Cárdenas: Immigration reform inevitable

By Chris Burbach, Omaha World Herald  

However unlikely it may seem today, immigration reform is inevitable in the United States, a prominent Mexican politician said Thursday in Omaha.

"Here in the States, I don't know when and how, but all these irregular migrants will have to, in some way, become regular, legal migrants," said Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, former mayor of Mexico City and the man widely believed to have been robbed of victory in the 1988 Mexican presidential election. "I know this will take time, but this has to happen, because there's a very important contribution in the work that these people are doing."

That, and there are about 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, he observed.

"I would say that it is impossible to take measures where they could all be expelled from the country," Cárdenas said, although he also noted that deportations have increased under the Obama administration.

Cárdenas sounded those familiar themes in an interview. He is scheduled to speak Friday night at the Livestock Exchange Building in South Omaha during a conference of the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities. The organization, based in Chicago, advocates for Latinos in the United States and abroad. It's a coalition of groups from around the country, including the Heartland Workers Center of Omaha, which is co-hosting the conference.

Cárdenas, 77, founded Mexico's principal leftist party, the Party of the Democratic Revolution (or PRD), in the 1980s. He was elected Mexico City's mayor in 1997. He ran for president twice more, in 1994 and 2000.

In October, Cárdenas received the Belisario Dominguez Medal, the Mexican Senate's highest honor. He used the occasion to criticize the government of President Felipe Calderón, and to call for a halt to using the Mexican military to fight drug cartels.

Cárdenas said Thursday that fighting crime "is not a function of the army but of the police." He said the war on drugs has been a failure.

He said organized crime, like illegal immigration, is related to economic woes. He said official figures place unemployment in Mexico at 5.8 percent, but he believes it is above 30 percent.

Cárdenas said the United States government and others in the region should work together to change the economic conditions driving illegal immigration from Mexico and Latin America.

"They come here because, in a way, they are forced to leave their countries, because there are no opportunities, there are no possibilities of working there, of staying with their families, of improving the living standards of themselves and their families," Cárdenas said.

He said the North American Free Trade Agreement has hurt Mexico's economy badly, leading to the loss of many industries and agricultural enterprises. But Cárdenas, noting that the world's richest person (Carlos Slim Helú) is a Mexican, added, "Our internal policies haven't been the best for improving living standards in Mexico. And it has nothing to do with NAFTA, nothing to do with the decisions made outside Mexico, but with our internal policies.

"And that has produced a very unequal society. I think we have one of the most unequal societies in the world."

Contact the writer:

402-444-1057, christopher.burbach@owh.com