Saturday, May 18, 2024

Guest Blogger Series: Albert Morales on “Reform Mexico First”

As featured in  The Hill:

During the next several months, pro- and anti-immigration reform advocates will return for a battle royale over the status of millions of undocumented immigrants.

We will hear a common theme that comprehensive immigration reform is the single most important issue facing the Hispanic community. Much like the rhetoric of death panels and socialized medicine we saw with the healthcare debate, the inside-the-beltway political discourse runs past the real issues facing Hispanic families across this country. While the subject of comprehensive immigration reform is critically important, I doubt we will hear any discussion of how to deal with the unacceptably high rate of dropout students in the Hispanic community.

There are two choices facing business leaders related to the pending immigration debate. The obvious is whether to expend real and political capital engaging in charged political debate that might or might not reach the president’s desk. The alternative is to take a deep breath and really consider the issue facing Hispanic families already in the United States and the underlying issues that make immigration from Mexico such a desirable prospect. I view this issue from the prism of someone who has lived in both Mexico and the United States. As a first-generation Mexican American, I spent most of my childhood summers in rural Mexico in what was once a sprawling farm owned by my late grandfather. Even then, the wealth disparity was an embarrassment for a nation of such vast resources.

While a good number of my family members have sought and gained status as naturalized citizens, we all are very aware that most Mexicans in Mexico don’t have much. The average Mexican household income is roughly $7,000 a year. On average, Mexican students receive an eighth-grade education, though these figures tend to be lower in rural Mexico. The status of most Mexicans stands in stark contrast to the Mexican elite. Recently, Forbes released its list of the world’s richest people. As it turns out, the world’s richest man happens to be a Mexican citizen who has monopolized major sectors of Mexico’s economy. A total of nine Mexican billionaires made the list, including one reputed drug lord. That aside, when it comes to dealing with the issue of comprehensive immigration reform, the debate always begins with what we need to do for Mexico. The truth is Mexico is a country rich in natural resources, including vast oil reserves through state-owned Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), one of the largest oil companies in the world. Furthermore, Mexico’s annual GDP is well over $1 trillion. This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of Mexico’s wealth.

Our country is still recovering from a bruising battle over healthcare reform. The lesson we can learn from the past year is that the business community can benefit from a sober and moderate approach to engaging on an issue that is intrinsically combustible. The administration is smart not to be imposing artificial time lines in anticipation of the midterm elections. While appreciating the potential political benefits in the short term, Democratic leadership should be well aware that, like healthcare, the rhetoric and passion of immigration reform has the potential to consume rational policy. In my view, true reform begins south of the border, and this week’s visit by President Felipe Calderon presents the United States with an opportunity to press the Mexican government to own their own problems before we swoop in with money and policy to save them.

It is time the U.S.-Mexico relationship got the same level of attention as the U.S. relationship with the Middle East. Though one might argue Mexico’s ongoing drug war makes the Middle East look like a playground. While some might view this approach as politically naïve or even harsh, that is a hard sell for too many Mexican families who await word from their loved ones risking their lives in search of a better tomorrow. In the past, U.S. presidents such as Ronald Reagan won the hearts and minds of Mexican immigrants by acknowledging their efforts to integrate into our society. Today’s challenge is beyond a debate over amnesty for those already here. Today’s challenge is to truly address the fundamental economic disparity in Mexico and between Mexico and the United States so that men and women don’t risk life and limb to come here and live a life in the shadows as my father did more than 40 years ago.