SAN DIEGO — Stampeding recklessly into the crystal shop of U.S.-Mexico relations, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said recently that he is “indignant” at how his neighbor is behaving.
That makes two of us. As a Mexican-American whose loyalty falls on the “American” side of the hyphen, I’m feeling a little indignant myself – about Pena Nieto.
The Mexican president told Univision, the Spanish-language television network, he is upset that the Obama administration is deporting so many Mexican migrants. The Mexican president claimed that he brought up the issue when he met with President Obama at a recent summit of North American leaders in Mexico. Asked if he was angry about the deportations, Pena Nieto said: “Yes it makes me indignant, and it makes Mexicans indignant. There’s a lack of conscience, something which shouldn’t only alert and worry Mexicans, it should also worry the American government and they should take up the issue.”
That sound you hear, from the vicinity of Washington, D.C., is the crumbling of any chance that Congress will pass immigration reform this year. That cause was all but lost. Pena Nieto’s comments don’t help.
Immigration reform matters to Arnold Torres. The Sacramento-based policy analyst is a Mexican-American – or more precisely a self-described “Chicano” – who was born in the United States, as were his parents, while his grandparents were born in Mexico. Torres’ worldview is unmistakably American, and he thinks that his ancestral homeland doesn’t get enough scrutiny.
“You have to look at why people move,” Torres said. “It’s impossible to only blame the receiving country. You have to look at the sending country and what they’re doing or not doing that winds up pushing these people out.”
Besides, let’s be clear: The folks the Obama administration deported in the past five years were in the country illegally. Pena Nieto should at least acknowledge this fact, especially given that Mexico is notoriously harsh on immigrants who try to cross its southern border illegally from Central America.
Yet, the Mexican president is also correct in sensing that something is amiss. Since Obama took office and set out to ease the strain that he and other Democratic Party restrictionists believe is put on working-class Americans by illegal immigration, the Department of Homeland Security has become an overachiever in the federal bureaucracy.
Nearly 2 million deportations, and hundreds of thousands of broken families, is nothing to be proud of. You don’t make history by conducting business as usual. You get there by instituting monthly quotas, roping local cops into the enforcement of immigration laws, and deporting people whom we used to leave alone – such as victims of domestic violence and tamale vendors standing outside big-box retail stores.
I can say that. But Pena Nieto can’t. His job essentially disqualifies him from criticizing the United States for how it treats a group of people who fled a country that didn’t want them when they left – and certainly doesn’t want them back now.
This brouhaha is not about concern for millions of Mexican migrants who left for greener pastures. It’s about concern for the Mexican economy, which Pena Nieto wants to keep in the black. The country is going through a fragile recovery. Its leaders are worried that Mexico’s workforce can’t absorb another million or so deportees from the United States – a benchmark that Obama should, at the current rate of deportations, easily reach before he leaves office.
Pena Nieto should worry about fixing Mexico. He could be tackling institutional corruption, expanding trade, alleviating income inequality and providing jobs so his own people don’t have to venture north and suffer at the hands of those cold and heartless Americans.
“What Mexico does to push out its own people is completely ignored,” Torres said. “Mexico is at the root of why so many people are even in the United States to begin with, exposing themselves to being deported. Yet, it gets a pass. There is nothing but ironies here.”
As someone whose grandfather was born in Chihuahua but migrated legally to the United States during the Mexican Revolution, I see those ironies. My loyalty and gratitude are already with the Stars and Stripes. Still, I feel like doubling down on those things when I see the president of Mexico summoning the nerve to wag his finger at the United States and demand that Americans treat better the same migrants whom Mexico abandoned.
That’s what it really means to lack conscience – and shame.
Ruben Navarrette is a columnist for U-T San Diego. Reach him at email@example.com.