A conversation between Eduardo Ibarrola-Nicolín (EI), Ambassador of Mexico to the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Dr. Melissa Siegel (MS), Head of the UNU-MERIT Migration Group. This interview was recorded after a public lecture on ‘Migration from the Mexican State Perspective’, delivered on 12 April 2016.
MS: Thank you very much for coming to visit UNU-MERIT and talking to our Master students. I know that you have a wealth of experience in migration around the world and that this issue is of particular importance to Mexico. So today you came to talk to our students about your own experience; I know you have a background in lecturing. Can you tell us why it is important to share your experiences in policy with academia?
EI: First of all, I think this is a very interesting opportunity to discuss these sensitive and important topics with students from all over the world and they all have different concepts about migration. Moreover, they may not know much about the reality of Mexico and about the dynamic of migration in Mexico, particularly with the United States which is our main country of destination – though it is not the only one. As you know Mexico is a country of migrants but it is also a country of repatriation; we have emigration, immigration from the south and we are also a transit country. So we have all the dimensions of the phenomenon.
MS: Your government is quite entrepreneurial and innovative with its policies regarding migration. Can you share some of them with us?
EI: Mexico has been dealing with migration for many years; it is part of our history. Of course, our main duty is to protect those Mexicans who leave to the US and elsewhere through our consular conventions and also to disseminate and publicise the benefits that Mexican migration is giving to both the US and Mexican economies. Migrants send remittances to their families in Mexico and in the US they are paying taxes, contributing to social security, and consuming goods and services — thus, they are helping to activate the US economy.
They are in the US because they have found jobs there, because the US job market is demanding the Mexican workforce — in the same way Mexico has Guatemalan migrants in the southern part of the country. We try to keep the Guatemalans there on a regular and permanent basis, and give them the proper documentation to live and work in Mexico. The point is that usually these migrants – who are very good for the Mexican economy – come and go. They find an open border, which can be crossed easily, live in the country and then go back to Guatemala.
However, there is another phenomenon: there are many people, mainly from Central America, who cross Mexico in order to reach the US. They are irregular migrants, which poses a challenge for Mexico because we have to protect them from abuses and criminal organisations and ensure their survival. Also we have to understand that Mexico does not have the possibility to allow everybody who wishes to become an irregular migrant and use the Mexican border to jump to the US, not only because that is illegal but also because it is against common sense. The problem here is that when they intend to cross the border but are frustrated, they stay in Mexico without money, papers, protection and they suffer many social challenges.
MS: Recently we meet in The Hague at an Ambassadorial conference hosted by the Dutch Foreign Ministry, in which we looked at the migration situation and dynamics in the Americas and saw what Europe can learn from the Americas. From your wealth of experience with regards to Mexican migration and other types of movement, what do you think are the lessons learned from the Mexican-US case that could be brought to a European context?
EI: Well it’s difficult to say. Mexican-US migration exists mainly because of economic reasons. We, at the end, have a common labour market, they request our workers and our workers find employment in the US. But I think that Europe should learn from the US: to take advantage of migration. In the end, the US is a melting pot; you have migrants from all over the world. I don’t think there is a single social group that does not have migrants in the US and the country has been quite open to migration. The US has sought to integrate them into society, put them to work, pay taxes and activate the economy and use migration to gain a competitive advantage – because migration is not bad. One example of is what is happening in the north of Mexico, the US and Canada: we have a program of seasonal workers that we have with Canada, which is a success and it’s an example of how things can work in an organised fashion.
Transcription: D. Salama