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Friday, December 02, 2005

Ambassador from Mexico

By John Valentine
President of the Utah Senate

Speaker Curtis and I were honored to spend a very interesting hour discussing immigration issues with Mexican Ambassador Carlos de Icaza and Mexican Consul Salvador Jiminez.

We found the Ambassador to be warm and engaging. He was friendly but he was also very candid, with a firm grasp of issues vital to the nation he represents. Consul Salvador Jimenez has always been equally helpful and competent. It is very easy, pleasant, and productive to engage in serious dialoge with individuals of that caliber.

The Ambassador shared some interesting facts with us and I don’t think he would mind my passing them along.

He said Mexico also has a porous border. Last year Mexico sent 205,000 people back to Central America. Pertaining to immigration he said Mexico is “a country of origin, transport, and destination.” Interestingly, he mentioned 1/3 of all Americans in Mexico are undocumented.

It will not always be this way, but the United States' economy is currently 15 times stronger than Mexico; our country is a magnet for those seeking greater opportunity. However, the U.S. only grants low-skilled workers 5,000 permanent visas per year (we give 68,000 for temporary agricultural employment). The demand for workers, however, is much, much higher. Frank Sherry, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum the United States requires 500,000 such workers.

The Ambassador recounted an experience in the Sonoran Desert of northern Mexico, where he met several people trying to cross the border in desperate need of water. One said he had a job waiting for him in New York City. The ambassador told him this is a long way from New York; surely there must be a better way. The man spoke of his family’s financial needs and said, "There is no other way for people like me."

Many aspects of border security are working very well. Many are not, and our border is not yet under control. One impediment to finding a solution to border problems is that all parties are not fully engaged with each other in finding a solution.

NCSL’s Regional Conference on Immigration and the States will be held on December 12th at the Colorado State Capitol in Denver. I will be joining colleagues from Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico to discuss these issues.

As always, I would love to have the benefit of our readers’ perspectives on these interesting, very difficult problems.

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