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July 2002, Volume 8, Number 3

Mexico: Policy, Remittances, Braceros

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 President 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 a legalization program before the fall 2002 US elections. The Mexican congressmen said that the absence of an amnesty threatens Fox in Mexico, since he promised to help migrant workers in the US.


Organizers for the Million Voices for Legislation campaign hope to collect and deliver one million postcards to the White House in the fall asking the president to grant legal status for millions of undocumented immigrants in the US. The campaign was launched on May 15 in 30 U.S. cities by a coalition of labor unions, religious groups and community organizations.


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."


Labor. Remittances to Mexico rose from $700 million in 1980 to $9.2 billion in 2001, and have remained high after September 11. 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.


Under a 3-1 matching program, Mexican federal and state governments provide three dollars for each contributed by US hometown clubs for the development of their hometowns. The Southern California Federation of clubs from Zacatecas, which includes 55 clubs linked to an equal number of towns in Zacatecas, sent $2.5 million in 2001 that was matched by $7.5 million in government funds. The 3-1 program helped Las Animas, a farming village of 2,500 people, to obtain a $1.2 million potable water and drainage project with $300,000 in club contributions.


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.


A group of 150 Mexican workers from El Timbinal, a village of about 1,000 in the southern part of Guanajuato, found relatively good jobs in Napa county, California, and sent home $4,000 in 1998 to establish the first full-time jobs in their village--a 32-machine sewing factory. The sewers in Timbinal were paid the area's minimum wage--30 pesos or $3 a day.


However, it was hard to motivate workers and keep a production supervisor, and the factory closed in fall 2001. Angel Calderon, now living in Napa, says that more technical assistance is needed to make remittance-financed businesses work: "We need someone to train and work as a production chief. I also need a person who will teach workers to think big. They don't have the urge to be Somebody."


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.


Bracero Savings. Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein (http://www.lieffcabraser.com/braceros.htm), a law firm representing aging Bracero workers employed in the US between 1942 and 1949, filed one of several class-action suits seeking an accounting for the 10 percent of wages that were withheld from the wages of 256,000 Braceros; some ex-Braceros say they never received these withheld wages. The suit seeks $30 to $50 million in actual damages and billions more in punitive damages from the U.S. and Mexican governments, Wells Fargo Bank and three Mexican banks.


A federal judge in San Francisco will rule on U.S. and Mexican government petitions to dismiss the suit in August 2, 2002. Both governments argue that most of the withheld wages were repaid, and funds that were not repaid reflected Braceros who did not request repayment in the appropriate time period. A bill is pending in Congress, the Bracero Justice Act, that would require a hearing on a lawsuit, that is, prevent the judge from dismissing it because, for instance, the statute of limitations expired.


Jennifer Mena, "Immigrants: A Zacatecas club convention draws a presidential hopeful to meet potential voters," Los Angeles Times, July 5, 2002. Fred Alvarez, "Legal Status Sought for Workers," Los Angeles Times, June 24, 2002. Tim Weiner, "Water Crisis Grows Into a Test of U.S.-Mexico Relations," New York Times, May 24, 2002.


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