Will the third time prove charmed?

Published November 28, 2012

By Maribel Hastings / WASHINGTON

With the visit of Mexican President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto to the American capital this week, it now makes three leaders from the United States’ southern neighbor who have come here over the past 12 years with no materialization of the ever elusive immigration reform. And in a very real sense, the visit marks three different stages in the efforts to push this reform forward.
The visit of Peña Nieto takes place after a presidential contest in the United States that made very clear the power of Hispanic voters in deciding elections and how the handling that politicians give to the topic of immigration defines them with the Latino electorate. The results of this election constitute a mandate for President Barack Obama to achieve this reform and invests political capital in the process, an investment that both now and in the long term may yield great dividends for the Democrats.
For the Republicans it was a question of the clearest assertion that without the Hispanic vote they cannot win the White House and for their own political survival they must negotiate with the Democrats this matter that for years they have exploited to support to their ultraconservative base, ignoring the demographic changes produced under their own noses that not only demonstrate that there are more Hispanics in the cities but, possibly, with more power than ever before at the ballot box. This timing of Peña Nieto’s visit is perhaps the most favorable for immigration reform in US politics.
In 2001, when Vicente Fox, a member of Mexico’s National Action Party (PAN), visited Washington, we all believed that the planets had lined up in favor of immigration reform. The White House was occupied by George W. Bush after a polemic election, who lent support for reform even in the face of opposition of the most right-wing wing of his party.
But the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 buried immigration reform. Although Bush invested political capital in his second term, the perceived link of terrorism to immigration was exploited by the opposition to the immigration reform, who used the nations fear to prevent any progress on this front. The only thing that advanced during this period was increased immigration powers among state law enforcement officers, the effects of which were reflected in the separation of families in the immigrant community.
The first steps were then taken to foster the poisonous climate that has characterized the immigration debate and that was a genesis of all the state anti-immigrant laws that proliferated across the country. It was in this toxic atmosphere that another PAN member, Felipe Calderón, was elected to the Mexican presidency. Calderón’s visits, particularly his state visit in 2010, only constituted Washington social events because on the matter of immigration, specifically on any reform, there was little to say.
Rather the matter of immigration was seen through the prism of combating the drug trafficking that marked the presidency of Calderón and the bilateral relation between Mexico and the United States. That is to say, under the presidency of Fox the excuse against reform was to label as terrorists all immigrants, although those who perpetrated the attacks were residing legally the United States; and under Calderón, the strategy was to label the immigrants as drug traffickers and in fact, this argument was used to attract support to state anti-immigrant laws such as Arizona’s SB 1070.
Two years after the election of Calderón, in 2008, Barack Obama was elected with the promise to re-live these immigration conversations. What happened, and did not happen is already history. Obama will remain in the White House a second period with a renewed promise of approaching the topic of immigration and with a Republican Party in Congress that is seemingly giving signs to want to negotiate a reform that would represent real benefits for both countries.
After everything, the only constant of the last twelve years has been the undocumented population in the United States, mainly of Mexico, which offers cheap labor in the United States with workers hidden in the shadows without rights and vulnerable to the exploitation.
Peña Nieto this week will refer to the countrymen left their country for lack of opportunities, and Obama will praise the narrow commercial and cultural relation that joins to two nations. A relation marked by the millions of undocumented persons who propel to a great extent the economies of both countries, with work here and remittances there, and who hope that this third attempt of impelling immigration reform in the United States should be finally see success. (America’s Voice)

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