November 21, 2007

Migrant Leaders Launch New Tri-national Initiative

Angered by what they perceive as a hardening US stance on immigration-related issues, Mexicans from a variety of political forces are mobilizing to support migrants north of their border. For the first time, leaders of Mexican immigrants residing in the US and Canada convened a meeting in the Mexican capital to demand stronger action from the government of President Felipe Calderon. Held November 16-17, the sometimes raucous First Parliament of Mexican Migrant Leaders November attracted nearly 600 participants. Twenty Mexican legislators from different political parties and representatives of the National Migration Institute (INM) were on hand for the proceedings.

Fired up by the mounting deportations of undocumented Mexicans from the US, some activists at the Mexico City meeting called on the Calderon administration to cease trade, investment, anti-crime and security negotiations with the US until Washington puts a moratorium on immigration law enforcement raids and deportations.

“Immigration reform and a path to citizenship could be the next steps to take,” said Ema Lozano, president of the Chicago-based Centro Sin Fronteras. “What’s urgent at this moment is to negotiate a halt to deportations.”

According to the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement, about 22,000 people are deported from the United States to Mexico every month.

The Calderon administration’s posture on migration issues is coming under increasing fire from across the Mexican political spectrum. Even Jorge Castaneda, a former Fox administration foreign minister, has criticized the Calderon government for allegedly not doing enough on the migrant question.

President Calderon is urging US presidential candidates to refrain from turning migrants into “hostages” of the 2008 election, but his administration is negotiating an expanded anti-drug control agreement with Washington in addition to stepping up border controls in both the north and south of Mexico.

In Mexico City, migrant leaders agreed to constitute the parliament as a permanent organization not tied to any particular political party. Unveiled at the meeting, the so-called Missouri Plan proposes to exclusively reserve 10 new seats for deputies and two new seats for senators in the Mexican Congress for Mexican migrants living abroad. Parliament members likewise urged the Mexican federal government to establish a cabinet-level ministry of migrant affairs.

Other goals outlined at the meeting included promoting the political participation of migrants in both US and Mexican elections, and earmarking one cent of every dollar in remittances for a fund set up to help pay the healthcare costs of migrant children in the US. In a solemn moment, First Parliament participants observed one minute of silence for the nearly 400 people who have died trying to cross the US border this year.

Federal Congressman Jose Edmundo Martinez of the Institutional Revolutionary Party characterized the gathering as a “watershed” event that could force more official attention on the migrant issue.

An unscheduled speech by deported US immigration activist Elvira Arellano drew sharp rebukes from some attendees but enthusiastic responses from others. Arellano announced she was commencing a hunger strike November 16 to protest US immigration policies and to pressure the Calderon government into taking a tougher stand with Washington. She said the hunger strike would last until December 12, Virgin of Guadalupe Day in Mexico. Echoing calls to halt negotiations with Washington until the immigration issue has been addressed, a tearful Arellano contended that Mexico could not economically or socially absorb an estimated six million Mexicans who face deportation from the US.

“Our government has remained silent as we are treated like criminals and terrorists in the United States,” Arellano said. “When a mother, a child or a worker is deported, our government is silent.”

Prior to the meeting, Arellano said she was organizing a network of migrant relatives to make the immigration issue a political priority in Mexico.

Objecting to Arellano’s speech, federal Deputy Maria Deputy Dolores Gonzalez Sanchez of the conservative National Action Party blasted the migrant parliament for supposedly being a political show staged by the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). Evoking cat-calls, Gonzalez labeled the meeting “a PRD spectacle and an insult to national sovereignty.”

In another pro-migrant event, practitioners of two distinct musical genres banded together on November 18 for a massive concert attended by an estimated 150,000 people in the northern Mexican city of Monterrey. Sharing the bill were the norteno balladeers of Los Tigres del Norte and the hard rock legends of Jaguares.

“With their songs Paisano and Cage of Gold, among others, Los Tigres del Norte address the theme of migration in a timely manner” said Katzir Meza, cultural events director for the Monterrey Universal Cultures Forum 2007. “(Jaguares) has a record of participation. Both groups have contributed to migration, human rights and justice causes.”

The Tigres/Jaguares mega-concert was preceded by a Monterrey dialogue on migrant issues moderated by TV Azteca national news host Javier Solorzano.

Reprinted from Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico.

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