Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Why Immigration Isn't That Easy

Today I'm playing Devil's Advocate.

There is obviously a lot of frustration and anger, among conservatives over the President's actions on immigration. I'm not going to tell you I approve of the course pursued by the White House, but there is at least one thing to consider in all this: Mexico's Presidential election. It matters a great deal to the US.

On July 2, Mexican voters will choose a new President to succeed Vicente Fox. The three candidates are Felipe Calderon, the nominee of Fox's National Action Party (PAN), Andres Manual Lopez Obrador (or 'AMLO'), the candidate of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), and Roberto Madrazo of the long-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI - one of my favorite among many silly Mexican phrases).

While it had long been thought that the election would come down to AMLO vs. Madrazo, Calderon has been rising in the polls, and now appears to have a narrow lead. Jorge Castaneda, a bright former Mexican Foreign Minister, offered a good op-ed in yesterday's LA Times, talking about why Calderon could win, and why we should care.

To the extent that it's possible to make a prediction as to which candidate would be best for US interests, it seems that the US should be rooting for Calderon. The PAN is Mexico's most conservative and pro-US party, and actually favors market solutions to economic problems. And as frustrating as it has been (particularly for conservatives) to deal with Vicente Fox, AMLO could be far worse.

As Mayor of Mexico City, AMLO was a liberal with a practical side. He clearly pursued a socialist agenda, but knew that at the end of the day, pure leftism would ruin the city. Castaneda says that as a Presidential candidate however, AMLO has been unable to separate himself from the communist and socialists who created the PRD, and who are still its prime movers. The Economist does a good job on this as well; we really don't know what AMLO would do as President. He could be another Vicente Fox, or more in the style of the old-line PRI Presidents, or another Hugo Chavez. Dick Morris clearly believes that AMLO would be a Chavez ally, and notes that AMLO's Presidential campaign appears to be receiving funds from Chavez.

Why is the White House so soft on Mexican immigration? Many analysts have cited the importance to Fox and the PAN of getting the US to agree to 'comprehensive immigration reform' (ie, an amnesty). Here are a few examples. The amnesty is critical to Fox and the PAN because remittances sent from Mexican immigrants in the US to their families in Mexico represent a huge chunk of Mexico's economy. Remittances have long been the second-largest 'sector' of Mexico's economy, but they have now reportedly surpassed oil earnings, to become the largest single part of the Mexican economy.

To the extent that AMLO really acts as a Chavez ally, it would be a disaster to American interests - not least because Mexico and Chavez's Venezuela together provide about 25% of the oil that the US imports annually. And if illegal immigration into the US has continued unabated in recent years - when Mexico has actually seen some economic growth - imagine what it will be like if the Mexican economy collapses under a leftist regime.

Want a concrete example of why a known quantity like Calderon would be better than AMLO, who might not be bad at all? Well, the US NEEDS Mexico to fix its nationalized energy sector. Right now Pemex - Mexico's state-run oil company - is in a state of collapse. This is not often recognized. It needs an infusion of funds, and private investment is the best and most likely source. Regrettably, that's not allowed under the Mexican constitution. AMLO and Madrazo are firmly committed to maintaining the status quo, and only the PAN has shown a willingness to support a constitutional amendment for private investment. If Pemex continues to decline, the US will have to turn to other sources to replace that petroleum. Also, a Pemex collapse would be a huge drag on the Mexican economy. What would the ramifications be for the US?

I am all for immigration enforcement, but I do not believe it is as easy and straightfoward as others have suggested.

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