Mexico says immigration reform unlikely in 2010

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MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s ambassador to the United States said Friday he expects immigration reform is unlikely to pass in that country in 2010 because of unemployment and midterm elections.

In an unusually frank assessment, Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan said Mexico will continue its quiet, “under the radar” lobbying for a reform that would benefit the estimated 11.8 million Mexicans living in the United States. A large percentage are undocumented.

“It’s not that it is unachievable. It is possible, but it will be difficult,” he told a news conference. “And this year, especially, the conditions … will be particularly difficult.”

“If the (U.S.) economy grows, but there continues to be the unemployment and the job losses that occurred in the United States in 2009, it is politically impossible for the Republicans or the Democrats, as much as they might be interested … to put an integrated immigration reform on the table,” Sarukhan said.

Sarukhan also said past pronouncements on the issue by Mexico may have done more harm than good.

“Having spoken about it publicly at times in the past … has done a great deal of damage to our countrymen and our allies in the United States,” he said.

Sarukhan said a general amnesty that would automatically legalize undocumented migrants “cannot be the solution,” because “the radical conservative wing in the United States would immediately mobilize to torpedo it.”

He said a more realistic goal is a program of temporary work visas and a “regularization process” — presumably, what has been called “earned legalization” involving fines or other qualifying factors.

Sarukhan said chances for reform may depend on how much political capital the administration of President Barack Obama has left after the divisive debate over health care.

Daniel Hernandez Joseph, director of overseas citizen protection services for Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department, told reporters that anti-immigration rhetoric “has permeated in (U.S.) society” and that anti-immigration groups in the United States currently “feel empowered.”

Hernandez Joseph also said preliminary estimates indicate that 396 people assumed to be Mexican citizens died trying to cross into the United States last year, up from 340 in 2008.