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What Can the Next President of Mexico Offer Her Constituents in the United States?

Ian Scholer

Both Claudia Sheinbaum and Xóchitl Gálvez have gone on tour in the United States since their campaigns began, both courting the votes of the millions of Mexican nationals living on the northern side of the border. The National Electoral Institute (INE) has continued to expand the ways that Mexican nationals can vote while abroad, hoping to both increase turnout and make Mexican nationals feel more connected to their country of origin despite living in the United States and, in the case of people without authorized immigration status, being unable to visit Mexico and subsequently return to their home in the US.

The discourse of the Morena government has done far more to recognize Mexican nationals than previous governments have. Both Morena’s founder, President Andres Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), and its current presidential candidate, Sheinbaum, have praised emigrants for their contributions to the Mexican economy in the form of remittances, while also celebrating that more and more migrants have been returning to Mexico in the past decade. This discourse is in line with the general emphasis that Morena has on centering the most economically vulnerable. Mexicans who leave for the United States without authorized immigrant status tend to be those seeking to escape economic precarity, making them an important part of the population that Morena was founded on trying to reach.

While the recognition and praise as “Heroes Paisanos” (“Compatriot Heroes”) is nice and might in and of itself be helpful for winning consular votes, what concrete benefits can the Mexican government offer its emigrant constituents? Expansion of consular services can go a long way without causing much political controversy. Mexican consulates already offer a much more expansive set of services than any other country with comparable numbers of immigrants in the United States, specifically when it comes to monitoring and supporting Mexican nationals in their interactions with US law enforcement, but getting a passport or consular ID appointment can feel impossible. Not having a valid photo ID presents a wide array of impediments to basic mobility and access to services, and for many Mexican nationals without immigration status in the US, a passport or consular ID is their only option. Resources invested in expanding access to these appointments can provide a simple but necessary lifeline for unauthorized immigrants who do not have another way to acquire a valid photo ID.

Recently, however, AMLO has been pushing for far more ambitious and impactful plans. His government has cooperated extensively with the Biden Administration on matters ranging from accepting people who have been removed from the United States and securitizing the Mexican-Guatemalan border, and is now seeking a broad package of benefits from the US in exchange. Among his ideas are a $20 billion Marshall Plan-style investment in Latin America, the removal of the Cuban Blockade and sanctions on Venezuela, and, most consequentially for migrants, a mass immigration status regularization program for people from Latin America who have been living and working in the United States for 10 years or more, commonly known as amnesty.

As far-fetched as any form of amnesty seems in the current US political environment, relief for unauthorized immigrants who meet certain requirements is an idea that has been present throughout the history of immigration policy. Traditionally, amnesty has been offered as a counterweight to increases in enforcement in other areas of immigration law, as was the case in the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act that granted a path to Permanent Residence and subsequently Citizenship to almost three million qualifying immigrants. Since then, narrower forms of permanent or temporary legal forgiveness of unauthorized status have taken effect to protect certain nationalities or, in the case of DACA, people who were brought to the country as children, from deportation. These more recent protections have been the result of administrative adjustments and have not been codified by Congress, meaning they remain vulnerable to changes in administration or challenges in the courts. In the years since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2003 and the placement of immigration enforcement within it, dramatically increasing securitization and detention of immigrants have far outpaced any new forms of relief. The result has been a bloated system that inflicts more punishment for lesser offenses at enormous human and economic costs, enriching security contractors and smugglers while cutting off opportunities for immigrants to build lives for themselves through formal channels.

It is long past time to counter the mass securitization of immigration policy with new paths to authorized status, and the Morena government has every right to continue to use its leverage to press for amnesty wherever possible. Beyond the obvious humanitarian benefits to the recipients of regularized immigration status, amnesty has a host of benefits for both the US and Mexico as a whole. Immigration from Mexico to the US has also been hovering around a net-zero rate for years. Many more Mexican nationals would be free to go back and forth if they knew that they were not jeopardizing their ability to re-enter the United States by doing so, enabling them to contribute to their communities on both sides of the border. Authorized status would also allow Mexican nationals to legally work in the United States, which would increase both formal domestic production in the US and potential remittances that boost the Mexican economy.

If they continue to push for this relief until some form of it is granted, AMLO and Sheinbaum will succeed in widely expanding not only their party’s voter base but also their economic and cultural impact as Mexican nationals in the United States are afforded the opportunity to formally contribute to the well-being of both nations. 

About the Author

Ian Scholer

Ian Scholer

Paralegal, Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition
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Mexico Institute

The Mexico Institute seeks to improve understanding, communication, and cooperation between Mexico and the United States by promoting original research, encouraging public discussion, and proposing policy options for enhancing the bilateral relationship. A binational Advisory Board, chaired by Luis Téllez and Earl Anthony Wayne, oversees the work of the Mexico Institute.   Read more