Decriminalizing Immigration

Recently by Mark Nestmann: The Perils of ‘Accidental’ U.S.Citizenship

Perhaps attempting to persuade its powerful neighbor to the North to do the same, last month, major revisions to Mexico’s immigration laws came into effect.

The law has now become more “humane” and immigrant friendly. Among the changes announced are:

1) Illegal entry into Mexican territory is de-criminalized. This means that it is no longer a criminal offense to enter Mexico illegally, and violators will merely be sent back to where they last came from. Previously, illegal immigration was a felony, punishable by up to two years in prison. Immigrants who were deported and attempted to re-enter Mexico could be imprisoned for 10 years. Visa violators could be sentenced to six-year terms. Mexicans who helped illegal immigrants were also subject to criminal prosecution.

2) Illegal migrants will no longer be jailed. They will be taken to a facility run by the Instituto Nacional de Migracion (INM) where they will be fed, clothed, given medical care and the ability to contact their families in their country of origin.

3) Illegal migrants will have the right to seek political asylum or refuge in Mexico and will have a right to a hearing before a judge.

4) Local police, the military, customs and even the Policia Federal will no longer have the authority to question any foreigner’s migratory status. They no longer have any authority to arrest or detain any person suspected of being in the country illegally. Only officials from the INM can do this.

5) Illegal migrants can be given the opportunity to regularize their status and obtain a work/residence permit.

6) Controls are loosened for citizens/nationals of Belize who find an employment in certain Mexican states (i.e. Quintana Roo) to ease the process of a work/residence permit.

The official line from a Mexican government spokesman that my friend and business partner P.T. Freeman listened to on the radio was that Mexico has amended its immigration law to take into account human rights and refugee rights. However, I don’t believe this is the full story.

I think the real reason that Mexico changed its law was to send a message to the United States. Under federal law, any non-U.S. national who enters or attempts to enter U.S. territory in a manner other than through ordinary channels has committed a crime. Violations are punishable by criminal fines and imprisonment for up to six months. Repeat offenses can bring up to two years in prison.

Numerous states, most notably my home state of Arizona, have attempted to enforce their own immigration laws. The most controversial aspect of the Arizona law – which never came fully into effect due to a successful court challenge – is that state and local police can ask anyone for proof of legal status in the United States. In other words, “your papers, please.”

In this environment, it’s a welcome change to see Mexico implementing more humane immigration laws. And, I hope that U.S. policymakers get the message – although I’m not holding my breath.

Reprinted with permission from The Nestmann Group, Ltd.