The Vicente Fox Show: Delegating White House policy to Mexico.

By Mark Krikorian on September 7, 2001

National Review, September 7, 2001

A good manager delegates responsibility. The president of the United States has to do the same, being the chief magistrate of a government with a budget of almost $2 trillion and more than 4 million civilian and military employees. In this administration, the formulation of U.S. immigration policy has also been delegated… to the government of Mexico.

This has been apparent for some time, but has become even more glaring during this week's state visit to Washington by Mexican President Vicente Fox. President Bush has been reaching out to Hispanics for more than a year now, since at least the Convencion del Partido Republicano in Philadelphia last summer. But mariachi music and bromides like "family values don't stop at the Rio Grande," while suitable for campaigning, are inadequate for governing. If the administration intended to pursue immigration as a high-profile issue, it at some point needed to offer specific policy initiatives. Unfortunately, as capable as the Bush team is in many areas, there is no one in a decision-making capacity in the administration who knows anything about immigration policy or politics.

The new Mexican government, on the other hand, has very specific and strongly held opinions about U.S. immigration policy; thus the White House's deference to the Fox administration in developing policy changes. The Mexican agenda includes four main elements, as outlined by Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda: amnesty for all Mexican illegals, establishment of a guestworker program for Mexican workers not already living here, an end to "border violence" (i.e., border enforcement by the U.S.), and an exemption from legal immigration quotas for Mexico. Castañeda said of this program, "It's the whole enchilada or nothing."

The Fox administration's intensity of opinion and the Bush administration's indifference to the details has meant that Mexico City is driving the agenda of the U.S.-Mexico Migration Working Group, which includes Secretary of State Powell and Attorney General Ashcroft. The main American contribution to the talks appears to be in offering strategies for getting Mexico's agenda accepted by a hostile U.S. Congress.

This hostility burst into the open in July, after the administration leaked the Bush/Fox objective of granting amnesty to millions of Mexican illegal aliens under the guise of a "temporary" worker program. GOP opposition caused the White House quickly to backpedal and try to lower expectations. Rather than unveiling a detailed proposal during Fox's visit this week, the administration said that only the principles of such a deal would be articulated. The president said, "There's going to be no amnesty." Secretary of State Powell said, "We are in no hurry. We have to do this right." Administration allies on Capitol Hill suggested that the issue couldn't be addressed until at least after the November 2002 mid-term elections.

Then, on Wednesday, Fox arrived in Washington and immediately sought to stiffen the Bush administration's resolve on amnesty; at the beginning of his state visit, standing next to Bush on the White House lawn, Fox issued a call to enact an illegal-alien amnesty by the end of this year. The move came as a complete surprise to the White House; spokesman Ari Fleischer said he didn't know what Fox was talking about, while the president and Attorney General Ashcroft initially refused to answer when asked about the new timetable.

But Fox's maneuver appears to have succeeded. President Bush said Thursday that "I want to accommodate my friend" and explicitly called for legalization — i.e., amnesty — for some or all of the 3 to 4 million Mexican illegals in the United States. Even the terminology employed by the White House defers to Mexico, with words like "undocumented" instead of "illegal," "legalization" instead of "amnesty," and "migration" instead of "immigration."

The high profile accorded this week's visit — the effusive praise for Fox, the extensive news coverage, the address to Congress, and fireworks — was perfectly appropriate; Mexico is America's most important foreign-policy concern. But our national interest conflicts with Mexico's in many ways, and an administration formulating its own immigration policy — rather than adopting someone else's — would attend to those interests. Apart from the dire consequences of enacting a guestworker program granting amnesty to millions of Mexican illegals, there are at least three areas where delegation of our immigration policy to Mexico is failing to serve American interests:

Dual citizenship. Fox has described himself as president of all 118 million Mexicans, the 100 million in Mexico plus all those of Mexican birth or ancestry in the United States — American citizens or not. This would just be nationalist blather, except for the fact that in 1998, Mexico passed a law permitting a form of dual citizenship, available not only to those born in Mexico who have become naturalized Americans, but even to native-born Americans of Mexican parentage. Because American citizenship is not ethnic but civic, based on loyalty to the Constitution, dual citizenship is the antithesis of our traditional ideal of immigrants becoming Americans. If the administration wants to pursue America's distinct interests, it needs to insist that any immigration deal with Mexico include a repeal of Mexico's dual citizenship law and a U.S. ban on dual citizenship.

Border control. Mexico has made a great show of beefing up enforcement on its southern border, so as to limit pass-through illegal immigration to the United States from Central America. Hypocritical as this may seem, it at least suggests that Mexico can patrol its border when it wants to. But, of course, Mexico has always rejected suggestions that it prevent illegal emigration to the United States, and the Fox administration is no exception. In fact, Mexico recently announced the establishment of additional "aid stations" to facilitate illegal crossing of its northern border. Negotiators pursuing American interests would explicitly connect any guestworker program with verifiable guarantees that Mexico will use all necessary means to prevent any illegal crossings into the United States.

Oil. Economist Irwin Stelzer wrote in July in The Weekly Standard that Mexico's collusion with OPEC in maintaining "monopoly oil prices" is "stifling economic growth in America." Instead of (or in addition to) drilling in Jonah Goldberg's favorite Alaskan wildlife refuge, it is in America's interest to lower oil prices by making an immigration agreement contingent on increased Mexican oil production. In Stelzer's words, "Before Bush strikes any deal to facilitate the free movement of labor, he should insist on a companion deal that facilitates the free movement of goods (oil from Mexico) and capital (dollars of investment in Mexico's oil resources)."

Even in the afterglow of the Vicente Fox Show, it's not too late for the Bush administration to develop its own immigration policy. The public clearly would prefer one that avoids amnesty for illegals and the admission of "temporary" workers — but even if such policies made sense, there are other American interests that need attending to.

Topics: Mexico