- The Washington Times - Monday, May 29, 2006

Mexican President Vicente Fox’s multistate tour of the western United States last week came while his government is in the midst of a massive, well-financed campaign to influence congressional efforts at stricter immigration enforcement and shape public opinion to allow more Mexican nationals into this country.

Worried about pending legislation to better secure the U.S.-Mexico border, the Fox administration and its representatives are working through a coalition of U.S.-based immigration rights associations, Mexican-American organizations and grass-roots Hispanic groups to lobby U.S. lawmakers and civic leaders for amnesty for the estimated 12 million illegals in the United States,

Some of the groups are behind the rallies and boycotts held nationwide that drew millions of flag-waving demonstrators to protest immigration reform, including more than 500,000 in Los Angeles and 100,000 in Washington.

At least one U.S. prosecutor in the “middle of an invasion by illegal aliens” said he is outraged by what he called efforts by the Mexican government to interfere in U.S. policies and overturn laws being used to arrest and prosecute illegal aliens.

Maricopa County Attorney Andrew P. Thomas in Phoenix accuses Mexico of being behind a lawsuit challenging Arizona’s alien-smuggling law. He has asked the State Department to protest Mexico’s “concerted attempts to undermine” U.S. law and its “interfering in the internal affairs” of Arizona.

“The citizens of the state of Arizona will be deprived of their right to uphold public order and to protect themselves against the Mexican government’s systematic, unlawful export of humanity into the state,” Mr. Thomas told The Washington Times.

More than half of the 1.15 million illegal aliens detained last year by the U.S. Border Patrol were caught in Arizona, and Phoenix is a haven for “safe houses,” where illegals await transfer to other areas of the country.

But an attorney involved in the court challenge denied he was working for the Mexican government, saying only the Mexican consulate in Phoenix had arranged a meeting with three illegal aliens who had been arrested under the new law.

Peter A. Schey, president and executive director of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law Foundation, said he was not challenging the law, only Mr. Thomas’ interpretation of it. He said as written, the law applies to drug smugglers and those who smuggle humans, not illegal aliens.

A motion by Mr. Schey and others to halt the arrests was heard last week by Maricopa Superior Court Judge Thomas O’Toole, who took the matter under advisement. Nearly 200 illegal aliens have been arrested and charged with felony conspiracy and smuggling under the new statute.

“We will not be intimidated by Mr. Thomas’ accusations that we are puppets of the Mexican government,” Mr. Schey said. “This is nothing more than an unfortunate publicity stunt to divert attention away from the merits of our challenge.”

Mr. Fox visited several states, including California, where he touted the importance of immigrants and said they deserved the immigration reform bill passed by the Senate, which would legalize millions of illegal aliens and authorize 200,000 temporary work visas for foreigners who take low-skill jobs in the United States.

“They fought for it,” he told the Latino Chamber of Commerce in Sacramento. “We know about their contributions to this economy and to this country. We know about their loyalty to those they work for.”

A growing political alliance in this country aimed at dulling immigration enforcement efforts is under way, and includes the Institute for Mexicans Abroad, which reports to a counsel of government officials headed by Mr. Fox as a branch of Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Known by the Spanish acronym IME, the institute has called U.S. immigration reform a major priority, recommending policy changes that respect “the needs and rights” of Mexicans — both legal and illegal — in the United States. Mexican nationals in the United States send home an estimated $16 billion a year, that country’s second largest source of income after oil exports.

IME is not a legislative body, but makes recommendations to the Mexican government on efforts to improve and expand services and benefits to Mexicans living in other countries. Recommendations come from an advisory board of 130 members, mostly Mexican-Americans who live in the United States. The board consists of members from a number of organizations, including so-called hometown clubs and national groups like the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the League of United Latin American Citizens.

Working with the IME is the coalition of immigration rights associations, Mexican-American organizations and local Hispanic groups, who count among their members a number of illegal aliens and first-generation Mexican migrants. They have formed into groups known as “federations” from Los Angeles to Miami.

To publicize their concerns, IME and coalition leaders have met with state and local government officials in this country to discuss, among other things, immigration issues. Others have begun to organize “get-out-the-vote” drives for the 2006 elections.

Mr. Fox has openly criticized congressional efforts to better secure the U.S.-Mexico border, and in December the Mexican government hired a Dallas-based public relations firm, Allyn & Co., paying it $720,000 to polish Mexico’s image and convince Americans of the necessity of migrant labor. A goal of the program has been a blanket amnesty for illegal aliens in the United States.

Allyn & Co. placed a full-page ad in March in several newspapers nationwide saying the exercise of U.S. sovereignty must be a “shared responsibility,” with Mexico having a voice. In calling for a guest-worker program, the ad said “a large number of Mexicans do not find in their own country an economic and social environment that facilitates their full development and well being.”

But Mr. Thomas said Mexican nationals should find their full development and well being elsewhere if they are not willing to do it legally. In that vein, he issued a legal opinion that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio could use Arizona’s new anti-smuggling law to arrest illegal aliens, saying while it was intended to target drug smugglers, it also applies to alien smugglers and their customers.

“I believe the law is clear,” Mr. Thomas said. “We have a new coyote statute that makes human smuggling a crime, and the state conspiracy statute clearly applies to that.”

Sheriff Arpaio said he intends to continue to use the new law to lock up illegals flooding into his county and send a message to those in Mexico and elsewhere seeking to enter the United States.

“My message is clear: If you come here and I catch you, you’re going straight to jail,” he said. “We’re going to arrest any illegal who violates this new law, and I’m not going to turn these people over to federal authorities so they can have a free ride back to Mexico. I’ll give them a free ride to my jail.”

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