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April 1998, Volume 5, Number 4

Mexico: Dual Nationality, Migration, Twin Cities

Dual Nationality. Beginning March 20, 1998, Mexicans in the US could acquire or re-acquire rights as Mexican nationals under Mexico's new dual nationality law. Their children born outside of Mexico are also eligible for Mexican nationality.

It is not clear how many of the two million Mexican-born US residents who have become US citizens--and thus lost their Mexican nationality under the old law--will seek to become dual Mexican and US nationals. Under the new Mexican Nationality Act, those who lost their Mexican citizenship when they became naturalized US citizens have five years (until 2003) to re-acquire Mexican nationality.

Applicants pay $12 for an official Declaration of Mexican Nationality at one of the 42 Mexican consulates in the US, including 10 in California. Once certified as Mexican nationals, dual nationals are eligible for official Mexican identity cards and passports, which they can use to enter and leave Mexico.

The new Mexican law creates Mexican dual nationality but not dual citizenship. Holders of Declaration of Mexican Nationality IDs will not be able to vote or hold political office in Mexico, to serve in the Mexican Armed Forces, or to work aboard Mexican-flagged ships or airlines.

The benefits of Mexican nationality include the right to buy and sell land free of the restrictions imposed on foreigners and to receive better treatment under investment and inheritance laws in Mexico, to attend public schools and universities as Mexicans, and to access other Mexican government services and jobs. For example, foreigners are barred from buying property within 62 miles of the Mexican frontier or 31 miles of the Mexican coast; those with Nationality IDs will be able to buy coastal property.

Many US groups that want to reduce immigration to the US are also opposed to dual nationality. Naturalized US citizens must formally renounce allegiances to other governments, but since 1967, US law has permitted Americans to possess other nationalities--the INS does not ask naturalizing foreigners if they have given up their old passport. Five to 10 million US citizens are eligible for dual nationality and this pool is growing by about 500,000 a year.

Among countries permitting dual nationality are; France, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil and the Dominican Republic. Legislation that would permit dual nationality is pending in South Korea and the Philippines.

Many academics endorse dual nationality, calling those with two or more passports, or those who maintain commitments to two or more countries, "transnationals." Maintaining the citizenship of the country of origin is believed by some to promote remittances and investment in the country of origin, while citizenship in the host country is believed to accelerate integration.

Migration. In response to the INS announcement that 1,000 Border Patrol agents would be added in 1998, Fernando Solis Camara, head of the Population and Migratory Services unit of the Interior Ministry, commented that Mexicans would continue to migrate illegally to the US. According to Solis, about 100,000 Mexicans a year have been entering the US illegally for the past three years.

In an interview published in the Los Angeles Times on February 22, 1998, newly appointed Mexican ambassador to the US Jesus Reyes Heroles said: "The United States has every right to enforce its immigration law including the decision to stop immigrants from crossing the border. But Mexican law guarantees the free transit of people within the territory. Therefore Mexico cannot stop a person under the suspicion that he or she may be trying to cross the border."

To reduce conflicts over illegal immigration, Reyes Heroles says that Mexico and the US should "raise the level of consciousness on the immigration issue. I believe the recent Binational Study on Immigration is a first step in the right direction. What we should understand now is what are the underlying forces that create constant and numerous migratory movements."

The Mexican city of Piedras Negras used local police to clear migrants bound for the US from the city bus station, where they reportedly bothered other passengers.

In late February, the US certified that Mexico was "fully cooperating" in the fight against drug trafficking. However, the Drug Enforcement Administration report on Mexico said that "the government of Mexico has not accomplished its counternarcotics goals or succeeded in cooperation with the United States government.... The level of drug corruption in Mexico continues unabated."

Twin Cities. Along the Mexico-US border, there are at least six major twin cities, pairs of Mexican and US cities that follow a general pattern: both are growing fast due to migration from elsewhere in the country, but the Mexican cities are among the richest in Mexico, while the US cities are among the poorest in the US. Many of the US cities are struggling, as US employers close plants in the US and move them to Mexico.

For example, El Paso in early 1998 had an unemployment rate more than twice the US average, the result of widespread layoffs in the "Jeans Capital of the World." In the 1970s, there were an estimated 40,000 mostly immigrant women sewing jeans in the El Paso area for wages that were higher than in Mexico, but lower than elsewhere in the US. By 1998, only 10,000 garment workers remain. Most of those displaced are Hispanic women, aged 35 to 55, who speak little or no English--the most common retraining programs are one year of English-language instruction.

An investigation of SSI recipients in El Paso found that almost half were receiving SSI payments unlawfully, usually by living in Mexico but claiming US residence. The $27 billion a year SSI program provides an average of $480 a month to poor US residents who are blind, disabled, or over 65.

Juarez has a population of 100,000 and El Paso a population of 667,000; Juarez is growing faster than El Paso, adding 46,000 residents a year, while El Paso adds about 14,000 residents a year. Juarez's labor force is 425,000; El Paso's is 285,000. Almost 11 percent of El Paso's workers were jobless early in 1998, compared to eight percent in Juarez. In Juarez, General Motors is the largest employer, with 25,000 employees, followed by Thomson, United Technologies and Ford. In El Paso, school districts and the city are the largest employers. About 30 percent of El Paso county residents in 1990 were foreign born.

Guadalajara, Mexico's second-largest city, has been dubbed Silicon South (Silicon Valley del Sur), attracting $850 million in investment to do everything from engineering to developing Spanish-language software. Local content is about 30 percent for the products exported from the area. Major foreign employers include Philips with 7,400 employees, IBM with 7,000, and Kodak with 2,400.

Since 1995, Guadalajara has created an estimated 140,000 jobs, including 20,000 in electronics that pay $1.20 an hour. Turnover is much lower than in border-area maquiladoras, less than two percent a year, compared with 100 percent or more in the border area.

Mexico received $10 billion in direct foreign investment in 1997, up sharply from 1996.

Puebla Group. The third meeting of the Regional Consultation Group on Migration was held in Canada in late February. The group first met in Puebla, Mexico in 1996 and met in Panama in 1997. Members are Belize, Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and the United States. The fourth meeting of the group will be held in El Salvador in 1999. or />
Remittances. Several Wall Street firms, including Merrill Lynch & Co, are reportedly preparing to issue "remittance bonds," issued by banks and backed by remittances from migrants.

For example, a Turkish bank that receives wire transfers from Turks in Germany will deposit a portion of the marks into a special account with the German bank. Because the money stays in marks -- and in Germany -- bond investors do not have to speculate which way the Turkish lira will move or whether the Turkish government will change its policies on remittances. By reducing risks, most remittance bonds are expected to be rated investment grade, substantially lowering borrowing costs.

In southeast Asia, remittances have reportedly increased in the wake of the economic crisis. Remittance bonds have interest rates that are 2.5 points lower than other unsecured bonds. The remittance bonds' main risk is that workers will send less money home, switch banks, or return home if the job market changes or the political winds shift.

James Smith, "Mexico's Dual Nationality Opens Doors," Los Angeles Times, March 20, 1998. Patrick McDonnell, "Cementing Ties to Mexico Citizenship," Los Angeles Times, March 21, 1998. James Smith, "Salsa and Chips. Way South of the Border, a High-Tech Industry Is Booming as Guadalajara Pursues Ambitious Growth," Los Angeles Times, March 8, 1998.