By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
MEXICO CITY, Jan. 7 -- Mexico's foreign minister accused U.S. presidential candidates Monday of worsening an already "adverse climate" for Mexican migrants and vowed to redouble efforts to protect the rights of her country's citizens living and working in the United States.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of a conference for Mexican diplomats here, Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa Cantellano said, "Being effective in the defense and support of the migrants implies treating them the same way whether they are in Mexico or outside of the country." She did not specify what steps would be taken.
Mexican officials have said they are concerned that migrants are being treated unfairly in workplaces and, in some cases, being denied public services. The presidential campaign has frequently inflamed tensions on issues related to immigration.
"Given the adverse climate that prevails for the Mexican community in the United States, aggravated by the electoral debate in that country, we also have to give particular attention to the problems confronted by our migrants," Espinosa Cantellano told an audience of hundreds of Mexican diplomats.
Her remarks were the latest in a series of high-profile jabs at U.S. presidential candidates and lawmakers by top Mexican officials, and represent a dramatic rhetorical shift in Mexico's capital.
"Times are changing," Lorenzo Meyer, a historian in Mexico City, said in an interview. "In the past, when Mexico's foreign policy was based on a principle of nonintervention, it was a taboo for Mexican leaders to talk about internal affairs of other countries, especially the United States."
In November, Mexican President Felipe Calder¿n called migrants "hostages" of the presidential campaign and urged candidates not to use them as talking points. Calder¿n also criticized the U.S. Senate in June, calling its rejection of an immigration reform measure "a grave error."
Calder¿n has said that his administration will finance a media campaign to highlight immigrant success stories as a way of improving the public image of Mexican migrants in the United States. Espinosa Cantellano seemed to reinforce that point Monday, saying, "Part of our function is to emphasize and underline the great economic and social contributions of our fellow citizens to the communities in which they live and work."
Mexicans are particularly concerned that a change in administration in the United States could lead to even tougher border enforcement, preventing millions of Mexicans who cannot find work at home from migrating to the United States, Meyer said. More than 6 million undocumented Mexicans live in the United States, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
"For Calder¿n's government, it's extremely important that Mexicans are able to continue migrating -- it's the country's escape valve. There's no way Mexico can produce enough jobs for all its working-age residents," Meyer said.
The Mexican media closely follow the U.S. presidential campaign, especially the debate about immigration. During Sunday's Fox News presidential forum, Republican candidate Mitt Romney accused Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) of favoring amnesty for undocumented immigrants, which McCain denied.
On Monday, as Espinosa Cantellano was making her remarks, the widely read Web site of the newspaper El Universal carried a piece asserting that McCain had become the target of "continuous attacks" for supporting immigration reform and that immigration is Romney's "Achilles' heel."