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One of the most frequent arguments of supporters of Arizona's anti-immigration law is that it doesn't do anything different than what Mexico does with undocumented Central American migrants, or what most Latin American countries do with their own illegal immigrants. It's a powerful argument, and partially true.
Legally, it's a deceiving contention, because Arizona's law is much more likely to lead to racial discrimination than Mexico's. In real life, however, Mexico tolerates abuses against undocumented migrants from Central and South America that are just as bad, if not worse.
Let's start with the laws. A recent
Asked about these punishments during his visit to Washington last week, Mexican President Felipe Calderón told
Judging from what senior Mexican officials told me, there are two key differences between Mexico's current law and Arizona's:
First, in Mexico, being an undocumented immigrant is not a crime, nor a misdemeanor, but an administrative transgression. This means that in Mexico, unlike in Arizona, nobody can be sent to jail for breaking immigration rules. Those who violate immigration rules have to pay a fine, and can only be deported if they are caught by immigration authorities.
Second, in Mexico, police can't ask about the migration status of a person, even if that person has been stopped for lawful reasons. Mexico's police can only notify immigration authorities when immigrants volunteer, for instance, that they are illegally in the country on their way to the United States.
By comparison, the Arizona law requires that the police request immigration papers from people it stops for whatever other lawful reason.
Supporters of the Arizona law also say that the state is much more generous toward undocumented immigrants than Mexico.
"In Mexico, you could not be able to get food stamps, education services or show up at an emergency room if you don't have immigration papers," says George W. Grayson, a professor at
Mexican officials and many human rights activists dispute that, but accept that undocumented immigrants in Mexico are routinely extorted by local police agents and human traffickers.
According to the report, kidnappings of migrants for ransom reached a record high last year, with nearly 10,000 migrants being abducted for more than six months. Almost half of the victims who were interviewed said public officials were involved in their kidnappings.
In addition, about 60 percent of migrant women and girls experience sexual violence, it reads.
José Miguel Vivanco, head of the Americas department of the
My opinion: I agree. Arizona has just passed a bad law that opens the doors to racial discrimination, whereas Mexico has passed a good law that fights racial discrimination, but the country doesn't do much to stop police abuses against undocumented immigrants.
Mexico's mistreatment of Central American migrants should be no excuse for laws like Arizona's. And the Arizona law's abuses should be no excuse for Mexico's failure to crack down on its police forces for human rights abuses against undocumented immigrants. Both are wrong, and both should be denounced.
Latin America: Mexico has its own 'Arizona' problem | Latin America