The Mexican Stance
Yet Mexican officials have claimed they cannot deter emigrants with coercion given the 1917 Constitution´s establishment of a right to exit the country, though that right is qualified within the constitution and, at previous periods in Mexican history, the government strongly discouraged emigration, even briefly using force to try to stop migrants from leaving without authorization during the Bracero program.
Former President Vicente Fox (2000-2006) made a migration accord with the United States a pillar of his foreign policy. A fundamental philosophical shift has taken place in the Secretariat of Foreign Relations (SRE) away from the "policy of no policy", in which Mexican authorities long turned a blind eye to massive unauthorized migration across its northern border, to a more active stance. Mexican officials do not want to repeat their lack of involvement in U.S. legislation like IRCA, whose debate they did not participate in based on the premise that Mexican intervention in sovereign U.S. policymaking would legitimate U.S. interventions in Mexican politics. High-level bilateral meetings in 2001, including a presidential meeting in Washington, DC on September 7, 2001, centered on the design of a new temporary-worker program, an increase in the number of visas issued to Mexicans, and regularization of unauthorized migrants in the United States. Four days later, the 9/11 attacks derailed the bilateral talks.
The U.S. Stance
In 2004, President George W. Bush announced a unilateral plan for dealing with unauthorized immigration. Although the plan was not meant to establish an accord with Mexico, any changes in U.S. law would disproportionately affect Mexico, since Mexicans account for more than half of the unauthorized immigrant population. The Bush proposal eventually evolved into the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, which failed to pass the Senate in June 2007. The bill would have provided a path to legalization for most of the unauthorized already living in the United States; increased spending on border enforcement and workplace inspections; established a new temporary-worker program; and created a Canadian-style "point system" for selecting immigrants in a way that would favor the highly skilled.
Within these parameters, policy-makers have considered several major questions to be resolved in a comprehensive immigration reform:
Should reform be designed and executed as unilateral U.S. policy or as a bilateral accord with Mexico? If the policy is unilateral, should it treat Mexicans the same as any other nationality, or give Mexicans special consideration, given their country´s historic ties with the United States and membership in NAFTA?
Should unauthorized migrants living in the United States have a path to become legal residents and/or citizens? If so, what should be the required period of residence, English-speaking ability, level of fees, and requirements to leave the United States before legalizing?
What kinds of employer sanctions for hiring unauthorized workers, databases for identifying eligible workers, and enforcement strategies should be developed without elevating the risk of discrimination against authorized Latinos or foreigners?
Should there be a new temporary-worker program or simply a revision of existing temporary-worker programs? How many times should temporary-worker visas be renewable, and should they offer the holders the possibility of eventually becoming a citizen? Should the visas be portable among different employers; what incentives for migrants to return to their home country should be developed, what labor rights should temporary workers have, and what provisions should be made for family reunification?
What border enforcement measures should be in place?
Mexico's Embrace of Emigrants
Most areas of the Mexican political spectrum are now in agreement, at least publicly, that Mexicans outside the country should be included in Mexican political life. In his 1995–2000 National Development Plan, President Ernesto Zedillo declared, "the Mexican nation extends beyond the territory contained within its borders." These were not irredentist claims, but rather discursive moves seeking the resources of Mexicans in the United States. Remittances increased from US$4.9 billion in 1997 to US$23.9 billion in 2007. Remittances are now Mexico's second largest source of foreign income after petroleum, though the pace of remittance growth has slowed as immigrants increasingly settle in the United States and after the U.S. economy slowdown in 2008, particularly in the construction sector in which Mexicans are over-represented, proportionally.
Since 1989, the government's Paisano program has tried to ease the return of vacationing migrants by cracking down on police who extort returnees. Mexican consulates began to pay more attention to legal protections of Mexican nationals in the United States, particularly the 50 or so Mexican nationals on Death Row, and the human rights of unauthorized border crossers. The 46 Mexican consulates in the United States are promoting a matrícula consular identification document that is of greatest use to unauthorized migrants without a Mexican passport. There has been an intense debate in the United States about whether the matrícula should be accepted as a legitimate identification document allowing the bearer to open a U.S. bank account, board a commercial flight, or prove identity to U.S. police.
The Mexican Congress further attempted to integrate nationals abroad by changing the constitution in 1997 to allow Mexicans who naturalize abroad and the children of Mexicans born abroad to claim Mexican nationality. People with dual nationality can buy property along the coast and border, which are restricted zones for foreigners, but strictly speaking, they do not have dual citizenship. Most importantly, dual nationals cannot vote in Mexican elections.
The Mexican government also institutionalized ties with emigrants through the Program for Mexican Communities Abroad (PCME). Since 1990, the PCME has built on existing efforts by migrants and local priests to organize based on their Mexican hometowns. The PCME creates formal ties between the clubs and the Mexican government at the federal, state, and county levels. These relationships are the basis for matching funds programs like Tres por Uno (3x1), in which migrants and Mexican government agencies jointly develop infrastructure projects in migrants' places of origin. By 2005, the program was spending US$80 million a year with a quarter of the funding coming directly from migrants.
The major emigrant initiatives survived the change in administration in 2000. One of President Fox´s first official acts in 2000 was to inaugurate a Presidential Office for Communities Abroad directed by Juan Hernández, a dual national literature professor born in Texas. The cabinet level position was abolished in 2002 after conflicts with Jorge Castañeda, Secretary of Foreign Relations, over how to manage two cabinet agencies simultaneously conducting foreign policy. In 2003, the PCME and the presidential office were folded into the new Institute for Mexicans Abroad (IME), which includes an advisory council comprised of 105 Mexican community leaders and ten Latino organizations in the United States, 10 special advisors, and representatives of each of the 32 state governments in Mexico.
In 2006, Mexicans abroad voted in their presidential election by absentee ballot for the first time. Three million Mexicans in the United States were eligible to vote, but only 57,000 tried to register to vote and less than 33,000 cast valid ballots. Fifty-eight percent voted for the candidate of the incumbent National Action Party (PAN).