Mexican Economic Woes Complicate Illegal Alien Debate

By Sarah Larkins | July 7, 2008 | 8:23 PM EDT

( - Charges of election fraud have heightened tensions over Mexico's future as American politicians debate what to do about illegal immigrants arriving from Mexico. But while the Mexican presidential election results are headed to court, it's time for the U.S. to adopt a different approach toward its neighbor to the south, according to a Latin American expert from Georgetown University.

Instead of linking illegal immigration to America's national security interests, U.S. politicians should be more concerned about how an unstable Mexican economy will affect those national security interests, said Arturo Valenzuela, director of the Center for Latin American Studies at Georgetown. He spoke at a panel discussion at the Center for American Progress on Friday.

"We have all recognized that [the United States] has vital interest in Mexico, but do we think about Mexico and the United States strategically, as we may in other places in the world? We do not," Valenzuela said. "A whole host of domestic policies and other kinds of considerations come into the bag and it makes it very difficult to think about all interests in regard to Mexico."

The immigration debate is a clear example of this, Valenzuela said.

"Who in the immigration debate has stood up and said, 'Wait a minute, Mexico's going through one of the complex transitions that is taking place in the world today. It is in our fundamental interests that Mexico be a stable, prosperous country in the future," he said.

"How can we address that and where does the immigration issue come into play? We're not even asking that question."

The illegal immigration crisis in the U.S. involves not only the individuals seeking entry into America it involves the benefits that the Mexican economy derives from that immigration. Many illegal immigrants in the U.S. send money that they earn in the states back home to Mexico, where it is spent.

But Valenzuela argued that American politicians need to consider the alternative.

"In fact, some people are down on the border right now saying, 'Close the border, close the border,'" he said. "Why? For our national security -- well when is our national security most at stake: [when] some people are infiltrating into the country or ... [when] Mexico becomes a destabilized country where the rule of law ... cannot take place?

Mexico's stability is further complicated by the still unresolved July 2 presidential election in which the conservative candidate from the ruling party - Felipe Calderon - apparently squeaked out a victory margin of six-tenths of 1 percent over leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Obrador charges that election fraud took place and he is asking Mexico's electoral court that all of the nation's 41 million votes be recounted. Calderon cannot be declared the president-elect until the court decides and it has until Sept. 6 to rule.

As for the debate in the U.S. over illegal immigration, President Bush favors legislation that would grant many illegal aliens guest worker privileges leading to citizenship.

However, many conservative politicians want immigration reform to concentrate on border enforcement first. As Cybercast News Service previously reported, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former U.S. Education Secretary William Bennett and other conservative leaders wrote President Bush in June, stating that "we need proof that enforcement (both at the border and in the interior) is successful before anything else happens."

At Friday's panel discussion, former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico James Jones said a focus on Mexico's internal problems needs to be combined with an emphasis on preventing American employers from hiring illegal aliens.

"If we really were serious about stopping immigration, we would do two things: one, we would help Mexico develop the economic opportunities in its own country, and two, we would have tamper-proof identity cards for people in the United States and a very strict enforcement against employers," Jones said.

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