Mexican Senate Approves Immigration Reform

Last year, when Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón condemned Arizona’s immigration law, he was called “arrogant and hypocritical.” According to his critics, Mexico has tougher immigration laws in place than Arizona does. The massacre of 72 Central and South American migrants who were brutally tortured and killed by drug cartel operatives in Mexico on their way to the U.S. this past summer increased pressure on Calderón to fix Mexico’s own broken immigration system.

Largely in response, the Mexican Senate approved a newly modified Immigration Law to protect and guarantee the human rights of migrants in the country this past Friday. The approved legislation allows migrants in Mexico to access health and legal services and grants them the opportunity to regularize their immigration status. It is specifically aimed at decriminalizing immigration and removing penalties to prevent the rampant kidnapping and murder of migrants travelling through Mexico. Currently, undocumented immigration in Mexico is considered a minor offense punishable with fines. The hope is that the new bill will decrease the vulnerability of migrants and prevent corrupt police and criminals from exploiting them. The legislation passed just a couple of days after Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission released a report which found that at least 11,333 migrants were kidnapped in Mexico during a six-month span of 2010.

The original version of the legislation was not as welcoming. Article 26 of the bill essentially charged Federal Police with the enforcement of immigration law. Article 151 imposed heavy fines and sanctions on undocumented immigrants and those who hire them. Yet, Mexican senators avoided the temptation to confront immigration with an iron fist. Both provisions were removed and the modified version passed the Mexican Senate with a unanimous vote. “We took out article 26 entirely because we want to send a clear signal that the Senate is aware of the contribution and the value that immigrants bring to our country,” explained Mexican Senator Humberto Andrade. “The new immigration law is a modern, advanced, integrated solution, which permits us to take our place as a country with a congruent human rights policy, and with the moral ability to demand of other countries respect for our nationals.”

According to Andrade, the new version of the bill not only excludes Article 26, it also indicates that law enforcement cannot verify immigration status beyond customs and border checkpoints. If that is true, then the legislature would essentially overturn Article 67 of Mexico’s immigration law which requires law enforcement to demand that foreigners prove their legal presence in the country.

Father Alejandro Solalinde, a Catholic priest who runs a migrant shelter in Mexico and has been a sharp critic of the country’s immigration policy, praised the reforms, stating that Mexico is on the verge of overcoming a “milestone.” In the meantime, the legislation is still pending in Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies — where it is expected to pass.