Cena Anual de MALDEF, Los Angeles, California, 9 de noviembre, 2000
Before I begin, I wish to extend my heartfelt congratulations to the people of the United States on the November 7th elections. Mexico applauds you and shares your commitment to the democratic process.
I am here today on behalf of the people of Mexico to express our admiration for MALDEF and its sustained struggle in defense of Mexican communities in the United States. I hope that you will help convey a message to these communities – that my administration is committed to building a mutually respectful and mature relationship with the United States. And we will renew our ties with Mexican Americans and Mexicans living in this country.
Fifteen years ago, MALDEF broke new ground when it discredited the myth that migrants are not settlers. Thanks to your efforts and those of other Latino organizations, the U.S. Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. This legislation included an “amnesty clause” that enabled undocumented immigrants with more than five years residence in this country to regularize their immigration status. As a result of IRCA, 2.3 million Mexicans were freed from a life in the shadows.
In 1982, in Plyler v. Doe, MALDEF lawyers argued before the Supreme Court for migrant children’s right to a public education, regardless of their immigration status. I am not overstating the case when I say that millions of Mexican children, sons and daughters of undocumented immigrant workers, have received an education thanks to this key MALDEF victory.
In the mid-1990s, MALDEF lawyers again took a leading role in striking down the most deleterious impacts of Proposition 187. Prop 187 sought to turn every teacher, nurse, and policeman in California into an agent of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.
I am convinced that the best way to support MALDEF is to uphold its autonomy. During my administration, MALDEF will receive nothing but respect for its endeavors.
I recognize that the Mexican American community has its own agenda – an agenda shaped by the political, economic, and social context that Mexican Americans face in this country. And I acknowledge that the increased economic integration between Mexico and the United States, and the plurality and breadth of our communities, means that we will sometimes disagree.
My administration will be the first Mexican administration to honor the ties that bind people of Mexican descent to the United States. We understand that their greatest desire is to become loyal, productive citizens in this extraordinary country that has welcomed them and opened up new opportunities for them and their families.
Like migrants from other countries, Mexicans who have come to stay want their children to learn English, to graduate from college, to live in integrated neighborhoods.
My administration will not try to prevent Mexicans from prospering in the United States. We have no desire to interfere in the powerful process of assimilation that binds Mexican immigrants to this nation.
Toward a Balanced, Mature Relationship
My objective today is to ask for your help to change the terms of the bilateral relationship, and to ask you to become a crucial actor in this undertaking.
My hope is to build a relationship of equals, neighbor to neighbor, eye to eye. I want us to view one another as economic partners with a shared future. Mexico and the United States can – and must – achieve a mature and stable relationship similar to the United States’ bonds with Canada and Great Britain.
In the mature and stable relationship that I envision, individual incidents or tensions would not threaten the strategic links between partners. But there is no place in my vision for steel barriers that have been raised to divide us. We, the people of Mexico and of the United States, must learn to resolve our differences in an arena that privileges respect over rancor. We must learn that we can disagree on specifics while still preserving an overarching relationship that is of great benefit to both our peoples.
As I work to help Mexico prosper, as the United States has prospered, I will not hold back. If the history of Mexican diplomacy contains no precedent for plain speaking – about proposals for compensatory funding for regions lagging in development, about a new vision of the border, about what massive out-migration from Mexico means for both our nations – that shortcoming belongs to the past. The July 2 elections changed Mexico, and they will change the character of its diplomacy.
The era of official Mexican discourse has ended. There will be no more half-truths, no more need to read between the lines. My administration will put all issues – matters of conflict and of cooperation – on the table. We will strengthen the trade ties that emerged from the NAFTA. We will address the issue of Mexican migration to the United States from the ground up. And we will lead a frontal attack on narco-trafficking.
I urge you to join the effort to build a new relationship between our nations, a relationship of equal partners. Only by joining forces can we attain a mature relationship that will benefit all people in both countries.
We must frame a new vision for the bilateral relationship in upcoming decades. We must ask what kind of integration we envision for North America. We do not have the luxury of drifting rudderless, at the mercy of the prevailing winds and currents of the marketplace. We must define our destination and then steer directly for it.
Three Windows of Opportunity: NAFTA, and the Dividends of Democratic Process and Demography
Windows of opportunity are opening, and Mexico must take advantage of them. One is the economic opportunity embedded in the NAFTA. The others are the dividends of democracy and demography.
The first window of opportunity is NAFTA. The free trade agreement between
the United States, Canada and Mexico has been a powerful tool in supporting
the creation of job opportunities for workers throughout North America. This
year alone US trade with Mexico has grown almost 30%, and is now 200% higher than its 1993 pre-NAFTA levels. Mexico has become the most dynamic market for US exports, and has consolidated its position as the second largest trading partner of the United States.
In Mexico we speak of the democratic dividend. The advent of democracy presents a phenomenal opportunity for Mexico to become a prosperous and just nation. To achieve this goal, we need broad support from the international community, and especially from our neighbor to the north. Combating corruption and building strong institutions for a plural and open society will require a lengthy and complex process. During this process, we ask our friends for their patience and their solidarity.
Mexican demographers are forecasting that the changing age structure of the Mexican population will open another – though fleeting – window of opportunity over the next two decades. We call this phenomenon the “demographic dividend.” This population dynamic will give Mexico greater capacity for domestic savings as the proportion of the economically active population grows in relation to the dependent population.
If Mexico can take full advantage of this demographic dividend, it will drive a virtuous circle of more jobs—more savings—more investment—more jobs. We will be able to generate the resources Mexico needs to redress problems of inequality and lagging development. And we will be able to break the cycle that has trapped millions of Mexicans in poverty.
The next twenty years hold the key. If Mexico can build a strong economy, Mexico’s young men and women will stay in Mexico. Yet, like their fathers and grandfathers, they will always have the option to seek other opportunities north of the Rio Grande.
In our shared past, Mexico and the United States cooperated on the economic front, but we swept points of contention in the bilateral relationship out of sight. Today, we are placing all issues on the table.
We are not indifferent to the massive out-migration of Mexicans to the United States. To the contrary, Mexico’s past migration policy – a policy of having no policy – ends today. The United States receives more immigrants than any other country in the world. And Mexico is the number one sending country of migrants.
Mexican emigration to the United States has jumped in the last three decades. Analysts have estimated the size of the Mexican-born population residing in the United States at eight million. Nearly three million of these individuals are undocumented.
If we add the U.S. population of Mexican descent, the United States is home to nearly twenty-two million people who have close kinship ties with Mexico. This is equal to eight percent of the U.S. population, and twenty-two percent of the population of Mexico.
The Diaspora: A Priority for My Administration
I have indicated before, and I reiterate here today, that I will govern in the name of all Mexicans. And if I am allowed, I will also govern for you – in the sense that I will heed your needs.
My goal is to forge a special bond with Mexican-origin communities in the United States. Mexican Americans and Mexicans residing here will have privileged access to my administration. This special bond rests on two pillars – mutual respect and the potential for mutual benefit.
To guarantee that Mexican migrants in the United States and Mexican Americans receive their rightful attention, I have decided to create a special office in Los Pinos, Mexico’s “White House.” This office, located at the core of governmental decision making, will promote and support my government’s outreach activities to migrants and Mexican communities abroad.
Another initiative under consideration is an Office of the Attorney General for Migrant Affairs. This office would have national jurisdiction. Its mission would be to prevent the human rights abuses committed against migrants in Mexican territory as they make their way to the United States and when they return to visit family or to repatriate. This effort would build on the achievements of the Ministry of Foreign Relations’ Program for Mexican Communities Abroad.
We are also framing a new regulatory structure to improve the system for sending remittances to family members in Mexico and to reduce the costs of these transactions. And I will continue my search – as I did in Guanajuato – to identify business opportunities for Mexicans in the United States and for Mexican Americans in Mexico.
Mexico Has Not Forgotten You
Clearly, anyone who leaves family behind to try their luck in this country does so out of need, not out of choice. Mexico has seen generations of its best people emigrate. In my home state of Guanajuato, for example, nearly a fourth of the state’s population now lives in the United States.
It is clear that Mexicans who come here in search of a better life are honorable people, ambitious and hard working. They bring valuable contributions to their adoptive communities – a strong work ethic and a commitment to a strong culture of family.
In Mexico we are very proud of their efforts to improve the quality of their lives. We are inspired by the helping hand they extend to their relatives and communities in Mexico through remittances. And to our countrymen who have set down roots in this society, we say, “you can best help Mexico by succeeding here, in your adopted country.” At the end of the day, Mexico’s image is inextricably linked to the image of Mexican American communities in the United States. The better that life is for you, the better it will be for us. Our culture, our traditions, and our values form links that will not be broken.
I also want to share my certainty that the children of today’s migrants will not forget the homeland of their forbears. A shared heritage unites us, a heritage forged over the course of three thousand years. No matter how diverse, no matter how pluralistic the communities of the contemporary Mexican diaspora may be, the forces that unite us are far stronger than the forces that divide us.
We all face one challenge. Our most important challenge is to define and defend our identity. We are proud to be Mexicans and to be U.S. citizens of Mexican origin. This culture, this identity, must be a source of strength to our children. We must face this challenge together. My administration will stand side by side with you to celebrate the vitality of our culture, our traditions, and our history.
Dear friends, I urge you to inaugurate a new era in relations between Mexico and Mexican-origin communities in the United States. I urge the people of the United States, and you in particular, to help us reap full benefit from the opportunities that democracy and demography have placed before us.
We have set out on a path toward a freer, democratic Mexico. And we share that path with a Mexican American community that is becoming more powerful economically and politically, day by day.
People of Mexican descent living in the United Sates will have a key role to play in the transition to the new Mexico, a transition that began on July 2. This is why I have come here today: to invite you to engage wholeheartedly in a democratic dialogue with your country of origin, a dialogue that is enriched – not diminished – by our differences.
Mexico’s future is, first and foremost, the responsibility of Mexicans. But if we are going to construct a homeland worthy of our highest aspirations, our efforts will require the active participation of Mexicans on both sides of the border.