Thursday, March 4, 2004

The Mexican government is lobbying U.S. lawmakers and civic leaders for amnesty or guest-worker status for millions of illegal aliens now in the United States, working through a coalition of U.S.-based immigration rights associations, Mexican-American organizations and grass-roots Hispanic groups.

This growing political alliance, which also seeks expanded education and health care benefits for Mexican nationals in this country, along with additional programs for labor, community development and access to services, is led by the Institute for Mexicans Abroad, also known as the Instituto de los Mexicanos en el Exterior.

Known by the Spanish acronym IME, the institute was created by presidential decree and reports to a counsel of Mexican government officials headed by President Vicente Fox as a branch of Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It has called U.S. immigration reform a major priority, recommending policy changes that respect “the needs and rights” of Mexican nationals living and working in this country.

Mr. Fox will meet tomorrow and Saturday with President Bush in Crawford, Texas, where immigration issues will be among several topics on the agenda. In January, Mr. Bush proposed a guest-worker program that could give legal status to millions of illegal aliens, mostly Mexican nationals, who now hold jobs in the United States.

According to its own records, IME’s stated purpose is to attend to the millions of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans who live in the United States as citizens, residents, temporary workers and illegal aliens. It is not a legislative body, nor is it responsible for the implementation of public policies, but it advises 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.

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

IME President Candido Morales has described efforts to reach out to the Mexican-born population as important to ensuring that millions of Mexican nationals now in the United States feel they have a “connection” with the government of their adopted country.

Mr. Morales, a citizen of both the United States and Mexico, is based at the Foreign Ministry Office in Mexico City and was unavailable for comment.

Jacob Prado, counselor for Latino affairs at the Mexican Embassy in Washington D.C., said Mr. Fox created the IME in 2002 to promote a “more comprehensive approach” in protecting the rights of Mexicans living abroad. He said a council of 11 Mexican government secretaries, along with Mr. Fox, oversee its operation.

Mr. Prado said the advisory board consists of members from a number of organizations, including “hometown clubs and national groups” — like the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).

He acknowledged that immigration reform is a key issue and that the board has sought to make recommendations to ensure that the rights of Mexican nationals in this country, including what he called “undocumented workers,” are protected.

Mr. Morales, during a September speech in Washington D.C. to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEAO), said it was “Latino officials like yourselves that thousands of immigrants from Mexico find a political voice.”

“We know you are among the first to pledge and to promote a humane treatment of all immigrants, regardless of their nationality or migratory status,” he said. “Mexico will be better able to achieve its full potential by calling on all members of the Mexican Nation, including those who live abroad, to contribute with their talents, skills and resources.”

To publicize their concerns, IME and coalition leaders have scheduled meetings this year 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 2004 U.S. presidential election.

A delegation of Mexican governors met last month with IME and coalition officials in Los Angeles, and plan to follow up with similar meetings in Chicago, Dallas and San Antonio.

Thirty state legislators and mayors of Mexican descent from the United States took part in an institute meeting in October in Mexico City. During the two-day visit, the U.S. politicians met with officials from the Mexican Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Interior, as well as with Mexican deputies and senators, scholars and representatives from agencies that provide services to the migrant population.

The institute plans to bring more than 400 U.S. lawmakers and community leaders of Mexican descent to Mexico City by the end of this year.

At the October meeting, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez acknowledged the work of locally elected U.S. Hispanic officials benefiting Mexicans and expressed thanks for the support by Hispanic representatives to the consular or “matricula” identification cards issued to Mexican nationals in this country.

The IME, relying on help from Mexican government officials, including Mr. Fox, led a successful fight last year for recognition by the U.S. Treasury Department of the matricula card, sending hundreds of e-mails to Mexican-American leaders in the United States to voice their support.

Responding to a resulting flood of e-mails, Treasury approved their use in September despite warnings by the Justice Department and the FBI that the cards were useful only for illegal aliens, since legal immigrants have U.S. government-issued documents.

Some 1.5 million digitally coded cards have been issued by Mexican consulates in the United States and are accepted by hundreds of localities, local agencies and banks across the nation. Mexican nationals in the United States send $14.5 billion home each year.

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