In recent years Mexican immigration policy has been getting more publicity in the United States. Even the MainStream Media touches on it from time to time. CNN's Wolf Blitzer actually raised it in his CNN interview with Mexican president Felipe Calderon! [THE SITUATION ROOM—Interview with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, shown May 19, 2010] And that's a positive development.
Needless to say, Mexico's criticism of our immigration policy, as in the recent hysteria over Arizona's SB 1070, has always been extremely hypocritical. After all, Mexico has its own immigration policy, which it enforces much more ruthlessly than we do.
However, we need to be careful and correctly report on the situation in Mexico. Some information circulating on the internet about Mexican immigration policy and practice, though shared by well-intended people, is inaccurate, misleading or obsolete.
One oft-repeated statement: in Mexico "illegal immigration is a felony, punishable by up to two years in prison". See Mexico's Illegals Laws Tougher Than Arizona's, By Jerry Seper, Washington Times May 3, 2010.
Is that description currently true, or not?
But the part about being sentenced to jail for several years—now that's a concrete concept. But is it correct?
Before 2008, illegal entry into Mexico was indeed punishable by two years' imprisonment. However, it´s unlikely that sentence was applied much. In Mexico, detained illegals were and are usually deported.
And since changes in 2008, it is no longer even technically correct to say that illegal entry is punishable by jail time. (Mexican President Calderon tried to use this escape hatch in his interview with Wolf Blitzer, although he did concede that the charge of Mexican hypocrisy was "a very powerful argument".)
The legal basis for Mexico's immigration law is found in the Ley General de Población [the General Population Law].
In the pre-2008 Population Law, there were indeed a number of prison penalties for immigration violations.
Article 120 stipulated that you could be sentenced to up to 18 months in prison for carrying out activities not permitted by your immigration status.
What's that mean? Well, as I explained in an earlier article Learning About Immigration Policy from Mexico, the Mexican immigration system has various kinds of visas and permits. You aren't supposed to engage in economic activities not covered by your particular visa, such as working while you're in Mexico as a tourist or retiree, working at a different kind of job than the one on your visa, or opening your own business when your visa is for employment.
(And all foreigners, regardless of their particular visas, are strictly forbidden from getting involved in any way in Mexico politics. Article 43 of the Population Law, which has not been altered, states that:
"The admission to the country of a foreigner obliges him to strictly comply with the conditions established for him in the immigration permit and the dispositions established by the respective laws."
That law was used as the basis for the expulsion of some Americans students for participating in—but not leading—some protest marches in Mexico. See Gringo Meddlers Expelled from Mexico! (Now What about Mexican Meddlers Here?) for a report on those incidents).
According to Article 123 of the pre-2008 law, illegal entry into Mexico was punishable by up to 2 years´ imprisonment
Under Article 122, a foreigner could have been sentenced to up to 5 years for pretending to have a different immigration status than he actually did.
A penalty of up to five years was also the official sentence for utilizing marriage solely to secure immigration status (Article 127).
And, a foreigner could be sentenced to up to 6 years for violating the terms of his particular immigration status (Article 119).
And article 125 stipulated that the sentences in these previously mentioned articles could be superseded by simply deporting the illegal alien. So mostly that's what was done.
In 2008, however, many of these articles were simply abolished, and replaced with a new law that only fined immigration violators. The exception: Article 138, which stipulates that traffickers of illegal aliens into Mexico can be sentenced to 8-16 years.
But in practice, not much has really been changed. Before 2008, illegal aliens were detained in and deported from Mexico, and after 2008 they are still detained in and deported from Mexico.
So why was the law changed?
It was principally changed for propaganda purposes—to make it easier for Mexico to criticize U.S. immigration policy. After all, Americans were becoming more aware of the Mexican government's hypocritical stance on immigration.
Here is a report in the Mexican media from 2008, about the change being unanimously approved by the Mexican House of Representatives (it had previously been passed by the Senate). It refers to a speech given by Mexican congressman Edmundo Ramirez:
"…. [Ramirez] stressed the importance of this reform that 'decriminalizes' Central and South American immigration, to avoid having agents of the [Mexican immigration agency] Instituto Nacional de Migración (INM) treat the immigrants as criminals. [Ramirez] recalled that almost 300,000 Central Americans cross Mexico annually to arrive to the United States and are frequently mistreated by federal, state and municipal functionaries under the argument that they are criminals. Mexico cannot demand a dignified treatment of the Mexican immigrants in that country [the U.S.], without first reforming the Mexican laws, removing the treatment of Central American immigrants as criminals, he stated."
Se Despenalize en México Inmigración Indocumentada inmigracion-indocumentada, La Jornada, [Morelos], April 29, 2008
Notice the reasoning. Ramirez admitted that Central Americans were treated badly in Mexico. So he supports a change to the law which will supposedly improve their treatment (more on that later), and refers to the change as, in effect, a weapon to use against U.S. immigration policy—they've got to be able to claim that illegal aliens are treated well in Mexico in order to demand the same of the United States.
And did the change in the law really change the substantive status of illegal aliens in Mexico?
Answer: of course not. Two years after the reform, illegal aliens are still detained in Mexico and deported. But it's more than that. Illegal aliens in Mexico are still robbed, raped, kidnapped and murdered. Sometimes it's even done with the collusion of government authorities.
For sordid details, see some of my post-2008 articles on the topic:
Massacre of Illegal Aliens (in Mexico )—72 Killed [August 26, 2010],
Mexico—"Graveyard of Central Americans" [September 22, 2010] and
Will Mexico Close Down Its Train of Death? [October 14, 2010]
Or if you want another source, consider this one by Amnesty International:
"Migrants in Mexico are facing a major human rights crisis leaving them with virtually no access to justice, fearing reprisals and deportation if they complain of abuses," said Rupert Knox, Mexico Researcher at Amnesty International. "Persistent failure by the authorities to tackle abuses carried out against irregular migrants has made their journey through Mexico one of the most dangerous in the world."
"Kidnappings of migrants, mainly for ransom, reached new heights in 2009, with the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) reporting that nearly 10,000 were abducted over six months and almost half of interviewed victims saying that public officials were involved in their kidnapping.
"An estimated six out of 10 migrant women and girls experience sexual violence, allegedly prompting some people smugglers to demand that women receive contraceptive injections ahead of the journey, to avoid them falling pregnant as a result of rape…. 'Mexico has a responsibility to prevent, punish and remedy abuses whether these are committed by criminal gangs or public officials,' said Rupert Knox."
[Widespread Abuse of Migrants in Mexico is ´Human Rights Crisis', Amnesty International, April 27th, 2010]
Is anything being done to illegal aliens in the U.S. as bad as this?
The Mexican government changed laws which weren't even enforced to make itself look better. But the horrible reality on the ground hasn't changed.
To say the law was changed is technically correct but practically irrelevant. Nothing substantial has changed.
Bottom line: we as Americans should not care what Mexican politicians have to say about our country's immigration policy—before or after their cosmetic changes to their own immigration laws.
American citizen Allan Wall (email him) recently moved back to the U.S.A. after many years residing in Mexico. In 2005, Allan served a tour of duty in Iraq with the Texas Army National Guard. His VDARE.COM articles are archived here; his Mexidata.info articles are archived here; his News With Views columns are archived here; and his website is here.