MEXICO CITY — Mexican President Felipe Calderón has forcefully inserted himself into the U.S. presidential campaign, denouncing the candidates for demonizing Mexican immigrants and announcing that the government would finance a public relations campaign aimed at reversing Americans’ negative perceptions.
At a conference Wednesday of the Advisory Council of the Institute of Mexicans Abroad, the government’s immigrant assistance agency, Calderón lashed out at the “increasing harassment” and “persecution” of Mexicans in the United States, those there legally as well as illegally.
“My duty is to make an appeal, respectfully but firmly, to the candidates of the various political parties in the United States to stop making Mexicans symbolic hostages in their speeches and their strategies,” Calderón said.
Although he did not single out any candidate by name, Calderón made his comments on the same day Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, a Republican who has made immigration reform the centerpiece of his presidential campaign, released an incendiary ad linking immigrants to terrorism and violence in the streets.
Mexican politicians regularly criticize U.S. immigration policies, but it is highly unusual for the president of the republic to directly address the U.S. political process. But Calderón said the situation had become intolerable.
“We are respectful of the internal processes and decisions of the Americans,” he said, “but we also demand respect for Mexico and for Mexicans.”
Government promises programs to aid immigrants
Calderón coupled his criticisms with several broad-ranging initiatives to better the lives of Mexicans in the United States, who are an important constituency in Mexican politics.
The government estimates that there are 11 million Mexicans in the United States, about 6 million of them illegally. It calculates that they sent back to Mexico more than $23 billion in remittances to help support their families last year.
“Remittances from the United States are a major source of income for our country, at present the second largest after oil exports,” said Maria Rosa Márquez Cabrera, the secretary of rural development.
The government announced that it would sharply lower the banking fees that are charged for remittances to immigrants’ relatives in Mexico City, the capital, to as little as $3 for a $500 transfer. No transfer would cost more than $10 under the program, which is a partnership with the national banking corporation Grupo Financiero Banorte.
It also said it would back a proposal by the immigrants agency to organize a coalition of Mexican activists inside the United States to respond to political attacks on immigrants. The coalition would be called la Liga contra la Discriminación de los Mexicanos en Estados Unidos, or the League Against Discrimination of Mexicans in the United States.
PR campaign targeted at the U.S. public
But the most unusual initiative would budget an undisclosed amount for a campaign inside the United States to “win the battle of public opinion” by highlighting inspirational “success stories” of Mexican immigrants who had prospered in American society.
Calderón did not disclose details of the new campaign, but he said it would help the U.S. public recognize “the irreplaceable contribution of Mexicans to the United States, to its economy and its society.”
A particular target will be the U.S. news media, where he said he would seek an “objective dialogue” on immigration.
“Strategies of simple confrontation and rudeness aggravate an anti-Mexican feeling,” Calderón said, amplifying “the worse phobias even more.”
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