Dolia Estevez, Mary Beth Sheridan,
and Ginger Thompson
"Perspectives on the United States and Mexico:
A Journalists' Forum"

September 26, 2003

Dolia Estevez (left), of El Financiero, Mary Beth Sheridan(center) of the Washington Post, and Ginger Thompson of the New York Times made up our panel of journalists. Each brought her own perspective and interests to an analysis of and forum on the future of the U.S.-Mexico relationship.

The Frozen Enchilada: Journalists Discuss a Shunned Mexico
Jason Felch, Journalism and Latin American Studies

Early in 2001, Mexico’s foreign minister Jorge Castañeda announced the creation of a bold new package of reforms that would transform the relationship between the US and Mexico. The package, whose five inseparable ingredients he called “the whole enchilada,” were favorably received when, in the first week of September, 2001, President Vicente Fox addressed a joint session of Congress on the first State visit of the Bush Administration.

But a week later the world changed, and with it the Bush administration’s priorities. In a matter of days, Mexico went from the top of the US agenda to an afterthought on the agenda. According to a panel of well-known journalists who spoke recently on the subject of US–Mexico relations, the “enchilada” has been frozen ever since.

Ginger Thompson, Mexico correspondent for the New York Times; Mary Beth Sheridan, a former Mexico correspondent who now covers immigration for the Washington Post; and Dolia Estevez, Washington correspondent for El Financiero, spoke in Berkeley at "The US-Mexico Futures Forum," a forum sponsored by the Center for Latin American Studies in collaboration with the International Studies Department at the Instituto Tecnológico Auutónomo de México.

The three spoke of the Fox administration’s frustration with the lack of attention Mexico now receives from the US. A year ago, during the State visit, Sheridan said that Fox was so confident that he called for the two nations to agree upon migration reform and a guest worker program by the end of the year. But a year later, in what Sheridan refer to as “The Reform that Wasn’t,” little has been achieved.

Ginger Thompson, who has covered Mexico for four years at the New York Times, touched on the frustration and inevitability with the words she chose to describe the current Mexico–US relationship: “stalled, strained, unstoppable.”

The result has been a setback for the relationship, and for immigration reform, Thompson said. Fox, who is fond of saying he is the president of 123 million Mexicans, went out of his way to court the 23 million estimated to be living in the US, Thompson said. But after the last year of stalled talked with the US and political foot-dragging at home, the Mexican president may be considering compromise.

“In the game of foreign policy,” said Thompson “the US’s interests have trumped all.” After September 11th, “Mexico blipped off the US foreign policy screen.”

Estevez echoed that sentiment, saying, “The US has forgotten about the rest of the world.”

But the lack of significant change since September 11th may be an accomplishment in itself. The terrorist attacks had the potential to profoundly set back the US–Mexico relationship. But many of the feared reactions– a long term sealing of the border, a purge of illegal immigrants, the hampering of new trade relationships –never materialized.

While documents are being scrutinized more carefully today, the number of admittances along the border has not decreased significantly, trade continues to grow, and there have been few moves against the estimated 10 million undocumented immigrants, Sheridan said.

Why? Sheridan believes it is because the relationship between the US and Mexico has undergone a subtle but deep change. “Latinos have reached a critical mass” in the US, Sheridan said. Twenty percent of Latinos now live in “new immigration cities” like Atlanta, Washington, DC, and Raleigh. Likewise, the American business community has begun to recognize the contribution that Latino’s make to the economy.

The continued integration of Mexico and the United States, the journalists agreed, is not something that can be stopped. It can only be managed, or mismanaged.

Estevez, who has an up close view of the relationship as the Washington correspondent for Mexico’s El Financiero, said that as a result of the lack of interest by high-level administration officials toward immigration after 9/11, the relationship with Mexico is being "managed" by middle level bureaucrats.

Secretary of State Colin Powell seems to pay little attention. "He is totally focused on terrorism and Iraq,” she said. Now the office of North American Affairs at the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Estevez said, is known by insiders as the office with No Solutions.

Mexico's attitude has changed lately. Jorge Castañeda snubbed Washington officials at a recent meeting, and a key Mexican career diplomat in Washington has been replaced by an inexperienced newcomer, two of the journalists said.

Estevez said that, in her view, the long term answer for many of the problems in the bilateral agenda is to invest massively in Mexico’s development to close the wage differential (1 to 7) and perhaps to negotiate a North American Union modeled in the European experience.

Accomplishing this might well mean compromising on immigration reform.

“Mexico may forego the enchilada,” Thompson said, “and try for chilaquiles.”

Ms. Sheridan spoke about the changes in U.S policy toward immigration and immigrants after September 11, as well as the growth of new Latino immigrant communities in cities not formerly host to such populations, such as Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina.



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