Free Trade with a Human Face

MEXICO CITY – Although many Americans believe immigration is a domestic issue that should be excluded from talks with other governments, this is not a view held by other nations – or by the United States. Indeed, the US negotiated its first immigration deal in 1907, maintained for more than two decades a controversial treaty with Mexico covering immigration, and has kept up immigration talks and deals even with Fidel Castro since the early 1960’s.

For many Latin American nations, not just Mexico, immigration is the single most important issue in their relations with the US. The Caribbean islands all have a similarly high proportion of their citizens residing in the US and depend as much as Mexico on remittances. The same is true for much of Central America. And no part of South America is exempt from this pattern.

So almost all of Latin America is deeply affected by the current immigration climate in the US, and would benefit greatly from the type of comprehensive immigration reform that both John McCain and Barack Obama have supported. The Bush administration’s regrettable decision to build fences along the US-Mexico border, raid workplaces and housing sites, detain and deport foreigners without papers, is viewed in Latin America as being hypocritical and offensive. The issue is all the more painful and disappointing since most Latin American foreign ministries know full well that these attitudes are pure politics, nothing more.

Everyone knows what viable immigration reform in the US will entail: tightening security at the border, but also including gates in the walls currently being built; legalizing, with expeditious and sensible fines and conditions, the 15 million or so foreigners present in the US illegally; and establishing a migrant or temporary worker program that allows a sufficient number of foreigners to satisfy the growing needs of the US economy, with paths both to regular visits home and to US permanent residence.