Tags: The | Disappearing | U.S.-Mexico | Border

The Disappearing U.S.-Mexico Border

Friday, 07 September 2001 12:00 AM

The government retaliated and tried to kill a priest for every teacher killed, finally driving the battlers south into the mountains and suppressing the revolution.

Along with executions and imprisonments, the government quietly forced many peasants in this rural revolution north into the United States, beginning a process that, until President Vicente Fox took office nine months ago, was the unspoken policy of Mexican regimes for 75 years. The same political party, Institutional Revolutionary Party, had dominated Mexico for those seven decades.

Migration to the United States - sometimes forced, sometimes induced, often facilitated and never halted - was a safety valve for successive Mexican governments unable to provide economic stability for their people.

The result has been a monumental shift of people, in fact the movement of large parts of several Mexican states, to become major minorities in U.S. border states and beyond. One quarter of the population in Fox's home state of Guanajuato, for instance, lives in the United States.

It is not clear how many people of Mexican origin live in the United States. Fox and other Mexican sources suggest there are perhaps 18 to 23 million people of Mexican heritage - individuals born in Mexico or offspring of Mexican parentage.

U.S. Census Bureau figures report there are 9 million people here who say they were born in Mexico. About half of the 9 million are here illegally, according to analysis of the 2000 Census by Jeff Passel of the Urban Institute. Mexicans living in the United States send an estimated $8 billion a year home.

Friday, Fox ended a three-day state visit to Washington, where he openly challenged President Bush and Congress to come up with a plan to give legal status to those 4.5 million illegal aliens by the end of the year.

He has said that he wants them ultimately to be able to become U.S. citizens and receive all advantages that entails, but after three days here, he now knows that if Bush could do anything on the short term, it would be a more modest gesture such as issuing temporary work visas.

Instead of banishing and ignoring Mexicans who moved north as his predecessors did, Fox is trying to capitalize on them, suggesting new relationships between the two countries that will blur the border and, to some prominent immigration experts, blur U.S. citizenship as well.

In 1998, Mexico passed a law that permits dual citizenship. This law allows Mexicans naturalized in the United States to retain Mexican citizenship and citizens of Mexico born in the United States of Mexican parents to get Mexican passports. These dual citizens can vote in Mexico if they travel there to cast their ballots, and bus loads of Mexicans cross back into Mexico each year to vote.

Fox has said he wants the legislature to adopt absentee ballots, and thus Mexicans would be able to cast their ballots in the United States either at embassies or consulates or by mail.

Fox likes to say he is president "of all the Mexicans," sometimes using a figure of 123 million persons and other times using a figure of 117 million. Mexico's indigenous population is 100 million, and experts such as Mark Krikorian at Center for Immigration Studies conclude that's he counting U.S. citizens of Mexican heritage.

Fox's conservative National Action Party had a narrow victory last year, and Fox campaigned in Southern California to get votes. He clearly recognizes that if he wins a good immigration deal from Bush, it would legalize 4.5 million potential voters, and as legal residents they could travel back to vote.

Strangely enough, Bush's focus on immigration is vote-driven as well. People of Hispanic origin are the fastest-growing ethnic minorities in the United States, and Mexican-Americans are a large part of that group. Bush hopes a favorable immigration policy will increase the Republican share of that vote.

But the existence of millions of Mexican-Americans with dual citizenship raises concerns for many and adds to growing opposition on Capitol Hill. Stanley Renshon, a professor at the City University of New York and a psychoanalyst, says that this dual allegiance undercuts what becoming a naturalized.

"The oath to become a citizen is a renunciation of all other allegiances," he points out, and continuing allegiance to a country of origin blurs that.

"What you have is a very large group whose assimilation - political, cultural and social - is questionable," he argues. "For the first time you have really large numbers of people with dual citizenship, and for the first time a government of origin that is actively recruiting immigrants to retain and enhance ties to their country of origin. And so you have these pulls from the home country which are unprecedented."

Copyright 2001 by United Press International.

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The government retaliated and tried to kill a priest for every teacher killed, finally driving the battlers south into the mountains and suppressing the revolution. Along with executions and imprisonments, the government quietly forced many peasants in this rural...
Friday, 07 September 2001 12:00 AM
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