Jorge Ramos Ávalos: Selling Their Souls to the Devil, La Reforma, June 23, 2013

As cited in yesterday’s LA Times article, on Sunday, June 23, 2013, reporter Jorge Ramos Ávalos shared the Mexico viewpoint of the proposed ‘border surge’ amendment to the Senate’s border/immigration bill. The article was originally published in the Mexico City-based paper La Reforma, and a copy is available here.

The following is a quick translation of the piece:

“We were about to record a special television program on immigration reform and we could not begin because Senator Chuck Schumer of New York would not hang up his cell phone. But none of the other three senators accompanying him- Bob Menendez, Dick Durbin and Michael Bennet- dared to interrupt him. Me either. Schumer was counting by telephone the number of senators who would support a new amendment to “militarize” the border of the United States with Mexico and the issue was too important to ask him to hang up. When at last he did, we found out about the negotiation that had occurred behind closed doors.

In exchange for securing enough Republican votes to legalize the majority of the 11 million undocumented, the Democrats would have to sell their souls to the devil, as the Mexican saying goes. The agreement includes increasing the number of border patrol agents on the border from 21,000 to 41,000, completing construction of 700 miles of wall between the two countries, putting into practice at a national level the employment verification program known as e-verify, and using the latest technology (like drones) to monitor the border.

 ‘Militarization’ is not exactly the right term because the agreement doesn’t send US soldiers to patrol border with Mexico. But it includes some harsh tactics that are only used between enemy nations. In fact, various private contractors that worked for the American military in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are now pursuing new contracts on the Mexican border. That is where the money is.

This is undoubtedly the most drastic series of measures in history for physically separating two countries. That is why the absolute silence of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in this debate is so surprising. The passivity and negligence of his government is incomprehensible; it is as if this had nothing to do with him, as if it were not going to seriously affect millions of Mexicans.

This is not done between neighbors. Mexico is not being treated like one of the principal trading partners of the US. With this agreement, it appears as if the two nations are fighting. It’s terrible to return to the epoch of building walls.

The Peña Nieto government lacks imagination to propose migration agreements like that of the European Union, or at the very least, the audacity and temerity of Vicente Fox to ask for a new migration treaty with the United States. What Mexico needs are more visas for its workers in the north, not more US agents that arrest the poorest of Mexicans in the deserts and mountains.

The US senators that devised this border agreement, clearly, did not want narcoviolence from Mexico to cross into their country, nor did they want to run the risk of a terrorist sneaking through the border. After a complicated, long, and difficult negotiation on immigration reform, they also did not want their country to again fill with undocumented immigrants in a few years.

I understand why these US senators did this. The message they received from the Latino community en the past presidential elections is that they had to move forward with immigration reform and a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented people, no matter the cost. And this is exactly what they did. Now we cannot hold it against them. The Democrats are sacrificing almost everything so that Republicans in the Senate approve an immigration reform bill and so the project passes in the House of Representatives.

The senators Schumer, Menendez, Bennet, Durbin and the Republican from Arizona, Jeff Flake, were very candid with me. No, this was not the agreement that they would have wanted. But immigration reform is a negotiation, not the directive of a single party. Lesson: one does not win what one deserves but only what one negotiates.

Of course, all these deals can change, or even be rejected up to the moment of voting. But the intention is already clear and the message is written on the wall: on the border it’s a heavy hand, not cooperation.

Finally, the principal loser in all this is Mexico. The US is shutting the door in its face and it isn’t reacting. Its ministers and diplomats appear not to understand how things work in the US. Here you knock on doors, lobby Congress, look for influence, use propaganda, appear in the media, and make noise. The Peña Nieto government has not done any of this and there are the consequences: more miles of fence and thousands of more agents to arrest Mexicans.

And the winners, I think, are the undocumented immigrants. It is unimaginable how many people are fighting for them! The reform advances and these immigrants are closer than ever to legalization. It is at an extremely high cost and with binational consequences that will last decades, but their voice is being heard.”