Mexican politicians are the cheekiest participants in America’s immigration debate. South of the border, officials consider it Uncle Sam’s duty to nurture Mexico’s poor. The U.S., their reasoning goes, should accept even more illegal Mexican immigrants. Far be it from Mexico’s leaders to improve conditions below the Rio Grande so that their constituents might stay home.
President Bush’s immigration stance “hurts and injures the interests of Mexicans who, for various reasons, must leave our country,” said Federal Deputy Eliana Garcia Laguna.
Garcia’s colleague, Heliodoro Diaz Escarraga, said it is “totally anachronistic to impose penalties on our migrants or erect walls as if we were in the Cold War.”
One Mexican congressional panel called U.S. immigration policy “racist, xenophobic, and profoundly violative of human rights.” The Mexican government also has published instruction manuals to help its citizens unlawfully enter America.
The Center for Immigration Studies’ George Grayson, who collected these remarks, laments that “Mexican authorities seldom if ever talk about their failure to uplift the poor who constitute approximately half of Mexico’s 107.5 million people, particularly when their nation is contiguous to the world’s largest market and abounds in oil, natural gas, gold, silver, beaches, seafood, water, historic treasures, museums, industrial centers, and wonderful people.”
Alberto Saracho, executive director of Mexico City’s IDEA Foundation, is refreshingly candid about why his countrymen flee his homeland. “There are institutions, some established in the colonial years, that still curb people’s freedom to work, produce, and prosper,” Saracho says. “The oligopolistic public-notary system charges steep fees to certify mandatory paperwork. Our tax code guarantees special privileges for many groups. This has made the state more an obstacle than a friend to progress.”
The Harvard-educated Saracho has analyzed Mexico’s post-1980 economic performance. His results are grim.
In constant 2000 dollars, the World Bank reports, Mexican per-capita GDP was $7,758 in 1980. It inched upward to $8,661 in 2003. Over that period, Chile went from trailing to topping Mexico, with its figures rising from $4,620 to $9,706. Former laggard South Korea leapfrogged from $4,556 to $16,977.
In 1980, Mexico’s per-capita GDP was 34 percent of America’s. By 2003, it had slid to 24 percent. Concurrently, South Korea began behind Mexico, at 20 percent, and then outpaced it to achieve a per-capita GDP 48 percent of America’s.
Using Economist Intelligence Unit data, Saracho found that, between 1987 and 2004, manufacturing productivity grew 183.3 percent in Chile, 196.6 percent in South Korea, and 307.6 percent in China. Meanwhile, like a tequila-soaked worm, Mexico advanced 2.7 percent.
“China is eating Mexico’s lunch,” says CIS’s George Grayson. “If Mexico does not undertake major structural reforms of its economy, China will proceed to eat its breakfast and dinner, too.”
Registering a Mexican business takes 58 days, versus 48 in China, 27 in Chile, 22 in South Korea, and five here. During nearly two months of procedures, Mexican officials have numerous opportunities to encourage “tips” to speed things along. Mexico’s Private Sector Center for Economic Studies calculates that, in 2004, 34 percent of businesses paid “extra-official” sums to functionaries and parliamentarians totaling $11.2 billion. As the late Carlos Hank Gonzalez — Mexico City’s once-humble, eventually loaded, former mayor — put it: “Show me a politician who is poor, and I will show you a poor politician.”
Among 159 nations Transparency International surveyed last year, Mexico is the 65th most honest place to do business, tied with Ghana. While America is 17th (a pathetic showing, incidentally, for Earth’s leading economy), Chile and Japan tie for 21st, while South Korea and Italy tie for 40th. Businessmen in this poll perceive even Cuba, No. 59, as less corrupt than Mexico.
“As far as I know, only two countries are totally closed to for-profit foreign investment in exploration and production of oil and gas: Mexico and North Korea,” says former U.S. ambassador to Mexico Jeffrey Davidow, president of the San Diego-based Institute of the Americas. Pemex, Mexico’s debt-drenched state petroleum enterprise, chauvinistically prohibits outside capital, even as new drilling languishes. This restrains marginal oil revenue, despite rising crude prices.
College-educated Mexicans want out. The Pew Hispanic Center last August discovered that 62 percent of Mexico’s best and brightest would leave for America if possible. Only 35 percent would remain. Of course, Mexicans, credentialed and otherwise, keep coming without permission. About 0.5 percent of Mexico’s population settles here annually. This is like 1.5 million Americans relocating to Canada every year.
While visiting Manhattan recently, Saracho discussed Mexico’s double standard toward aliens (legal and otherwise). Illegal immigrants legally have starred in mass protests across America. But under the Mexican Constitution’s Article 33, “Foreigners may not in any way participate in the political affairs of the country.” Unlike the hearings and appeals that many immigrant offenders enjoy here, Mexico’s “federal executive” may compel offenders “to abandon the national territory immediately and without the necessity of previous legal action.”
Foreigners may not own acreage within 20 miles of the Atlantic or Pacific. Instead, they must lease from banks that actually hold the land titles. They also must wait longer than Mexicans for drivers’ licenses. Naturally, applications are in Spanish, not English.
While arguments rage over erecting a wall on the border, perhaps Americans can agree on this: Every few miles, Washington should install huge mirrors. They should face south, so Mexican officials can reflect on the root causes of Mexico’s misfortune.