May 8, 2009

Elvira Arellano Runs for Mexican Congress

The swine flu might have closed Mexican schools and slowed the nation’s economy to a near standstill, but it didn’t stop the latest political campaign from getting off the ground.

Although campaign kick-off events mainly proceeded last weekend without the usual bluster, candidates from Mexico’s different political parties launched their bids for positions in the lower house of the Mexican Congress. In July, Mexican voters will go to the polls to elect new federal representatives.

Among the better known candidates running for Congress is Elvira Arellano, the deported activist from the United States who came to symbolize the face of the new immigrant movement. Taking refuge in a Chicago church in August 2006, Arellano defied a deportation order and US immigration authorities for one year in an unsuccessful attempt to remain with her young son. In August 2007, she was arrested and sent back to Mexico after appearing at an immigrant rights rally in Los Angeles.

Almost two years later, Arellano is on the campaign trail in Tijuana, Baja California, where she is the candidate for Congressional District #4 on the ticket of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD).

Keeping true to her word to keep the migrant issue alive in the public eye, the energetic activist is stressing immigrant rights issues in Mexico’s 2009 political campaign. In comments last weekend, Arellano said she is especially concerned about the fate of women migrants who pass through Mexico on their way to the US, a journey that is often fraught with sexual assaults and other abuses.

“I am going to seek laws in Congress that protect women, and also that protect undocumented Central Americans who are treated like criminals in Mexico,” Arellano said.

Noting Tijuana’s character as a city of migrants, Arellano said she expected her message to receive a positive response from voters.

Arellano’s election run is the latest instance of a one-time Mexican migrant jumping into the political ring south of the border. Individuals like Arellano, who have experiences with laws, governments and civil societies on both sides of the border, are gradually making their mark on Mexican politics.

Perhaps the best-known example of a migrant-turned-politician prior to Arellano is the late Andres “Tomato King” Bermudez, who made good in California before returning to the state of Zacatecas and taking a stab at becoming mayor of the town of Jerez.

Initially denied a victory as a PRD candidate, Bermudez subsequently won the top job in Jerez as the representative for the center-right National Action Party in 2004. The flamboyant politician went on to win a Congressional seat for the same political party in 2006, becoming one of current President Felipe Calderon’s most virulent defenders in the post-election conflict that surrounded the contested presidential election three years ago. Bermudez died of cancer earlier this year while still serving as a federal legislator.

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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