservation of U.S. national security. At the same time, it provides certainty and security to migrants in their human, labor and civil rights, as well as protection against the abuses carried out by traffickers.
But migration must not be seen only from the security perspective. It also entails understanding that a human drama is unfolding behind each and every migrant. Because of the lack of documents to protect them, migrants postpone their return to Mexico and, as a result, families disintegrate. For the large majority of Mexicans, family unity is essential. Every time that a Mexican decides to leave his community, this basic structure is disrupted. Tragedies happen when a relative is told that her husband, his wife or a son has died in the desert, drowned in the currents of the Río Bravo, or suffocated in some trailer. On average, one Mexican migrant dies every day in his or her effort to cross the border undocumented. This terrible tendency has persisted, at least, since 1995. The cycle of death and family disintegration can be stopped. It is our duty to do everything in our power to make this happen.
When Mexicans today cross the border and settle on the U.S. side, just like their ancestors did centuries ago, they take with them their family and community ties, the fervor of their beliefs, the richness of their language, and the power of their traditions. Mexico recognized Mexican migrants as part of the nation. This is part of our struggle to create the conditions so they may have the right to come back to our country and then go back to their jobs in the United States, without having to suffer abuse and humiliation or the risk of injury or even death. This is why we also seek for them to have access to basic services like healthcare and education. Moreover, this is why we have taken Mexico’s concerns to multilateral forums and acquired commitments, such as ratifying the United Nations International Convention on the Protection of Rights of all Migratory Workers and their Families. Based on this Convention, we express our commitment to take care of the human rights of our Central American brothers.
Migrants are people who work hard from morning to night. By sending money home and paying their taxes, they contribute to the economic growth of both countries. Migrants contribute considerable resources to their families in Mexico for their development and well-being. In the past year, they sent more than $9 billion dollars to Mexico, more than $24 million dollars a day. This clearly shows the importance and significance of the migratory phenomenon.
Throughout the years, I have heard many personal stories of Mexicans who live in the United States. Some accounts are sad, but others – the majority of them – are success stories. They are stories of commitment to the country where they were born, but also to the country that gave them shelter and opportunity. These stories convince us that migrants, far from being a threat to security, are honorable persons, good citizens, with a high sense of solidarity, who contribute to the enhancement of our two nations.
In order to achieve better conditions for the workers who emigrate from their places of origin, the Catholic Church has always been their natural ally. The Church has protected many migrants in the countries where they arrived, and has always given them a sense of belonging.
Let me express my deep recognition to the work carried out by the dioceses at the U.S.-Mexico border for their fraternity, generosity and hospitality to many Mexican migrants.
Today, international migration is a social, economic and cultural reality that occupies a central place in the international agenda. It cannot be stopped and it should not be ignored.
Today, it is even more important to find ways to manage the flow of people in order to strengthen our national security.
Today, it is time for Mexico and the United States to recognize our historical reality. It is time to share our responsibility to transform the movement of people through our territories, as a source of mutual benefit, instead of being a source of recriminations and tensions. It is time, now, to redouble our efforts to protect the rights of undocumented workers and put an end to the deaths of those who cross the border in search of better opportunities for their families. It is time to create an orderly, legal and safe migration regime consistent with our reality as neighbors, friends and partners. We shall insist on the advantages of reaching a new understanding on migration. We know that a new, realistic and humane migration regime will reinforce and expand the ties between the Mexican and American people.
Our country is sending a message of collaboration. A message with a humane significance. A message in favor of life. As the Pastoral Letter correctly expresses: “Mexico and the United States have a unique opportunity to act as true neighbors, to work together and agree on a migratory system that is more just and generous.” The government of President Fox recognizes the humanist role played by the Catholic Church, providing shelter and consolation to millions of Mexican migrants.
We have a great challenge, as well as an historic opportunity to work together in the common purpose of creating the conditions in the United States that will allow the Mexican migrants access to their full rights, obligations and dignity. Let us close ranks to walk together on the journey of hope.
Thank you very much.