MEXICO CITY - Mexican President Felipe CalderÃƒÂ³n is visiting the United States this week to plead the cause of Mexican immigrants, who are increasingly harassed and mistreated by the U.S. authorities.His four-day visit, which commenced Sunday, comes at a time when the six million undocumented Mexicans living in the United States are the targets of a wave of raids and deportations.
Work also continues apace on a wall along the border with Mexico to keep foreigners out, and there is no hope of any discussions of immigration reform until after the U.S. presidential elections in November, when President George W. Bush's successor will be chosen.
Neither the Mexican government nor analysts expect that CalderÃƒÂ³n's trip will have much of an impact on the antagonistic climate faced by Mexicans and other Latin Americans on U.S. soil.
The goal, for now, is only to visit immigrants' organisations and present the president's plans for consular protection, and to defend their rights before the authorities.
Shortly before this week's visit, CalderÃƒÂ³n said there was "an atmosphere full of prejudice" against immigrants, and an "anti-Mexican climate that benefits no one."
The worst thing two countries can do is to make our people think that our neighbours are our enemies, he said in an interview with the New York Times.
In the view of analyst Sergio Peláez, CalderÃƒÂ³n's trip comes at an inauspicious time, "but later on would be worse because the U.S. presidential elections will be entering their decisive phase" and the agenda will be overcrowded, so better now than never.
"I think CalderÃƒÂ³n's intention is for Mexicans in the U.S. not to feel that they have been abandoned, now that the situation is so difficult. He could even gain political capital in Mexico," Peláez, an expert in international politics at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), told IPS.
This is CalderÃƒÂ³n's first official visit to the United States since he took office in December 2006. It will not include meetings with Bush administration officials. The two presidents have a meeting scheduled for April, during a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) meeting which also includes Canada.
CalderÃƒÂ³n's tour began in New York, where he met with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Timothy Geithner, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, as well as leaders of the Mexican community.
The other cities he is due to visit before his departure on Thursday are Chicago, Illinois and Los Angeles and Sacramento, in California, which are home to large numbers of Mexican immigrants.
According to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the human rights of immigrants, Jorge Bustamente, "latinos" have been facing a climate of "unacceptable xenophobia" for several years in the U.S., and in 2008 conditions could become even worse.
In 2007, the U.S. deported 513,000 Mexicans, some of whom had been arrested at their workplaces, on the streets, or in bus terminals and airports.
Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said on Jan. 31 that President Bush is asking Congress for a 19 percent increase in the funding earmarked for border security and combating illegal immigration.
The Institute for Mexicans Abroad (IME), made up of Mexican employers living in the U.S., and some diplomats reported that in 2007 around 170 measures aimed against undocumented immigrants were implemented, including prohibiting foreigners who do not have residence permits from obtaining a driving licence, renting a home or receiving medical services.
These measures are separate from a law signed by Bush in October 2006, ordering the wall on the border with Mexico to be extended, from 112 to 1,226 kilometres in length.
The Mexican Foreign Ministry reported that 447 Mexicans died trying to enter the U.S. at different points along the border in 2007, 485 in 2006, and 516 in 2005.
CalderÃƒÂ³n said he hoped that the next U.S. administration and Congress will have "a broader, more positive and more rational vision of the issue of migration" than the political leaders now in power.
"I'm not denying the right of every country to have its own laws and apply them," but a person's human rights "are valid, no matter what their immigration status may be," he said. The three main presidential hopefuls in the U.S. race, Republican Senator John McCain and Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, have indicated that they approve the idea of an immigration reform bill that would include legalising some of those who are currently working in the U.S. without documents.
The U.S. Congress failed to pass an immigration reform bill in early 2007 that would have toughened immigration controls, but also created the opportunity for undocumented immigrants to gain legal status and, therefore, freedom from persecution.
Some 11 million Mexican-born people live in the U.S., of whom six million do not have residence permits and live in danger of deportation.
In November, the Mexican government announced that it would open two new consulates in the U.S., bringing the total number to 52, and that all consulates would beef up their legal teams to help migrants suffering from discrimination, as well as providing aid and comfort if they are arrested with a view to being deported.
Awareness-raising campaigns will also be launched in the U.S. media to improve the image of immigrants and "correct distorted perceptions," the government said.
© 2008 Inter Press Service