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June 2002, Volume 9, Number 6

Mexico: Policy, Labor

Policy. Mexican President Fox has so far failed to achieve his major foreign policy initiative, progress toward a borderless North America. Mexicans note that Canada was not eager to enlarge its special relationship with the US by adding Mexico, and that Bush did not push as hard as Mexico expected for a migration agreement. Fox has so far not been able to achieve many of his domestic policy objectives, and has little to show for his pro-US policies.

Fox, who wants to restart talks on legalizing Mexicans in the US, said in May 2002, that migration talks should continue because "our commitment and vision for the future should be based on facts." Fox said Mexican migrants "work with much dignity and productivity and greatly contribute to the US economy." He concluded that "there cannot be a substantive advance [in bilateral relations] without taking on the issue of migration."

Interior Secretary Santiago Creel echoed Fox, saying "An immigration agreement to regularize the status of undocumented Mexicans working on the other side is essential." Foreign Relations Secretary Jorge Castaneda said: "We won't rest until we achieve the regularization of our countrymen."

During an annual Mexico-US Interparliamentary meeting of US and Mexican lawmakers on May 18 and 19, US Representative Tom Tancredo (R-Colorado) told the legislators that an amnesty "was not in the cards." The 14 US legislators told their 20 Mexican counterparts that there is little chance of such liberalization before the fall 2002 US elections. The Mexican congressmen said that the absence of an amnesty threatens Fox, who promised to help migrant workers in the US.

In his weekly radio address of May 4, 2002, President Bush commemorated Cinco de Mayo, which celebrates the victory of Mexican soldiers over the French at the 1862 Battle of Puebla. Saying that "family values do not stop at the Rio Grande," Bush praised Mexican immigrants for their "strong values and their determination to create a better life for themselves and their children."

On May 16 2002, two ships with more than 400 Ecuadorian migrants on board were found off the coast of Chiapas state in Mexico. The Mexican navy found the two ships, which left Ecuador on May 1, drifting aimlessly after they had steering problems and had run out of water.

Mexico and the US are increasing their cooperation in many areas, but the tendency of some Mexican citizens who commit crimes in the US and then flee to Mexico continues to provoke tensions, largely because Mexico refuses to extradite Mexicans who would face the death penalty or life in prison abroad. Mexican officials say their policy arises from a philosophy that criminals should be rehabilitated, not locked up for life or killed, both of which they consider cruel and unusual punishment. In 2002, all 50 state attorneys general signed a letter warning that Mexico's policy creates "a dangerous incentive for people to commit grievous crimes and escape."

Mexicans who commit crimes in the US can be prosecuted in Mexico, and 150 have been since 1993. But US officials complain that many of those convicted in Mexico receive light sentences. A Mexican official says that "Mexico and the United States have two different legal systems. The penalty should help rehabilitate them in order to reincorporate them into society."

Labor. Remittances to Mexico rose from $700 million in 1980 to $9.2 billion in 2001. Mexican President Vicente Fox is trying to get migrants in the US to invest some of their remittances in Mexico under a "padrino" or godfather program that would aid local development.

In 2000, New Jersey-based textile producers Julio and Jaime Lucero began to open clothing factories in Puebla state, 130 miles southeast of Mexico City. The brothers invested $6 million to produce women's sportswear for US labels like J.C. Penney Co., Sears, Roebuck & Co., and The Limited, paying $10 a day, or three times the going wage for farm workers.

However, the brothers complain that they are losing money on their Mexican sewing operations. They say they trained 2,500 people since starting operations in July 2000, but that most of the trained workers quit within six months, preferring the freedom of farm labor to the confines of the factory floor. "In the fields, it's different. The work is harder, but it's less hours and no one tells you what to do," said one worker.

The North American auto industry is increasingly integrated, with parts produced and cars assembled in Canada, Mexico and the US for sale in all three countries. Unions are consolidating at a slower pace: the AFL-CIO in the United States and the Canadian Labour Congress have only arms-length relationships with the Mexican Workers Confederation (CTM), which is closely linked to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the major political party.

The AFL-CIO and the CLC support "independent unions" in Mexico, which the Mexican government sometimes accuses of trying to raise wages and thus preserve jobs in the US and Canada. There are few independent unions in Mexico- in only two of the 3,700 maquiladoras are unionized, for example.

Toyota in June 2002 was scheduled to begin construction of a factory southeast of Tijuana on more than 715 acres; it is expected to produce cars with 1,000 employees in 2004. Mexico produced almost two million cars in 2001, double the level of 1996. The automotive industry is the largest private employer in Mexico, with 770,000 workers, or about six percent of all formal sector employees.

Water. Mexico owes the United States 456 billion gallons of water, enough to supply New York City for a year, under a 1944 treaty. There were 200,000 people in the Rio Grande Valley in 1944 when the treaty dividing the water in the river was signed, and there are an estimated 20 million today. Under the treaty, one-third of the water that flows to the Rio Grande above the Falcon Dam is supposed to go to south Texas, and the remainder to Mexicans downriver.

President Fox says Mexico, which has less water per capita than Egypt, has spent decades squandering what it has, "without planning, without sense." He wants a $450 million loan from the US to reduce leakage and evaporation and thus accumulate the water to repay the US.

Tim Weiner, "Water Crisis Grows Into a Test of U.S.-Mexico Relations," New York Times, May 24, 2002. "Mexico-US lawmakers meeting ends with discrepancies," Agence EFE, May 20, 2002. Julie Watson, "US Asked to Restart Immigration Talks," Associated Press, may 19, 2002. Bruce Finley, "Tancredo talks immigration with Mexican officials," Denver Post, May 19, 2002. "Authorities capture two boats carrying 400 illegal Ecuadorian migrants off Mexican coast," Associated Press, May 17, 2002.