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Analysts say Mexico falls short in resolving illegal immigration

By Jerry Kammer

June 1, 2003

WASHINGTON ­ While Mexican politicians continue to press the United States to improve the lives of illegal immigrants north of the border, they are failing to make urgently needed reforms that could help their countrymen stay home, several political analysts said last week.

"Mexico has been totally incapable of resolving its own problems and is finding a convenient scapegoat in the United States," said Luis Rubio, president of the Center of Research for Development, a Mexico City public-policy think tank.

Throughout the three-year administration of Mexican President Vicente Fox, feuding within the leading political parties has thwarted proposals that would benefit Mexico's poor, many of whom now see the United States as their only chance for a decent life.

Calls for reforms in Mexico have gone unattended amid mounting public frustration and disillusionment. As a result, analysts say, the feeble tax-collecting system fails to collect funds needed for roads, schools and hospitals; a regulatory thicket strangles business start-ups; the arthritic state-owned energy industry lacks capital to grow; and a notoriously unprofessional judicial system tilts the social playing field to the well-connected.

Yet Mexico, unable to make significant progress on its domestic agenda, continues to push the United States for change.

Fox last week renewed his demand that the United States commit to an "immigration accord" with Mexico. In an interview with The Washington Post, he said that in its talks with Washington his government "will be insisting on our priority, which is migration."

Fox was in Europe this weekend, invited to attend the Group of Eight summit in Evian, France. Fox is looking for financing to instill democracy and human rights in developing countries and for infrastructure to enable them to get food and aid to the needy, said a spokeswoman, Claudia Algorri Guzman.

He wants the United States to provide legal status to an estimated 4.5 million Mexicans here illegally. He also is calling on Washington to provide hundreds of thousands of temporary work visas annually, as well as development funds for poor areas of Mexico.

But Fox has been widely criticized for failing to forge political consensus for the reforms that could reduce the migrant surge northward.

"Fox is not a politician," Rubio said. "He had the charisma and stamina and looks to be a strong candidate, but he does not know how to twist arms and make deals."

George Grayson, a Mexico expert at the College of William & Mary, echoed the criticism. He said Fox is performing a familiar Mexican political maneuver: demanding that the United States be a migratory safety valve to relieve political and economic pressure at home. According to Grayson, the economic stability of entire regions of Mexico depends on the money immigrants send home at the rate of $10 billion a year.

"Fox's domestic agenda is paralyzed, so he's hoping the skies will open and there will be sunshine beaming from the United States in the form of an immigration accord," Grayson said.

Grayson scoffed at Fox's claim to the Post that he is taking strong steps to develop the economies of the country's poorest regions.

"He's trying to tout his own accomplishments, and that doesn't pass the laugh test," said Grayson, adding that Fox's administration hasn't reformed the corrupt political culture established during 70 years of one-party rule that ended with Fox's dramatic 2000 victory.

"People are leaving Mexico because too many Mexican politicians act in a self-serving way and exploit their enormously wealthy country," Grayson said.

Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Institute for International Economics in Washington, described a desperate need for fiscal reform in Mexico.

He said government is hamstrung by tax collections that represent only 14 percent of the country's gross domestic profit, well under the U.S. level of 25 percent to 28 percent.

As a result, he said, "Basic social services and infrastructure are awfully lean for a country that wants to move ahead. While I'm not usually an advocate for larger government, Mexico is a country where public investment, done wisely, could pay huge dividends."

The fundamental problem, Hufbauer said, lies with the Mexican elite.

"Basically, it's up to Mexico to solve its problem, and basically the wealthy classes do not want to tax themselves, period. It's basically an attitude of look out for yourself."

Armand Peschard-Sverdrup, the Mexico-born director of the Mexico program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, also lamented the systematic failure of Mexico's political system.

"I look at all the Mexicans who want to leave Mexico, and to me it's as much a statement on Mexico's failure to push through the necessary reforms to better the country as it is about the opportunities present in the U.S." he said.

But Peschard-Sverdrup said both Washington and Mexico City have failed to address the problem of migration.

"My view is that both governments have been hypocritical," he said. "The Mexican government has benefited from using migration as a safety valve. The U.S. government has benefited from the supply of cheap manual labor."