By Fernando Oaxaca
Amnesty, to illegal immigrants, says in one word, "we ignore your tresspasses; come out of hiding; join our family!". This past weekend the news included talk of amnesty in ongoing U.S.-Mexico immigration negotiations.
Some stunning details are emerging. President George W. Bush has authorized a team from his administration to examine a range of legalization status and amnesty options for new guest workers and the millions of undocumented Mexicans currently living and working in the United States without papers or legal status. Secretary of State Colin Powell, aided by Attorney General John Ashcroft, heads the American team working with a parallel group from the administration of Mexican President, Vicente Fox.
As U.S. and Mexican economies soften, near-term amnesty within any proposals for solving immigration problems between our two nations seems patently premature. Yet, the two presidential teams seem anxious, rushed and possibly understaffed as they study the very complex and varied issues involved. Certainly, Americans who will pick up the unavoidable tab, are way too uninformed to assess possible effects of new policies. Above all, some public role in the deliberations seems fair. To present the electorate with a fait accompli in this otherwise legislatively busy year, seems most unwise. Though, Congress will have its own review later and, as usual, uncoordinated.
The illegal Mexican population in the U.S. has filtered across our borders during the 12 years since the amnesty program of the late 80's. It includes those Mexican undocumented who came here before that amnesty but did not qualify or complete the process for different reasons. Numbering between 3 million to 6 million, most of these Mexican citizens are employed adults, many have U.S. born children. They pay sales taxes, property taxes (in their rent) and payroll taxes, unless they are in the underground cash-based economy.
Many forces are applying political pressure to legalize these Mexican illegal workers and residents in the U.S. This year, Mexico has an unprecedented U.S. amnesty promotion campaign via President Fox, his pushy Secretary of Foreign Relations, Jorge Castaneda, and a key aide to Mr. Fox, American born Juan Hernandez, his "Mexicans Abroad" representative.
A second advocacy effort for amnesty has been underway for some time by the Catholic Church, and the usually anti-Republican policy, "pro-Latino, apolitical" groups and individuals, that in past years has focused on civil rights matters. In addition, the Congressional Latino Caucus has gone so far as to ask President Fox to add to their pressure on President Bush for immigrant "rights". Joining the amnesty chorus has been the membership-starved AFL-CIO (mostly in the last few years), local affiliates from the Service Industry that, represent janitors, hotel and restaurant service employees, farm and ranch workers.
Lately, the loudest in this chorus are the Mexicans. Showing his usual in-your-face posture, Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda told a Latino Journalist convention in late June, "It's the whole enchilada or nothing, we can't slice it one piece at a time," (sliced enchiladas?). He seemed to offer a preview of his negotiating stance for the discussions with the American team headed by Colin Powell. He listed the Mexican demands as including unimpeded, repetitive border crossing privileges, driving licenses, local college tuition rates for guest workers and as yet un-legalized immigrants, etc.!
Not to be outdone is Fox aide, Dr. Juan Hernandez, Fort Worth native, who earned his doctorate at TCU. At one time, he ran a U.S.-Mexico Studies project at the University of Texas branch in Dallas. Interviewed after a recent speech in Chicago, he tried to meld Mexican-Americans, Mexicans in the U.S. and hybrids like himself into one single-minded group on amnesty and immigrant rights. "Those who don't like it, I'm sorry. But there are 20 million of us," Hernandez said. "There are 20 million people that have one foot here and one foot there." Finally, President Fox, when asked about the Powell team proposals, said, "he seeks as many rights as possible, for as many Mexican immigrants as possible and as soon as possible." These words by President Fox were also used by Castaneda weeks ago in Phoenix to his Latino journalist audience. The Mexican rhetoric is obviously well coordinated. Usually Americans, who critique or suggest something involving Mexican policy, are labeled interventionists! For Fox & Co. in the U.S., though, it seems OK.
So what should President Bush do? The D.C. media says that the Powell/Ashcroft report goes to Mr. Bush in late August. Is there a legislative proposal already? Is there a rush? Is the Mexican propaganda barrage working? And how about the other side? Unsurprisingly, Pat Buchanan has chimed in accusing President Fox of "victimizing" President Bush. Senator Phil Gramm of Texas hates the idea of a major amnesty. On Fox News, Trent Lott waffled. American blacks, especially in places like Los Angeles, Florida and New York, will complain. Even Senate Leader Tom Daschle expressed disdain Monday, stating, "I am troubled by this distinction that has been drawn between Mexicans and everybody else," Was this code for "This is probably no-good since I didn't propose it and there is nothing here for our real Democratic constituency, the blacks."?
Whatever happens, Dr. Hernandez should know that most U.S. born Mexican-Americans do not, as he says, have one foot in the U.S. and one in Mexico. They are first, loyal Americans. U.S. Latinos are emerging economically, they are now being heard by both political parties and they feel like taxpayers who have been cheated. Their schools are lousy, there is pitifully insufficient affordable housing, they are being hosed by gasoline and utility prices, college is unachievable for many of their kids, business and mortgage loans are tougher for them, and their small businesses are overtaxed and over-regulated.
Our poor citizen lack health insurance or wait to use overcrowded local civic health facilities. In California, at least, unemployment is rising, the state budget was drained by the power shortage, school funding been cut and the overloaded snails-pace freeways barely relieve the lack of transit.
What will amnesty or Castanedas immigrant "rights" do for us, the humane and sympathetic but fiscally overloaded and service-limited majority Latino community? We don't need green cards; but too many of us are still in line for the American dream. Will the immigration solutions further delay solving the existing problems on our side of the border?
We hope the Bush immigration team runs its ideas past us, the Latino taxpaying citizens and legal residents. Let's study and learn from the 1987-89 amnesty which was to solve many problems. And please propose the new ideas in phases and move in fully funded and solid steps. Leave no room or excuses for opponents to formulate Proposition 187-type counter-moves. Such initiatives breed discrimination and ill-feeling against all Latinos.
Remember Mr. President, your full tax cut takes ten years. This Presidency most likely has 7 1/2 years to go; No matter what Vicente or his U.S. allies say, there really is no immigration panic!
(Fernando Oaxaca  has been heavily involved in Republican Party state and national affairs. He is a Director of HispanicVista.com a latino oriented internet news site. This commantery first appeared in their 7/16/01 internet edition.).