Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Opinion: What can Mexico’s next president offer Mexicans living in the US?

Mexico’s leading presidential candidates Claudia Sheinbaum and Xóchitl Gálvez have both gone on tour in the United States since their campaigns began, both courting the votes of millions of Mexicans living on the northern side of the border.

The country’s National Electoral Institute (INE) has continued to expand the ways that Mexican nationals can vote while abroad, hoping to both increase turnout and make Mexicans feel more connected to their country of origin despite living in the United States and, in the case of people without authorized immigration status, being unable to visit Mexico and subsequently return to their home in the U.S.

Claudia Sheinbaum at the front of a crowd of supporters in Los Angeles
Claudia Sheinbaum in in October, exiting a Los Angeles theater. (Claudia Sheinbaum/Twitter)

The discourse of the Morena government has done far more to recognize Mexican nationals abroad than previous governments. Both Morena’s founder, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known as AMLO), and its current presidential candidate, Sheinbaum, have praised emigrants for their contributions to Mexico’s economy in the form of remittances sent back home, while also celebrating that more and more migrants have been returning to Mexico in the past decade. 

This discourse is in line with Morena’s general emphasis on centering the most economically vulnerable. Mexicans who leave for the United States without authorized immigrant status tend to be those seeking to escape economic precarity, making them an important part of the population that Morena was founded on trying to reach.

While the recognition and praise of this demographic as “héroes paisanos” (compatriot heroes) is nice and might in and of itself help win consular votes, what concrete benefits can the Mexican government offer its emigrant constituents?

Expansion of consular services can go a long way without causing much political controversy. Mexican consulates already offer a much more expansive set of services than any other country with comparable numbers of immigrants in the United States —specifically when it comes to monitoring and supporting Mexican nationals in their interactions with U.S. law enforcement — but getting a passport or consular I.D. appointment can feel impossible. Not having a valid photo I.D. presents a wide array of impediments to basic mobility and access to services, and for many Mexican nationals without immigration status in the U.S., a passport or consular I.D. is their only option. 

Resources invested in expanding access to these appointments can provide a simple but necessary lifeline for unauthorized immigrants who do not have another way to acquire a valid photo I.D. Recently, however, AMLO has been pushing for far more ambitious and impactful plans. 

His government has cooperated extensively with the Biden administration on matters ranging from accepting people who have been removed from the United States and securing the Mexican-Guatemalan border. He is now seeking a broad package of benefits from the U.S. in exchange.

Soldiers from the U.S. guarding the border in Shelby Park in Eagle Pass, Texas. (Cuartoscuro)

Among AMLO’s ideas are a US $20 billion Marshall Plan-style investment in Latin America, the removal of the U.S. embargo on Cuba and of sanctions against Venezuela, and — most consequentially for migrants — a mass immigration status regularization (amnesty) program for people from Latin America who have been living and working in the United States for 10 years or more.

As far-fetched as any form of amnesty seems in the current U.S. political environment, relief for unauthorized immigrants who meet certain requirements is an idea that has been present throughout the history of immigration policy. Traditionally, amnesty has been offered as a counterweight to increases in enforcement in other areas of immigration law, as was the case with the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which granted a path to permanent residence and subsequently citizenship to almost 3 million qualifying immigrants. 

Since then, narrower forms of permanent or temporary legal forgiveness of unauthorized status have protected certain nationalities — or, in the case of DACA, people who were brought to the country as children — from deportation. These more recent protections have been the result of administrative adjustments and have not been codified by Congress. This means that they remain vulnerable to changes in administration or challenges in the courts.

In the years since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2003 and the placement of immigration enforcement within it, dramatically increasing border security and the detention of immigrants have far outpaced any new forms of relief. 

The result has been a bloated system that inflicts more punishment for lesser offenses at enormous human and economic costs, enriching security contractors and smugglers while cutting off opportunities for immigrants to build lives for themselves through formal channels.

It is long past time to counter this major pattern in immigration policy with new paths to authorized status, and the Morena government has every right to continue to use its leverage to press for amnesty wherever possible. Beyond the obvious humanitarian benefits to the recipients of regularized immigration status, amnesty has a host of benefits for both the U.S. and Mexico. 

Immigration from Mexico to the U.S. has been hovering around a net-zero rate for years. Many more Mexican nationals would be free to go back and forth if they knew that they were not jeopardizing their ability to reenter the United States by doing so, enabling them to contribute to their communities on both sides of the border. Authorized status would also allow Mexican nationals to legally work in the United States, which would increase both formal domestic production in the U.S. and potential remittances that boost the Mexican economy.

If they continue to push for this relief until some form of it is granted, AMLO and Sheinbaum will succeed in widely expanding not only their party’s voter base but also emigrants’ economic and cultural impact, as Mexican nationals in the United States are afforded the opportunity to formally contribute to the well-being of both nations.

This article was originally published by The Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center.

Ian Scholer received a Master’s Degree in Mexico-United States Studies from Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM) with research focused on immigration detention. He currently works as a Paralegal at the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Mexico News Daily, its owner or its employees.


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