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July 2004, Volume 11, Number 3

Davidow: US-Mexico Relations

Jeffrey Davidow, the US ambassador to Mexico between 1998 and 2002, invents a hypersensitive Mexican porcupine interacting with an insensitive American bear, and emphasizes that US immigration policy has been a failure according to any criteria. Four of the 20 chapters in the book deal with Mexico-US migration. Chapter 10 explains the upsurge in Mexico-US migration in the 1990s, due largely to IRCA's legalization of 2.3 million Mexicans in 1987-88 and the failure of the US to approve a national ID card to make employer sanctions effective. Chapter 11 asserts that high Mexican birth rates in the 1960s and 1970s mean there will continue to be massive emigration pressure, at least for the next decade.

Chapter 19, the Negotiation that Wasn't, recounts the story of migration negotiations between newly elected Presidents Bush and Fox that began in February 2001. The Mexican side developed and pushed a "whole enchilada" reform package centered on legalization and including an expanded guest worker program, faster issuance of immigrant visas to the one million Mexicans waiting for them, and cooperation to increase border-area safety. The US government, on the other hand, offered few specifics to implement President Bush's call for a program to "match willing workers with willing employers."

During the summer of 2001, the Mexican government became more aggressive in its request for quick action on migration, culminating in Fox's surprise plea during a September 2001 visit to the White House, where he said: "we must, and we can, reach an agreement on migration before the end of this very year...[so that] there are no Mexicans who have not entered this country legally in the United States, and that those Mexicans who come into the country do so with proper documents."

Davidow's recounting of events during the summer of 2001 portrays a Mexican government intent on regularization, a US government divided on the wisdom of another amnesty, and Republican political pundits concluding that legalization would add mostly Democratic voters to the rolls while antagonizing some Republican voters (Republican strategists concluded that, even though President Reagan signed IRCA, Democrats were the political winners from legalization). The Mexican government hired lobbyists and, according to Davidow, knew about ongoing migration developments in Washington sooner than he did.

Davidow suggests that the momentum for regularization among Mexican government officials, US lobbyists, migrant advocates and their Congressional allies blocked progress on more limited steps that would have benefited Mexicans waiting for green cards and perhaps created a 200,000 blue-card guest worker program. Davidow explains that Fox and Bush, and many others involved in migration discussions, often talked past each other. When Bush in September 2001 mentioned perhaps 200,000 blue cards for guest workers, Fox assumed he meant legalization for 200,000 Mexicans, and urged that the number be 500,000.

In Spring 2002, several cabinet officials planned to urge Bush to re-introduce Section 245(i), which allows foreigners in the US when their green cards become available to pay a fine and get their green cards in the US, eliminating the need to travel to their countries of origin and possibly being barred from re-entry because they were illegally in the US. Davidow reports (p231) that Mexican Foreign Minister Castaneda called him to ask the administration not to push for 245(i) restoration, fearing it would be seen as an excuse not to push for the more comprehensive migration package that Mexico really wanted.

Davidow, Jeffrey. 2004. The U.S. and Mexico: The Bear and the Porcupine
Markus Wiener. April.