Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Mexico’s ambassador to the United States says his country is committed to finding a solution to the growing problem of illegal aliens, but the United States and Mexico “must address this phenomenon in a comprehensive and mutually beneficial manner.”

“Mexico absolutely respects the sovereign right of every country to control its borders and enforce its laws,” Ambassador Carlos de Icaza told The Washington Times. “However, given that this is a complex challenge that affects both countries, we are absolutely convinced it is necessary to work together under the principle of shared responsibility for the proper bilateral management of the migration phenomenon.

“It is essential that Mexico is engaged in the solution because of the international implications, which require actions and commitments from Mexico,” Mr. de Icaza said.

The number of immigrants in the United States reached a record high of 35.2 million this year, including an estimated 12 million illegal aliens, according to the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, which noted that nearly half of the migrants who arrived from January 2000 to March 2005 were undocumented.

The vast majority of the migrants, both legal and illegal, are Mexican nationals, who are expected to return about $16 billion in remittances to their home country this year.

Mr. de Icaza said Mexico and the United States have built a strong relationship, reaching unprecedented levels of cooperation in the fight against terrorism and organized crime. He said the two countries, with Canada, have established a collaborative framework called the “Partnership for Prosperity and Security” to consolidate efforts to more adequately face the global challenges.

“However, there is a key element in our relationship in which we must do better: immigration,” he said.

The career diplomat said Mexico’s authorities, both in the executive and legislative branches, members of academia and representatives of its civil society said in a joint resolution recently that the country is ready to assume its responsibility to make the system work.

“This means the Mexican government undertakes obligations such as economic and social development policies to encourage people to stay in Mexico,” he said. “This also means a strengthening of our fight against criminal organizations of smugglers and traffickers of people; and, if there is a sufficient number of visas to accommodate the real demand of Mexican workers required by the U.S. labor market, Mexico should be responsible for guaranteeing the use of those legal channels by its citizens.”

But Mr. de Icaza admitted, “no matter how well we do, it is a fact the U.S. economy is 15 times bigger than Mexico’s, and such a big magnet is not easy to ignore.”

“Reality shows that without the legal means to frame the labor market between the two countries, the enforcement-only approach will not be a realistic solution,” he said in reference to a pending temporary guest- worker program passed by the Senate and embraced by President Bush.

“It is true that we face important challenges when it comes to specific problems such as border crime and poverty,” Mr. de Icaza said. “But Mexico is now a full democracy that has proven to be a reliable partner of the U.S. in trade, security and the fight against organized crime. Now it is imperative to broaden that partnership to properly manage the migration flow between both countries.”

Mr. de Icaza said his government was “encouraged” by the proposed temporary guest- worker program and “welcomed” the national debate on immigration reform that the Senate and House bills have ignited. He said that the establishment of a “secure, dignified and humane” immigration policy was essential for both countries, and that his government was “willing to cooperate” in any U.S. proposal that addressed what he called the parallel concerns of security and immigration.

He said the flow of migration “is the biggest problem our countries face, and there is no alternative but to address it. We are trading partners and have maintained a fruitful dialogue. It is a good idea for good neighbors to cooperate.”

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