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Digital Immigration Card Shows Mexico's Progressive Views on Immigration

New America Media, Commentary, Louis E. V. Nevaer Posted: Jan 14, 2008

Editor's Note: This March, Mexico will start to use digitally embedded immigration cards to track migrant workers. NAM commentator Louis E. V. Nevaer argues that this is just another step in Mexico's long track record of progressive views on immigration -- one that America could learn from.

MEXICO CITY While Washington is at an impasse over the status of millions of people who entered the United States without proper visas, Mexico is unrolling a new digitally-embedded immigration card that will allow hundreds of thousands of temporary workers and visitors to come and go at will. This migratory card, in addition to having the bearers photograph and fingerprints, has electronic chips that can be scanned facilitating the movement of people across Mexicos borders.

This will allow for the seamless and secure movement across the border, a statement from Mexicos National Immigration Institute said. The new cards will be distributed beginning in March 2008, and it is estimated that over a million will be in use by the end of 2008.

That Mexico is pursuing the model used in the European Union where over two dozen nations enjoy the free movement of people across national borders is in keeping with Mexicos historic commitment of striving to regularize the legal status of its inhabitants. This is not to say that Mexico exercises no control over its borders: In 2006 Mexico detained more than 182,000 people who entered the country illegally from nearby Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and even far-away China, South Africa and Pakistan.

But throughout the 20th Century, Mexico has consistently granted asylum and sanctuary to immigrants fleeing political turmoil from many neighboring countries. Mexicos most noteworthy case of granting sanctuary occurred in the early 1960s, when thousands of Cubans sought political asylum by entering the embassies of Latin American nations in Havana. At that time, many Latin American nations were in the process of severing ties to Castro, because of a U.S.-led push against communism set into action by a resolution adopted at the Eighth Meeting of Consultation in Punta del Este, Uruguay, on January 21, 1962. Every nation who attended except Mexico broke diplomatic relations with the Castro regime. At that time, the Mexican embassy pulled off the impressive feat of evacuating some 1,000 Cubans in the face of the Cuban authorities.

This sensational case aside, Mexico has garnered praise for five instances in which it has granted asylum and sanctuary to massive waves of political and economic refugees.
In the 1930s, more than 100,000 Spaniards were allowed to enter Mexico unconditionally, part of a massive exodus of refugees fleeing the Spanish Civil War.
In the 1940s, more than 75,000 Americans, mostly from California and New York, established permanent residence in Mexico, as part of an exodus caused by McCarthyism.
In the 1970s, an estimated 50,000 Chileans were granted asylum after August Pinochet seized control and established a military dictatorship.
At the end of the 1970s, almost 200,000 Salvadorans who fled their nations civil war were granted Mexican residency.
In the 1980s and 1990s, an estimated 225,000 Guatemalans fleeing that countrys counter-insurgency conflict were granted refuge in Mexico, in an operation so large that it was done in conjunction with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Through the years, the underlying principle that governs Mexicos approach is the fundamental respect for the dignity of the individual the idea that there is not a single person in the world whose existence is illegal. The circumstances of their lives are happenstance, and it is the obligation of governments to respond to the realities of the lives of individuals.

Mexican officials, for more than a quarter century, have been frustrated by the recalcitrant attitude taken by U.S. authorities. American companies take out ads on Mexican radio telling Mexicans of high paying jobs waiting for them in the meat packing plants in the Midwest and Southeast, while the American government takes out other ads warning them of the dangers of attempting to make desert crossings. That the United States is incapable of implementing a coherent policy is another matter. While Mexico is rolling out 21st century technology in the first quarter of 2008, the United States - after spending tens of millions of dollars on similar cards - cannot use them, since U.S. border inspectors are not equipped with the scanners necessary to read them.

Mexico, in fact, understands that there are times when a nation needs assistance. In 1981, after tens of thousands of Guatemalans began to enter Mexico, the Mexican government availed itself to the United Nations, and that bodys UNHRC entered into an agreement with Mexicos Commission on Refugees, known as COMAR. It was then that an orderly process was established to help more than 200,000 Guatemalan families who sought refuge in Mexicos southern states.

Mexicans believe that the United Nations can similarly help the United States. Mexicans argue that the time has come for the United Nations to begin a process of bringing the estimated millions of people living in the shadows of American society into the light. There is no reason why the United Nations cannot be brought in to assist Homeland Security and the Census Bureau to complete the years-long task of securing the United Statess broken borders, and regularizing the millions of immigrants who have, one way or another, managed to find their way to the United States.

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