Peña Nieto in California: “Immigration reform is a matter of justice”

Mexican president meets with “the other Mexico” for the first time during his term of office

Pablo Ximénez de Sandoval
Left to right: Governor Jerry Brown, President Enrique Peña Nieto and First Lady Angélica Rivera on Monday in Los Angeles.
Left to right: Governor Jerry Brown, President Enrique Peña Nieto and First Lady Angélica Rivera on Monday in Los Angeles.AP

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto greeted members of the Mexican-American immigrant community, “the other Mexico” as he calls them, for the first time during his term of office on Monday. Beginning his two-day official visit to California – the richest and most populous American state, where one-third of residents are of Mexican descent – Mexico’s leader thanked the state for passing laws that have improved the lives of immigrants in California over the last three years. Given the demographic changes taking place in the country, he said, the rest of the United States will follow California’s example.

“Immigration reform is a matter of justice for those who contribute so much to the development of American society,” the president said in a speech to 700 people at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel. All leaders of Los Angeles’ Mexican-American community were in attendance, including important Mexican California business leaders, directors of immigrant groups, and cultural and political figures.

Proposals to change certain immigration laws and grant legal status to the country’s 11 million undocumented residents are the community’s big concern. The US Senate passed an immigration reform bill with the backing of various groups from both parties. But the Republican majority in the House of Representatives has blocked the measure and practically killed any hope of it passing.

Mexican trade with California is equivalent to Mexico’s business with the entire European Union

The Mexican government has handled the issue with respect and due deference given that the solution is the responsibility of another country, but it has expressed its hopes of seeing the measure approved. Addressing the Mexican community in Los Angeles, Peña Nieto did not shrink away from the topic. “The Mexican government has maintained a constructive dialogue with America since debates regarding immigration reform began. Mexico’s position is very clear. We want to be a cohesive, not divisive, factor. We want to build agreements that would help bring about immigration reform.”

The Mexican leader is returning the visit that Governor Brown made to Mexico City in July when he was accompanied by a group of American business leaders interested in the reforms set to open up Mexico’s telecommunications and energy markets. Now, Peña Nieto has come to California with a delegation of Mexican business leaders and 11 governors. On Monday, Brown said Peña Nieto was a “leader who is committed to reform in his country.”

Mexican trade with California now stands at $60 billion, the equivalent of Mexico’s business with the entire European Union. The Latin American country’s commercial deals in Los Angeles alone are worth $15 billion.

California is home to one-third of the nation’s 11 million undocumented residents. Thirty-eight percent of Californians identify themselves as Hispanic or Latino and, as Peña Nieto pointed out in his speech in Los Angeles, one-third of all Californians are of Mexican descent. One-third of Los Angeles residents are also Mexican or Mexican-American, making it the city with the largest Mexican population outside of Mexico. The metropolitan area alone comprises what would be the second-largest Mexican city, after the country’s capital.

Half of the state’s students are Hispanic. This is the future of California,” Governor Brown said

Peña Nieto highlighted the difference between California and “other states that unfortunately have not evolved as much,” without making any explicit reference to Arizona or Texas. States that “still cut down on acknowledging and – even worse – the rights of immigrants. Discriminatory measures are not only ethically reprehensible, but are inconsistent with the principles of shared responsibility and neighborliness. To those who are still betting on exclusion, on discrimination, or on rejecting diversity, I only have one thing to say: the future will show up your ethical error very soon.”

During the event, Governor Brown was the only person in the room who needed simultaneous translation. He was also the only one to receive a standing ovation from the crowd when he finished speaking. His administration has signed measures to improve access to drivers’ licenses and student loans for undocumented immigrants.

Brown, who will run for re-election in November, highlighted the huge demographic shift California has experienced in the last 20 years. “In California, we spend millions of dollars on programs for students who do not speak English. This does not happen in any other place. Half of California’s students are Hispanic. This is the future of California,” he said amid applause.

The governor said his office and the Mexican government have agreed to reduce wait times at the San Ysidro-Tijuana port of entry, the busiest land border crossing in the world. Every year, there are about 30 million crossings at that checkpoint where wait times can reach up to three hours. Now, Governor Brown has promised to make it possible to cross the border in 20 minutes.

On Tuesday, President Peña Nieto and Governor Brown will have lunch in Sacramento where the president will deliver a speech to the California State Assembly before leaving for Mexico City.

Translation: Dyane Jean François

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