April 24, 2006: Should We Try Mexico's Immigration Laws?
Should we try Mexico's immigration law?
By J. MICHAEL WALLER
The Providence Journal
WASHINGTON — Mexico has a radical idea for a rational immigration policy that most Americans would love. But Mexican officials haven't been sharing the idea with us as they press Congress to adopt the McCain-Kennedy immigration-reform bill. That's too bad, because Mexico, which annually deports more illegal aliens than the United States does, has much to teach us about how to handle immigration; under Mexican law, it is a felony to be an illegal alien.
As the Supreme Court and politicians seek to bring U.S. law in line with foreign legal norms, it's noteworthy that no one has argued that the United States look at what Mexico might teach us about how to solve our illegal-immigration problem. Mexico has a single, streamlined law, seeking to ensure that foreign visitors and immigrants are:
_ In the country legally.
_ Have the means to sustain themselves economically.
_ Not destined to be burdens on society.
_ Of economic and social benefit to society.
_ Of good character, with no criminal record.
The law also seeks to ensure that:
_ Immigration authorities have a record of each foreign visitor.
_ Foreign visitors do not violate their visa status.
_ Foreign visitors are banned from interfering in the country's internal politics.
_ Foreign visitors who enter under false pretenses are imprisoned or deported.
_ Foreign visitors violating terms of their entry are imprisoned or deported.
_ Anyone who aids in illegal immigration is imprisoned.
Who could disagree with such a law?
The Mexican constitution strictly defines the rights of citizens, and the denial of many rights to non-citizens. The General Law on Population, spelling out the country's immigration policy, should cause Americans to ask: Why is our southern neighbor pushing us to water down our immigration laws and policies when its own immigration restrictions are the toughest on the continent? If a felony is a crime punishable by more than a year in prison, Mexican law makes it a felony to be an illegal alien in Mexico. Yet if the United States adopted such a law, Mexico would no doubt denounce it as a manifestation of American bigotry.
Mexico's main immigration law welcomes only foreigners deemed useful to Mexican society:
_ Foreigners are admitted into Mexico “according to their possibilities of contributing to national progress.” (Article 32)
_ Immigration officials must “ensure (that) immigrants will be useful elements for the country and that they have the necessary funds for their sustenance” and that of their dependents. (Article 34)
_ Foreigners may be barred from the country if their presence has upset “the equilibrium of the national demographics,” if they are deemed detrimental to “economic or national interests,” if they are not good citizens in their own country, if they have broken Mexican laws, or if “they are not found to be physically or mentally healthy.” (Article 37)
_ The secretary of governance may “suspend or prohibit the admission of foreigners when he determines it to be in the national interest.” (Article 38)
Mexican authorities keep track of every person in the country:
_ Federal, local and municipal police must cooperate with federal immigration authorities upon request: i.e., help in the arrest of illegal immigrants. (Article 73)
_ A National Population Registry tracks every “individual who comprises (sic) the population of the country,” verifying each individual's identity. (Articles 85 and 86)
_ A national Catalogue of Foreigners tracks foreign tourists and immigrants (Article 87), assigning each a tracking number. (Article 91)
Foreigners with fake papers or who enter the country under false pretenses may be imprisoned:
_ Foreigners with fake immigration papers may be fined or imprisoned.
_ Foreigners who sign government documents “with a signature that is false or different from that which he normally uses” are subject to fine and imprisonment. (Article 116)
Foreigners who fail to obey the rules will be fined, deported, and/or imprisoned as felons:
_ Foreigners who fail to obey a deportation order are to be punished. (Article 117)
_ Deported foreigners who try to re-enter Mexico without authorization can be imprisoned for up to 10 years. (Article 118)
_ Foreigners who violate terms of their visa may be sentenced for up to six years in prison. (Articles 119, 120, and 121) Foreigners who misrepresent the terms of their visa (as by working without a permit) can also be imprisoned.
Under Mexican law, illegal immigration is a felony. The General Law on Population says:
_ “A penalty of up to two years in prison and a fine of 300 to 5,000 pesos will be imposed on the foreigner who enters the country illegally.” (Article 123)
_ Foreigners with immigration problems may be deported, rather than imprisoned. (Article 125)
_ Foreigners who “(make attempts) against national sovereignty or security” will be deported. (Article 126)
Mexicans who help illegal aliens enter the country are considered criminals:
_ A Mexican who marries a foreigner with the sole objective of helping the foreigner live in the country is subject to up to five years in prison. (Article 127)
_ Shipping and airline companies that bring undocumented foreigners into Mexico will be fined. (Article 132)
All of the above runs counter to what Mexican leaders are demanding of the United States. The stark contrast between Mexico's immigration practices and its American-immigration preachings reveals the Mexican government's agenda: to have a one-way immigration relationship with the United States.
Let's call Mexico's bluff on its interference in U.S. immigration policy. Let us propose, just to make a point, that North American Free Trade Agreement member nations standardize their immigration laws by using Mexico's law as a model.
(J. Michael Waller is a professor of international communication at the Institute of World Politics in Washington.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard