New migrant law irks Mexico
Arizona Republic Mexico City Bureau
Jan. 23, 2005
Leaders bash Arizona as other states consider measures
Chris Hawley

MEXICO CITY - For months, Arizona's Proposition 200 evoked nothing but yawns among Mexican media and politicians. But in the weeks since it became law, the measure has started raising hackles nationwide.

The Foreign Ministry, opposition lawmakers, newspaper columnists and even the head of the national human rights commission have lashed out publicly at Arizona since late December, when a federal judge lifted a temporary restraining order and allowed the measure to become law.

The Foreign Ministry has issued three rare statements denouncing the measure, and the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party has urged President Vicente Fox to withdraw his ambassador from Washington, D.C., in protest.


"This law provokes a xenophobic attitude, a discriminatory attitude," said Eliana Garcia Laguna, a Democratic Revolutionary Party lawmaker who has become one of the most vocal opponents of Proposition 200.

"It is very bad for the Mexico-U.S. relationship."

Proposition 200 is being challenged in a federal appeals court. Its rules are similar to Mexico's own immigration laws, but opponents in Mexico fear it could ignite a harsher anti-immigration backlash in bigger states such as California and Texas.

Other states' measures
Already, two lawmakers in Arkansas have proposed a "Protect Arkansas NOW," a copy of Proposition 200. Supporters of the Arizona law have also formed a group called Protect America NOW to encourage measures in other states.

Proposition 200 requires Arizonans to present proof of legal residency when applying for state benefits and proof of citizenship when registering to vote. It also requires state and local employees to report undocumented migrants, and punishes the officials with up to four months in jail and a $750 fine if they do not comply.

The measure was put on the Nov. 2 ballot by petition, and passed easily despite opposition from Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, Sen. John McCain and other officials.

During the campaign, Proposition 200 attracted little attention outside Mexico's border states. The Mexican Foreign Ministry avoided public statements about it, and newspapers buried their stories about the measure deep on inside pages.

But since the measure became law, there has been a torrent of criticism.

"Measures such as Proposition 200 in Arizona will not help address the unresolved situation of undocumented workers who are demanded by the U.S. economy," Geronimo Gutiérrez, Mexico's undersecretary for North American affairs, said in a column published by The Arizona Republic on Jan. 9. "Moreover, we are aware of concerns that its implementation could lead to acts of discrimination based on ethnic profiling."

Political commentators and editorial writers have been harsher.

Proposition 200 has the "infamous pretension of trying to turn the American people into informers" against undocumented workers, columnist Ana María Aragonés wrote in La Jornada newspaper this month.

"Law 200 went into effect in Arizona to legalize racist and xenophobic actions," columnist Victor Manuel Barceló said in Wednesday's edition of the Tabasco Hoy newspaper. "If we are unable to bring to bear international law . . . to stop the aggression in Arizona, there are similar bills, in several Southern states of the (U.S.) empire that could 'feel the tickle' to pass them."


Changing the law


On Jan. 9, the head of the National Human Rights Commission, José Luis Soberanes Fernández, called for an "intense political and diplomatic effort" by the Fox government to get the law changed.

Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez responded by saying the Mexican government had lobbied against the bill and worked with the Arizona government to try to minimize its effects. Interior Minister Santiago Creel said the Mexican government could not intervene directly in Arizona's affairs.

Meanwhile, Garcia Laguna and other members of the Democratic Revolutionary Party, the third-largest in Congress, called on Fox to withdraw Mexico's ambassador to Washington.

Another PRD lawmaker, Francisco Mora Ciprés, has urged Mexico to boycott Arizona exports.

Other politicians have called for Mexico to file a complaint with the United Nations or the Organization of American States.

The Arizona law could become an issue in the 2006 presidential campaign in Mexico, especially if migrants abroad are given the right to vote as expected, political analysts said

"This issue has become sell-able politically," said Jesus Velasco, a professor of international studies at the Center for Economic Research and Education in Mexico City.

Still, many Mexicans are confused about the extent of the Arizona rules. In interviews, critics, some of them university professors, falsely believed the Arizona law bars undocumented immigrants from sending their children to U.S. schools or receiving emergency medical care.

In fact, Arizona's attorney general says the law only applies to a few programs, including utility assistance, a vision-care plan and grants given to disabled people and their families. Proposition 200 supporters are fighting to get the rules expanded to other programs.

Mexico itself has similar regulations. Here, government agencies require foreigners to present their residential visas when applying for everything from driver's licenses to social security cards.

The Federal Elections Institute requires all Mexicans to show proof of citizenship when registering to vote.

Mexico deported 201,000 people between January and November 2004, most of them Central Americans. About 9,000 others were denied entry at airports and border points.

However, there is no specific Mexican law requiring officials to report undocumented migrants who try to apply for benefits, or punishing them if they don't comply. And that is what irks Mexicans most about the Arizona statute, Garcia Laguna said.

"This hunt for illegals is the most troubling part," she said. "This law could lead to all kinds of discrimination against our countrymen. And our greatest fear is that it will be copied in other states."

Reach the reporter at