by Fred Reed
Bobbling about on the web, like flotsam in some drear tidal pool, is a piece purporting to show that Mexico mistreats immigrants in all manner of ways offensive to the North American soul. Most curious. I am one of those immigrants, and still waiting to be mistreated.
The specific charges:
In brief, the Mexican Constitution states that:
- Immigrants and foreign visitors are banned from public political discourse.
- Immigrants and foreigners are denied certain basic property rights.
- Immigrants are denied equal employment rights.
- Immigrants and naturalized citizens will never be treated as real Mexican citizens.
- Immigrants and naturalized citizens are not to be trusted in public service.
- Immigrants and naturalized citizens may never become members of the clergy.
- Private citizens may make citizens arrests of lawbreakers (i.e., illegal immigrants) and hand them to the authorities.
- Immigrants may be expelled from Mexico for any reason and without due process."
Most of this is true. Much of it is trying too hard. If it is intended to suggest that Mexico behaves badly toward legal immigrants, it is silly. Many hundreds of thousands of American citizens live here and like it. After all, if they didn't, they could leave. Further, I think the law entirely reasonable — provided that you realize that the Mexican government exists for the benefit of Mexicans, not gringos.
Bear in mind that the United States is far more powerful than Mexico, and far richer, and that America and Americans are by nature meddlesome. At the national level the US tries to impose democracy, change regimes, and dictate social policy in all sorts of countries. At the level of the individual, Americans, certainly those in Mexico, try to pass leash laws, make horses wear diapers, regulate smoking, and set closing hours for bars. Neither the US nor most of its people grasp that some things are simply not their business.
Protecting Mexico from such intrusiveness is a concern of the government here.
Politics? No, you may not engage in politics. I am not sure why Americans think they should be permitted to, but I know why Mexicans think that they should not. In the Yankee enclaves, they would take over and run things as they wanted, not as Mexicans want. They would want rules, regulations, correct attitudes, laws, laws, laws. They would want to instruct Mexico. There would be encampments of activists demonstrating in Chiapas. (When the US has solved its own ethnic problems, then perhaps it might make polite suggestions to others. Day after tomorrow, you think?) And a naturalized American is just an American with a different piece of paper in his pocket: Same attitudes, culture, and lack of respect for other countries.
The Mexican approach is, You are free to live here, but we will make our own laws, thank you. Which makes perfect sense to me. I came here in large part to escape the micromanagement of everything by the damned government up north.
Basic property rights? These are what a particular country says they are, not what the United States thinks they ought to be. Things are a tad complex here for historical reasons — the ejidos, land reform for the indigenes and so on. The practical fact is that if they could, Americans and American corporations would buy up, for example, all the best beachfront land. They don't, because Mexico won't let them, which is exactly the right policy. (There are complex trusts that let foreigners pretty much own land near the beaches, and many do this.) The fact is that countless gringos own homes in Mexico with no problem. I do, for example.
From the website of Adriana Perez Flores, my attorney in Mexico: Until recently, foreigners could not buy land in Mexico unless the title was placed in a Trust (Fideicomiso). Now a foreigner can purchase a home or vacant lot in his own name, except for property located within 50 kilometers of the coast, or national border. A home in Puerto Vallarta or Nuevo Laredo would still need to be purchased in the name of a trust.
Employment rights? Why do Americans think they have a right to work in Mexico? As in most countries you need to get a work permit, and here they tend not to be issued if you are going to take work away from a Mexican. Perversely, Mexico does not believe that it exists to employ gringos. Gosh.
If you want to live here, it's easy. You get a tourist visa for 90 days when you land (try that in the US), and with no hassle you can then get FM-3 residence status (try that in the US), provided you can demonstrate an income of $1000 a month. (You are welcome, but Mexico isn't going to support you. Why should it?) Driver's licenses are easy. You can bring your car and belongings, and no, the police aren't going to give you a hard time. The government hassles you far here less than does the government up north. But also no, you are not going into politics and, if you do something adequately undesirable, you will be chucked unceremoniously out. And why not?
Due process? You aren't a citizen. (Read the Patriot Act, by the way.) Behave or go away. Mexico is much less a police state, much less watched, tapped, bugged, cross-referenced, data-based, regulated, intimidated, regimented and politically corrected than the US, which is a major reason why people come here.
Now, Americans will say, But Fred, all these Mexicans come into the US and get welfare, school for their kids, driver's licenses and medical care, and don't pay taxes, and who knows what all. It isn't fair.
To which I respond: All true. But why is it Mexico's fault? You practically invite them. Mexico has no obligation to keep its citizens in, though the United States has the right to keep them out. If you folks up north choose to let in poor Mexicans, don't be surprised when you have poor Mexicans.
Note that the immigration problem is entirely of America's making. Laws, decisions in the courts, amnesties, interpretation of the Constitution, and policy all encourage illegal immigration. What the US does is to say to impoverished and desperate people, See this river? Don't cross it. If you do, we'll give you all sorts of privileges, and jobs, and a chance to advance in life and give your kids a good future. Now, don't cross it, you hear?
Keeping immigrants out would once have been easy, but you didn't do it. You could have fined employers a thousand dollars a day for hiring illegals, half of it to go to whoever turned the employer in; denied them all services, and deported them instantly. Today, taking things away from people who have lives in the States and kids in the schools would be brutal. (You are going to forcibly deport millions of people? That will be pretty.) And of course they soon come to have the votes to make deportation impossible. But it wouldn't have been in the beginning. Don't blame Mexico for having an immigration policy more sensible than yours.
April 20, 2006
Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well.
Copyright © 2006 Fred Reed