There is no more important issue that will define the U.S.-Mexico future relationship than getting immigration reform right,” said Mexico’s Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan. In his fourth year as ambassador to the United States, the career diplomat said that international and domestic issues for Mexico and the United States have become so entwined “there is no longer a distinction between foreign policy and domestic policy." The ambassador addressed an audience at the Catholic University of America on March 21 that included at least a half dozen U.S. bishops and other people involved in church and government policy work.
The ambassador said Mexico, with a 5.2 percent growth rate last year, has made great strides in creating new jobs at home meant to stem the exodus of 300,000 people who cross the border to look for work every year. “The loss for Mexico is a gain for the U.S. of talented, entrepreneurial people,” he said, adding that if Mexico cannot hang onto its people, its economy will not grow.
Ambassador Sarukhan was joined by Archbishop Rafael Romo Muñoz of Tijuana, Mexico, who pointed to joint pastoral efforts by Mexican and U.S. bishops that call for new employment opportunities in Mexico and improved treatment of migrants in both countries as a template for action by the two governments. “The human costs, the suffering of our brother and sister migrants is very high; we witness this with pain,” Archbishop Romo said. “Our task,” he said, “continues to be to ensure that the migration policies of our countries deal with the different stages of the migration process and offer more timely solutions that respect human dignity and safeguard human rights.”
Part of the pressure on Mexico comes because “circular migration” has essentially stopped, Amba-ssador Sarukhan said. Generations of Mexican workers used to spend some months at low-wage jobs in the United States before returning home to stay for the balance of the year or for a few years before economic necessity again propelled them north. But the United States issues only 5,000 visas for unskilled laborers each year. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Mexicans and other Latin American migrants cross illegally in search of jobs each year, despite stricter U.S. border enforcement and the spiraling costs of illegal migration.
“It’s now taking seven, eight, nine attempts to cross, and they’re paying $3,000 to $7,000” to a smuggler, Mr. Sarukhan said. “Once they’re on [the U.S.] side, the incentives to go back home disappear.” Both countries need to make sure everyone who crosses the border does it legally, at a port of entry and with a passport, the ambassador said. But, he added, giving 11 million undocumented residents the chance to “come out of the shadows” with a legal status that allows them to return to their countries should be a part of U.S. immigration reform.