Mexico could be a factor

An unexpected factor in the presidential election this year might not come from a primary. Instead, Mexico President Felipe Calderon might play that role. Calderon’s mid-February visit to the United States could set the stage.

He is scheduled to meet with immigration reform leaders in New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago. Calderon will reveal at that time his strategy for approaching policymakers concerning migrant rights. He will also meet with key legislators on the issues. In these encounters, he could become a factor in the U.S. election.

Calderon’s U.S. visit comes a week after Super Tuesday, after the primaries in 24 states will have decided more than half of the Democratic and 41 percent of Republican delegates to their nominating conventions. The nominees should be known by then, or at least the field narrowed to the final few.

The cities Calderon will visit are away from Washington’s shadow. Without that hovering specter, friendly encounters might be possible with the people broadly referred to as “legislators” with whom he plans to meet.

Calderon’s visit was announced four months after a similar tour was called off when disgruntled migrant leaders complained Mexico failed to support their efforts. Some of this leadership had been responsible for the 2006 immigration reform protests over the punitive immigration legislation authored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis. It generated one of the largest demonstrations in U.S. history, but they led to a legislative thud.

Local immigrant leaders have called on consular help from their home countries about matters concerning legal status, human rights, workplace abuses and family break-ups when U.S. officials deport heads of households.

Humanitarian groups on both sides of the border have expressed alarm over the 437 lives lost last year by people trying to cross into the United States, mostly in unauthorized places.

In mid-November, Calderon exhorted the U.S. presidential candidates to stop holding Mexican migrants hostage by their references in hyperbolic campaign speech. Addressing the advisory committee of the Institute of Mexicans Abroad, he rhetorically called out for recognition of the contributions Mexican workers make to the U.S. economy.

There, Calderon first disclosed his government would undertake expanded actions to cast Mexican workers in a more favorable light before the U.S. public. He also announced an initiative to provide humanitarian assistance to children who have been deported to Mexico from the United States.

He said candidates running for the U.S. presidency ought to rise to the occasion and put forward their best proposals for understanding and resolving problems that involve migrating workers.

Traditionally, Mexican migrants have turned to their government for consular help on labor rights issues. This dates as far back as the Roosevelt administration during World War II. But labor issues were specifically excluded from the North American Free Trade Agreement to placate organized labor.

Since the issue went unresolved in that treaty, the informal flow of workers has continued unabated across the border. The trade matter, became a labor issue, and has now transformed into one about illegal immigration.

This gives the Mexican president a legitimate opportunity — an unprecedented one — to go directly to community leaders and nominees.

Calderon appears to let the change get factored into the equation if any reform is coming. Given that all candidates running for president claim this is the year for change, this must be what it looks like.

By preparing to meet with immigrant leaders about a reform strategy further suggests Calderon recognizes the impact the 2006 demonstrations had. By taking his agenda to “legislators,” he is creating an opportunity for party nominees to help defuse a potentially volatile situation if they agree to a reform agenda.

The Democratic and Republican candidates, whoever they turn out to be, could mitigate the immigration issue and avoid a misstep when they try to court the issue-sensitive, and crucial, Latino vote.

It remains to be seen which candidates will see this as a genuine opportunity, instead of a chance to bob and weave, fret and run.

Ironically, the political opportunity is not home-grown, but comes from abroad.

(Jose de la Isla writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service and may be contacted by e-mail at joseisla3(at)