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Commentary: Mexico’s new administration needs to make border security a priority

By Nelson Balido
Rio Grande Guardian

SAN ANTONIO – A study released earlier this year by the Pew Hispanic Center caught my attention, and its findings might require observers of U.S.-Mexico relations to recalibrate their thinking.

According to Pew data, immigration – legal and illegal – from Mexico to the United States has flat-lined. The report’s writers found that in the five-year period of 2005-2010, 1.4 million Mexicans immigrated to the U.S., but that’s the same number of Mexicans who immigrated from the U.S. to Mexico during that same period.

Certainly the weak U.S. economy has played a role in the declining immigration numbers. After all, a struggling U.S. jobs picture combined with increased workplace enforcement measures like E-Verify makes this country less attractive to the would-be immigrant worker.

But what cannot be discounted is the commitment and professionalism of the men and women of the U.S. Border Patrol, whose enforcement strategies have resulted in a dramatic drop in illegal alien apprehensions from a fiscal year 2000 high of 1.6 million to an FY 2011 low of 327,000.

Leaders like David Aguilar, the most senior official at Customs and Border Protection and a former Border Patrol national chief, have made border security a top priority, and the proof is in the numbers. Crossing illegally into the U.S. from Mexico is just tougher than it has ever been.

The undocumented immigrant of today is now likely to be what is known in enforcement circles as an “OTM”, or “other than Mexican.” My conversations with agents in the field in South Texas confirm that they’re increasingly seeing immigrants from places like Central America, South America, India and even the Middle East who have used Mexico as jumping-off point into the U.S.

This is where Mexico’s new presidential administration comes in. Former State of Mexico Gov. Enrique Peña Nieto will be sworn in as Mexico’s new president on December 1. So far, the president-elect has made all the right moves, surrounding himself with a topnotch transition team and sending a message to multinational businesses – especially those in the U.S. – that Mexico is open for business, as he even remains open to the idea of allowing increased foreign investment in such Mexican points of pride as its oil industry.

I’ve been able to get to know some members of Team Peña Nieto, and I’ve been struck by their desire to increase Mexico competitiveness in the world economy, attract investment and grow jobs. Mexico’s economy has, for the most part, weathered the worst of the economic downturn, meaning that more young Mexicans can reasonably seek and find work in their patria rather than heading north.

But with more Mexicans becoming part of the country’s growing middle class, the new president cannot forget that his country still needs to help quell northward illegal migration into the United States, even if it’s not Mexicans making that trek. When he takes office…

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