Mexico Offers Help in Exchange for Visas

The Mexican government placed a full-page advertisement in major U.S. newspapers last week that said Mexican efforts to stop illegal emigration into the U.S. would be contingent on the United States’ providing a "sufficient number of appropriate visas" to Mexican nationals who now enter the U.S. illegally.

The ad was a summary of "Mexico and the Migration Phenomenon," a policy declaration adopted last February by Mexico’s Federal Congress. In the declaration, the Mexican government calls for a "bilateral medical insurance system" for Mexican workers in the U.S. and — in what appeared to be a request for Mexican nationals to collect U.S. Social Security benefits — for the U.S. to "allow Mexicans working in the United States to collect their pension benefits in Mexico." However, neither the Mexican Embassy nor Allyn & Co., a U.S. public relations firm that placed the ads for the Mexican government, responded to questions seeking to clarify exactly what these words meant.

The ads ran in the Washington Post, New York Times and Los Angeles Times last Monday. Under the heading "Recommendations and Commitments" the Mexican government advised: "If a guest country offers a sufficient number of appropriate visas to cover the largest possible number of workers and their families, who currently cross the border without document because of the impossibility of obtaining them, Mexico should be responsible for guaranteeing that each person who decides to leave does so following legal channels."

Mexican Embassy Communications Director Rafael Laveaga declined to say what the Mexican government would do about illegal emigration if the U.S did not supply "sufficient" visas. "We wouldn’t like to speculate on what would happen in a negative way because on one hand, we acknowledge the sovereign position of the U.S. Congress to decide immigration policy in this country," he said. "On the other hand, however, the immigration phenomenon is a shared responsibility and must be addressed as a shared responsibility problem. … If a guest country offers a sufficient number of visas then we would be in a position to promote ways so that Mexicans can legally leave Mexico."

The number of visas it would take to satisfy the Mexican government would rest on U.S. market conditions, according to Laveaga. "I can’t anticipate numbers," he said. "Our answer to that question is the number of visas the market requires. Our point of view is that this is a market-driven migration."

The Pew Hispanic Center estimated that, in 2005, 6.2 million Mexicans were living illegally in the U.S., accounting for about 56% of the illegal alien population in the country. Also, in 2004, according to the State Department’s Office of Immigration Statistics, 136,518 Mexicans legally obtained temporary-worker, exchange-visitor or intra-company-transfer status in the U.S. and 175,364 were granted legal permanent residence.

Unlike the Irish government which has endorsed the guest-worker/amnesty proposal sponsored by Senators John McCain (R.-Ariz.) and Teddy Kennedy (D.-Mass.), the Mexican government, Laveaga says, will not support or oppose particular bills in Congress. "We will respect whatever the Senate and House of Representatives come up with because immigration is a domestic issue," he said. But, he pointed out, "We are asking for a realistic approach. And, of course, we can’t ignore that the majority of undocumented workers happen to be from Mexico."

"We have not made a pact or endorsed any bill on Capitol Hill," Laveaga said.