(IPS) Panic has taken hold of the six million Mexicans who live in the United States without residence permits, because of the ongoing crackdown on "illegal aliens", which has involved an increasing number of raids and deportations.
The Mexican government has announced measures in defence of its citizens across the border, and insists that immigration reform is urgently needed in the U.S. However, the indications are that there will be no reform until 2009 at the earliest.
"We are being harassed and persecuted, and I confess we are extremely nervous. We don’t feel that Mexico is helping us at all," Freddy Batista, a Mexican immigrant who has worked in building maintenance in Los Angeles, California for four years, told IPS. "I’ve thought about not taking my son (aged 12) to school anymore, because they might capture me, or him, and then we’d be separated, which would not be fair to him. But what can I do? He can’t stay home or go into hiding," said Batista in a telephone interview from Los Angeles.
The state Institute for Mexicans Abroad (IMA) estimates that one million undocumented Mexicans will have been deported during the course of 2007. Most of them were, and continue to be, seized in raids the IMA considers to be discriminatory.
In a single day in early October, immigration agents apprehended about 1,500 Latin Americans in Los Angeles, the vast majority of whom were Mexican.
In 2006, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents deported 183,431 undocumented Mexicans after raids nationwide.
"We constantly pray to God that the ‘migra’ (ICE agents) won’t come for us, but they say there will be more raids soon," said Batista, a native of the Mexican state of Puebla.
According to official statistics, some 11 million people born in Mexico live in the United States, six million of whom do not have residence permits. Two-thirds of the total live in California and Texas.
The government of conservative President Felipe Calderón announced last week that two more consulates are to be added to the 50 that Mexico already maintains in the United States.
Consulates will also strengthen their legal assistance teams, who help defend immigrants when they face discrimination, and provide advice and support if they are detained with a view to deportation.
And to project a positive image of migrants in the U.S., the Mexican government will launch "direct media campaigns aimed at showing migrant success stories and raising awareness of the many contributions" migrants make to U.S. society, said Calderón.
"The idea is not to pursue purely confrontational strategies and wars of words, which only exacerbate anti-Mexican feeling and arouse the worst discriminatory phobias, but to win the battle in U.S. public opinion, so that Mexicans may be recognised as who they are — a major support for the economy and society," the president said.
"My government will not rest until it achieves full recognition and respect for the rights of Mexicans abroad," said Calderón, repeating almost word for word what was said by his predecessor and fellow party member Vicente Fox (2000-2006), who failed to live up to his promise to negotiate a new agreement on migration with the U.S..
Members of the Advisory Board of the IMA, meeting with the president in Mexico City last week, reported that the "anti-immigrant climate" in the United States has deteriorated since the U.S. Congress failed to approve an immigration reform act earlier this year.
The bill would have toughened border controls, but would also have given undocumented migrants, among them 11 million Latin Americans, the opportunity of legalising their situation and avoiding further persecution.
The IMA, made up of Mexican business executives and diplomats resident in the United States, said that around 170 anti-immigrant measures had been put into effect this year, such as a ban on getting a drivers licence, renting a home or receiving medical care for foreigners without a residence permit (green card).
These measures are additional to the law signed in October 2006 by U.S. President George W. Bush, ordering the barrier along the border with Mexico to be extended from 112 to 1,226 kilometres.
The law also provided for the installation of new video cameras, sensors, and unmanned surveillance planes, and for increasing the number of U.S. border patrol agents from 13,300 to 14,800.
"Now is the time and the opportunity to do our best to get the debate on migration to consider in depth the economic, social, and ultimately human dimensions of the phenomenon," said Mexican deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Rico.
According to Fox’s former foreign minister Jorge Castañeda, there will be no further chance to discuss wide-ranging reform in migration policy with the U.S. until at least 2009.
The campaigns for nominations of political candidates by the U.S. Republican and Democratic parties are already under way to determine who will run in the November 2008 presidential elections.
Most of the presidential hopefuls have said they are in favour of tougher migration controls and do not support granting legal residence to undocumented immigrants already in the U.S..
"We’ve been left entirely to our own devices, and Mexico isn’t showing much concern. But what can we do about it? We knew we were taking a risk when we came to the U.S. to work, and brought our children with us," said Batista.
"I don’t want to go back to Mexico, because my family is here, and we are better paid here. And why should we go back, if we’re working for our keep, and not doing anybody any harm?" he added.
Some 500,000 Mexicans a year emigrate to the U.S., according to a study by the state National Population Council.
Emigration to the U.S. has grown explosively since the 1970s, when 800,000 Mexican-born people lived there, only a small fraction of the 11 million — with or without green cards — living and working there today.