- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2007

MEXICO CITY - President Felipe Calderon won’t be fighting for migration reform when he meets with President Bush in Mexico next week. Instead, he will be spelling out what he intends to do to keep Mexicans at home.

Mr. Calderon, who was inaugurated on Dec. 1, has pledged to take 100 actions in his first 100 days in office, many of which represent the first steps toward “curing” Mexico’s long tradition of illegal migration to the United States.

If implemented, his proposals could help transform Mexico from a labor-exporting country with relatively low growth, productivity and wages into an investment-rich, job-producing economy with better living standards for its 107 million people, nearly half of whom still live in poverty.

“We are laying the foundation for a more just, healthy society with better and more equal opportunities for all,” he said.

Even a modicum of success for Mr. Calderon would improve on the record of his predecessor, Vicente Fox, who failed to persuade the United States to accept Mexican guest workers and also could not put in place proposed reforms.

Like Mr. Fox, Mr. Calderon faces powerful Mexican monopolies and oligopolies, union leaders and old-school politicians who have resisted changes to a system that concentrates power and wealth in a small number of hands and blocks attempts to improve competition, lower consumer prices and open the job market to more people.

Unlike Mr. Fox, Mr. Calderon has shown he can rally lawmakers and others behind his plans: Congress unanimously passed his 2007 federal budget and he has united state governments behind a nationwide crackdown on drug trafficking.

“Curing” migration will take many more than his six years in office, Mr. Calderon says. With this in mind, he set the goal of boosting Mexico’s per capita income from the equivalent of about $8,000 today to around $30,000 by 2030.

“It won’t be easy. It won’t be fast, but yes, it is possible,” Mr. Calderon said.

Mr. Calderon and Mr. Bush will meet in Merida, the capital of Yucatan state, on Tuesday and Wednesday. Officials have not disclosed in detail the talks’ agenda, but in addition to migration, the two are expected to discuss drugs and unresolved trade disputes over trucking rights and agricultural products.

U.S.-bound migrants include not only poor and poorly educated unskilled laborers, but also middle-class entrepreneurs, college graduates and professionals. Many actually have jobs in Mexico, but the salaries don’t match their talents and experience, and workplace discrimination is widespread.

“I think he’s on the right track, but migration is a long-term problem,” said Jorge Chabat, an international-affairs specialist at Mexico City’s Center for Economic Research and Instruction.

Jose Antonio Perez, a 27-year-old college graduate from the oil-rich Gulf coast state of Veracruz, has a degree in mechanical engineering, but no real career prospects in Mexico.

His jobs have included a five-month, unpaid engineering internship at a boat-repair company; a two-year job with a telephone company that offered no benefits and no chance of advancement; and his current teaching job, which requires little of his engineering skills and offers no insurance benefits, vacation or job security.

Mr. Perez works 12 hours a day Monday through Friday teaching high school mathematics and computers a post that pays $12,000 a year. He supplements his income with odd carpentry and bricklaying jobs, or selling clothing and even cars.

More than a year ago, when several of Mr. Perez’s friends were working illegally in the United States, they earned as much as $26,300 a year pumping gas or working in carpentry.

The friends have since returned, but their stories have inspired Mr. Perez. If his situation doesn’t improve in six months, he plans to cross the border as well.

“I could be a carpenter or a locksmith,” he said.

Mr. Calderon who often notes that he has relatives in the United States, although he has not revealed their legal status recently told the American Chamber of Commerce in Mexico: “The ideal situation for Mexico is not to have Mexicans migrate.”

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