Yesterday, on CNN’s the Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer probed Mexican President Felipe Calderón about his country’s own immigration laws. Blitzer quoted a piece printed in the Washington Times entitled “Mexico’s illegals laws tougher than Arizona’s.” According to the article, “under the Mexican law, illegal immigration is a felony, punishable by up to two years in prison.” The Washington Times then quotes Rep. Steve King (R-IA), Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), and Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) calling Calderón “arrogant and hypocritical.” However, it appears the Washington Times and the GOP sources it quotes relied on dated information.
Calderón informed Blitzer last night that Mexico has enacted its own immigration reform:
BLITZER: I read an article in “The Washington Times” the other day. I’m going to read a paragraph to you and you tell me if this is true or not true. [...] “Under the Mexican law, illegal immigration is a felony punishable by up to two years in prison. Immigrants who are deported and attempt to reenter can be imprisoned for 10 years. Visa violators can be sentenced to six year terms. Mexicans who help illegal immigrants are considered criminals.” Is that true?
CALDERON: It was true, but it is not anymore. We derogate or we erased that part of the law…Not anymore, since one year ago. And that is the reason why we are trying to establish our own comprehensive public policy talking about, for instance, immigrants coming from Central America. [...]
BLITZER: Immigration is not a crime, you’re saying?
CALDERON: It’s not a crime.
In 2008, the Mexican Congress voted unanimously with 393 votes to decriminalize undocumented immigration to Mexico. Before then, the Washington Times description of Mexican immigration law would’ve been accurate. Following the 2008 reform, however, undocumented immigration is a minor offense punishable by fines equivalent to about $475 to $2,400. The approved reform identified Mexico’s old immigration laws as “inadmissible” and a violation of human rights.
Mexican lawmakers also recognized that they were not in a position to criticize the U.S. immigration system if they did not address their own stringent immigration laws. The Arizona Daily Star reported that “Some Mexican officials acknowledged that the current harsh penalties weakened Mexico’s position in arguing for better treatment of its own migrants in the United States.” Congresswoman Irma Pineiro of the small New Alliance Party states, “Mexico is politically and morally obligated to treat migrants with dignity and to make a commitment to human rights, as a country that both exports and receives migrants.” Rep. Edmundo Ramírez Martínez of the country’s Institutional Revolutionary Party told Mexican newspaper
However, just because Mexico reformed its laws doesn’t mean its law enforcement authorities got the memo. Amnesty International recently issued a report calling the “widespread abuse of migrants in Mexico” a “human rights crisis.” Nearly 10,000 migrants were abducted in Mexico over six months and an estimated six out of 10 migrant women and girls experience sexual violence — many not just at the hands of criminal gangs, but also the Federal Police.
Amnesty International recommends further reforms, including legislative reforms to ensure access to justice, the establishment of a federal task force to coordinate and implement measures, and the compilation and publication of data on abuses against migrants and the steps taken to bring those responsible to account –including public officials. However, one of the central issues, according to Amnesty, is that migrants still fear they will be deported if they complain to Mexican authorities about abuses. Article 67 of Mexico’s immigration law still requires law enforcement to demand that foreigners prove their legal presence in the country. The Interior Department is reportedly working to repeal Article 67 “so that no one can deny or restrict foreigners’ access to justice and human rights, whatever their migratory status.” In the mean time, the U.S. would be wise to look at Mexico’s immigration problems not necessarily as a source of hypocrisy, but rather, an extreme, but poignant case study of the deputization of immigration law and what can happen when it turns immigrants into criminals.