A couple Sundays ago we got to see a depressing television spectacle: the second Mexican presidential debate, which took place in the border city of Tijuana. The location was quite appropriate given that two big topics were migration and border security. It gave the candidates, José Antonio Meade (PRI), Andrés Manuel López Obrador (Morena), Ricardo Anaya (PAN-PRD) and the independent candidate, Jaime Rodríguez Calderón a chance to display their knowledge of the Mexican national population residing in the United States, to establish a rapport with these paisanos on whom Mexico depends heavily, since yearly they remit as much as 29 billion dollars back home to the needy communities where many people are one step away from poverty. But sadly, what the debates amply demonstrated was the degree to which all the candidates are ignorant of their fellow citizens living in El Norte and their lack of ideas on how to resolve the predicament facing them.
First, let me say that calling the event a debate is a huge misnomer. The sense of propriety, decency, and respect of opinions were dispensed with right away and we ended up watching a political version of the popular television show, Cero en conducta, filled with name-calling, personal attacks, and innuendoes of all types. It was truly bizarre. On the one hand, this so-called debate was a hilarious and entertaining event; on the other, it was extremely disconcerting to realize that one of these men who lack any original ideas will be leading the country.
Every time a question was posed, all candidates answered by attacking the integrity and honesty of the other contenders, and when pressed by the moderators with the question, they gave the most pitiful responses. None of them made any viable and practical proposals with which to combat Trump’s aggressive anti-immigration policies. They didn’t spell out their plans to counter the arguments for erecting and making Mexico pay for the “beautiful wall.” Nothing on how to protect Mexican nationals residing in the U.S. from rampant xenophobia other than vaguely stating there are plans to defend their rights through the consular offices, without giving any further details. More importantly, nothing on what to do about DACA; no one explained the policy Mexico should implement if the American government forces the dreamers to return to their place of birth or how to assimilate the thousands of repatriates arriving every year into the country’s economy and cultures. It is not enough to say Mexico will receive the dreamers and repatriates with open arms and allocate resources to soften their transition. It is not so easy. I would encourage all the presidential candidates to read Decade of Betrayal, a book where Francisco E. Balderrama and Raymond Rodríguez chronicle the last massive deportation of families during the 1930s, demonstrating the difficulties posed by such an event for the receiving country. If studied carefully, the book can teach how to plan accordingly so the government is not overwhelmed and doomed to repeat the same errors of the horrifying experience of the returning Mexicans during the Great Depression.
The candidates were also given the chance to address one of the ugliest aspects of migration which has gone for too long unmentioned in the American press: the hellish passage of Central American migrants through Mexico on their way to the United States. The candidates acknowledged the problem but didn’t offer any solutions for ending the violence, extortions, human trafficking, kidnappings, rapes and sexual assaults suffered by women and men, which are perpetrated by Mexican migration officials, police, gangs, and cartels. There was no mention of the Caravan of Central Americans just arrived at the border, no mention of the asylum seekers knocking at the American door. Perhaps they didn’t want to broach the subject because it is a Pandora’s box for the Mexican government. Why bring up the fact that after Obama requested it, Peña Nieto has been doing the dirty work for the Americans by tightening the noose on migrants crossing the southern border. Since then, Mexico has deported more Central American immigrants than the Americans, and they have turned a blind eye to the human rights violations perpetrated by its citizens against their fellow Latin American neighbors. And what have the Mexicans got in return for their dirty labor on behalf of the USA? A big kick in the face by Trump.
The sad truth is that the Mexican government has blood on its hands and has lost the moral high ground in matters of immigration; they didn’t go high (as Michelle Obama would suggest) when the Americans went low; instead, the Mexican government went even lower. Some so-called journalists on Fox News and other news outlets have been throwing these facts in Mexico’s face whenever the government criticizes the anti-immigrant stance of its counterpart in Washington. From what we saw in the debate there is little hope that AMLO, Anaya, Meade or Rodríguez Calderón will have the right stuff and backbone to stand up to Donald Trump. When it comes to immigration, they’re bereft of ideas. Moreover, they will always negotiate from a weak position as long as they allow the horrible treatment of Central American migrants to continue in Mexico.