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What's A Good Way To Overhaul Immigration? Overhaul Mexico

Day Donaldson and Edgar Alberto Domínguez Cataño

Coincidence or communiqué?

When President Obama issued his executive action on immigration last week, including his decision to halt the deportations of millions of undocumented immigrants, some of his foes noted the date: Nov. 20.

Nov. 20 commemorates the start of the Mexican Revolution 104 years ago. So Americans for Legal Immigration PAC wondered if the president purposely chose that day as a way of “comparing his new immigration orders to the violent Mexican revolution and civil war.”

RELATED: Mexico Crisis A "Last Call" For Rule Of Law Reforms, Says Nation's Miami Consul

That's patently absurd, of course. And yet in another sense, maybe ALIPAC was on to something. Since the 1910 revolution was the most important reform upheaval in Mexico’s history, let’s imagine Obama was conveying this message to Mexico City:

“I’m doing my part here to fix our broken immigration system. Now you do yours and fix the social and economic dysfunction that sends so many undocumented Mexicans over our border in the first place.

“For starters, upgrade your medieval police and judicial systems so bloodthirsty drug cartels can’t govern entire Mexican cities. Like Iguala, in southern Guerrero state, where in September the mafia-tainted mayor and his cops allegedly handed 43 college students over to narco-gangsters – who allegedly killed them and burned their corpses.

“Outraged Mexicans have been protesting en masse in the streets ever since, demanding you clean out your country’s chronic criminal rot.”

Until Mexico more genuinely establishes rule of law, it will see more Igualas – and it will keep sending hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants across our border

I certainly doubt that was Obama’s intent, if only because this president rarely thinks twice (or once) about Latin America.

But if Obama did mean to send that memo Mexico’s way, it might have actually worked. Yesterday, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto – whose government is sorely threatened by this burgeoning political crisis – announced a national anti-crime overhaul. Among other measures, it would virtually eliminate Mexico’s local police forces, which are widely regarded as little more than drug-cartel accomplices.

“Mexico cannot go on like this,” Peña Nieto conceded. “After Iguala, Mexico must change.”

In a talk with the Miami Herald editorial board last week – on Nov. 20, in fact, just hours before Obama’s speech – Mexico’s consul general in Miami, José Antonio Zabalgoitia, made a similar statement: “We need to take [Iguala] as a last call in terms of strengthening the rule of law.”

Until Mexico more genuinely establishes rule of law, the country will see more Igualas.

And just as important, it will keep sending hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants across our border each year – because no matter how strenuously Mexico’s elites deny it, the rule-of-law vacuum has economic consequences, too.


That’s most apparent when you look at the monster monopolies that dominate the business landscape – and which share a lot of the blame for Mexico’s inexcusably high poverty rates.

Whether it’s tortillas or telecom, those companies control market shares as high as 95 percent. They rob economic oxygen from the rest of the country, especially the small-and medium-size enterprises that employ more than half of Mexico’s workforce.

And they exist largely because rule of law is such an utter afterthought in Mexico. Inject it into the nation’s bloodstream for once and you might not just see drug mafias diminished; you might also see economic opportunity enlarged for struggling Mexicans who otherwise feel no option but to head illegally al otro lado – to the other side, the United States.

Peña Nieto seemed to get that. Last summer he pushed through legislation to curb the notorious telecom and broadcasting monopolies – a law that angered Mexican telecom billionaire Carlos Slim, the world’s richest man.

Yet Peña Nieto seemed clueless about the public uproar that might ensue fromhis wife’s acquisition of a $7 million Mexico City mansion – from a construction company that won lucrative government contracts when Peña Nieto was governor of Mexico state – which has added a layer of scandal to his Iguala emergency.

Either way, when it comes to police and judicial reform, Peña Nieto seems somewhat puzzled at best, indifferent at worst – as have Mexican leaders since the time of the Spanish conquistadors, who considered public security a private concern.

When I interviewed him just before he took office two years ago, Peña Nieto addressed Mexico’s drug-war disaster – which has killed almost 90,000 people since 2007 – but without much zeal. “Mexico needs a more integrated approach to combating narco-violence,” he said. But it was obvious he and his party had decided to de-emphasize the issue because it was a downer for foreign investors.

As Peña Nieto all but admitted himself yesterday, that was a big mistake. Likewise, if the U.S. wants fewer indocumentados, we’ll recognize that one of the best ways to overhaul immigration is to help Mexico overhaul itself.

And quickly: Just before Peña Nieto spoke on Thursday, 11 decapitated bodies were discovered in Guerrero after a gangland shootout.

Tim Padgett is WLRN's Americas editor. You can read more of his coverage here.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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