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SF Chron Masterful. Other Make More Maddening Mexico Media Mistakes

23 May 2006

Best article yet:

Carolyn Lochhead, of the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote what I think is the BEST ARTICLE YET on Mexican immigration to the U.S. in last Sunday’s edition (Give and take across the border 1 in 7 Mexican workers migrates — most send money home). Is Lochhead the only one to ever notice the obvious:

The migration is driven in part, experts say, by the large income differentials between the two nations. A rural Latin American migrant may earn 10 times in the United States what he or she can earn at home.

More highlights:

Migration is profoundly altering Mexico and Central America. Entire rural communities are nearly bereft of working-age men. The town of Tendeparacua, in the Mexican state of Michoacan, had 6,000 residents in 1985, and now has 600, according to news reports. In five Mexican states, the money migrants send home
exceeds locally generated income, one study found.

Arriving in small monthly transfers of $100 and $200, remittances have formed a vast river of “migra-dollars” that now exceeds lending by multilateral development agencies and foreign direct investment combined, according to the Inter-American Development Bank.

The money Mexican migrants send home almost equals the U.S. foreign aid budget for the entire world, said Arturo Valenzuela, director of the Center for Latin American Studies at Georgetown University and former head of Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council during the Clinton administration.

“Has anybody in the raging immigration debate over the last few weeks thought, could it be good for the fundamental interests of the United States … to serve as something of a safety valve for those that can’t be employed in Mexico?”

But an equally intense pull comes from U.S. employers, including private households, who employ large numbers of illegal immigrants as nannies, housekeepers and caregivers, said Jeffery Passel, a senior demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center.

The U.S. information economy has created a split labor market, one with a powerful demand for high- and low-skilled workers, economists say.

Mexico is aging too, which will eventually cause migration to ebb. Its population trails the U.S. age profile by 30 years. By then, demographers expect Mexico may be importing labor.

Given the predominance of Mexicans and Central Americans in illegal immigration to the United States, Papademetriou wonders why the Senate’s guest worker program would be open to all comers, if it is intended to provide temporary workers for the U.S. market.

“If 60 percent of our illegal immigration comes from a single country, and another 20 percent comes through that country, logic would say the vast majority of visas should go to the country of origin,” he said. “The last thing
you would do is create a global temporary worker program, as if somehow we should need Bangladeshis or Russians to pick our fruits and vegetables.” Targeted visas could also leverage Mexican cooperation in undertaking politically difficult reforms, and would be more likely to keep guest workers temporary.

Given that Mexico is the second-largest U.S. trading partner, the two nations’ economic integration is well under way, and labor is part of that, experts say.

I can’t find anything to carp about with Ms. Lochhart. I carped (ever so slightly) at Bruce C. Swaffield, who wrote an article on the need for journalists to cover Mexico in the Society of Professional Journalist’s publication Quill, managed to mangle a few facts about the country. Nothing serious — the usual “Cinco de Mayo is the major national holiday” type error. Dr. Swafford and I exchanged a pleasant e-mail about this. He is a professor of journalism at Regent University, an institute best known for its association with televangalist Pat Roberson. I think Professor Swoffield was beset by fact-checking gremlins … no need to call in an exorcist to repel printer’s devils!

The Associated Press’ Mark Stevenson, on the other hand, has by-lined two different stories in the last month, both comparing Mexican and U.S. immigration policies containing serious mistakes.

In “Mexico Bars Immigrants From Thousands of Jobs”(not a by-lined version, but the first I found “googling”) Stevenson and the AP again compare Mexican and U.S. immigration policy (the gist of the story is some sensitve municipal jobs, and most political offices are not open to non-native citizens). Again, the issue is apples and oranges (Mexico has never primarily been a nation of immigrants, and its independence movement was largely precipiated by the Spanish policy of reserving government jobs for non-Mexicans). The story has its faults, but it’s passable.

In his April 19 story, Few Protections for Migrants to Mexico, he claimed “Mexican law classifies undocumented immigration as a felony punishable by up to two years in prison, although deportation is more common.” Whether Stevenson or a careless editor is to blame, this created an uproar in the United States (especially in the right-wing blogosphere) and served as justification for congressional calls for draconian immigration legislation.

The big problem: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A FELONY IN MEXICO. Mexico uses Code Law (“Napoleonic Code”) and not the Anglo-Saxon system. Felonies only exist in the Anglo-Saxon system. Code systems divide crimes into broad categories (crimes against the state and/or community; crimes against the family; crimes against individuals). Overstaying ones visa, or illegally immigrating into Mexico is a crime against the state, but then so is not licensing your dog.

For that matter, a lot of crimes, both in the U.S. and in Mexico (and everywhere else, for that matter) can land you in the slammer for up to two years. But they seldom do, and for what it’s worth, the only people I’ve ever met who were deported from Mexico (besides Guatemalan farm workers taking jobs from Mexican farm workers) were deported for something besides illegal entry… theft, drug offenses, endangering the welfare of a child, that sort of thing. The only exception might be the British soldiers suspected of espionage (actually it was hilarious), but countries in similar straits would find some way of tossing those James Bond wannabes out.

When I pointed out that Stevenson was running several stories on the same theme, and making errors, one person claimed Stevenson was a long-time Mexico reporter, and I’d just have to accept what he said was true. The source for that remark isn’t thought of as particularly reliable, but I did my best to check. As far as I can tell, Mark Stevenson has only been reporting from Mexico for the last year or so. His by-lines from before mid-2005 are from Guatemala and Haiti. Another person thought I was suggesting right-wing bias on the part of the Associated Press. Not that I’m aware of. Sloppy thinking and slovely editing aren’t limited to the far right.

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