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n 97 CHAPTER 8 Mexico The Honorable Remedios Gómez-Arnau is consul general for the states of Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi, all of which have seen their Hispanic populations at least quadruple in the last decade. If federal immigration agents are correct in their estimates, Mississippi has gone from an estimated 2,000 illegal immigrants in 1990 to between 90,000 and 100,000 today.1 With her light brown hair, slender and stylishly dressed in a camel skirt, black sweater set, and tan boots, the consul bears little physical resemblance to the smaller, darker people gathered outside her offices in Atlanta. The parking lot is full of the older model cars and pickup trucks of her clients, who come to register births, obtain Mexican identity cards, consult the civil registration department, seek legal advice, or avail themselves of the many other services that the consulate offers. Although Ms. Gómez-Arnau may not look like many of her clients, she takes her responsibilities for their welfare very seriously. In fact, she is the author of a book on the protection of such immigrants, published while she was a researcher at Mexico’s Centro de Investigaciones sobre el América del Norte.2 The main task of the consulate, she says, “is to protect the interests and rights of our nationals,” as any other consulate would do. For this reason, it maintains a hotline for workers who 98 n Chapter Eight are concerned about health or safety hazards or other abuses at work. Her office’s responsibilities also include informing the Mexican expatriates of their rights should they be detained, including the right to communicate with the consulate. It’s a right that has sometimes been ignored, when legal authorities fail to notify her offices. And “if nobody calls us, how can we know when somebody is detained?” The problem becomes especially important when parents are separated from their children. Education is an essential part of the consulate’s services because, she says, it is important for people to learn English “in order better to defend their rights.” This is why the Mexican government offers free English lessons, along with classes for immigrants to complete the education they started in the home country. Ms. Gómez-Arnau, like many of her countrymen, is incensed by America’s construction of a wall along the Mexican-U.S. border, which Atlanta’s Hispanic newspaper Mundo Hispánico says will be seen as “a symbol of arrogance, arbitrariness , and injustice.”3 It’s a move that Vicente Fox calls “a disgrace for the United States,” as well as “useless,” while Felipe Calderón finds the decision “deplorable.” The twenty-seven countries of the Organization of American States have joined in expressing their “profound concern.”4 Mexico’s official stance is one of “outright rejection of the construction of fences or other similar structures” along the border.5 Does the consul feel, as the Mundo Hispánico editors do, that such a wall is an insult? “Yes,” she replies, “because we are neighbors. And there are many contributions from the Mexican people, to economy, to the culture.” What’s more, the wall will only encourage people to cross at more dangerous places and take greater risks. “It doesn’t address the real problem,” she continues. “The real problem is that the people are being demanded by the American economy, by the American labor market. . . . [The wall] won’t stop the migration, because that depends on the demand. It’s supply and demand. It’s very important the people understand that we are living in a new globalized world. That means that not only is trade globalized, but the labor market is too.” When I asked about the status of the Mexican economy and its relation to the immigration situation, I had obviously brought up a subject she felt very strongly about. She replied that it’s important that we improve the size of our economy—and the government is working on that—but that’s only one side of the story. The other side of the story is that the U.S. labor market requires the input by now of almost 900,000 immigrants from all over the world to fill up the jobs that the American people cannot do. And there are studies, even by the U.S. Congress, telling this truth. Even though Mexico improves its economy, that has nothing to do with the need of...


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