Union Tribune

July 17, 2002 

Mexican immigrant office to be absorbed
Move seen as victory for foreign minister


WASHINGTON – After weeks of political infighting in the Cabinet
of Mexican President Vicente Fox, the high-profile office that
represents Mexicans living abroad has been absorbed into the
Mexican Foreign Ministry, officials said yesterday.

The shake-up marks a defeat for Juan Hernández, the outspoken
Mexican-American who built strong ties to Mexicans in the
United States and stirred controversy by saying he wanted even
seventh-generation Mexican-Americans to think "Mexico first."

The move also signals a victory for Foreign Minister Jorge
Castañeda, who reportedly wants to run for president in 2006
and who has argued within the Cabinet that his ministry should
manage relations with the huge Mexican immigrant population
in the United States.

"This move is closely related to Jorge Castañeda's drive for the
presidency," said Wayne Cornelius, director of the Center for
U.S.-Mexico Studies at the University of California San Diego.

He said Hernández and Castañeda "have tangled often over
jurisdictional issues."

"Looking forward to 2006, Castañeda would like to have direct
access to potential expatriate voters – unmediated by
Hernández, who is much more popular among Mexicans based
in the U.S. than Castañeda," Cornelius said.

Hernández was not available for comment, but a source close to
his office confirmed that the decision had been made.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry released an interview in which
undersecretary Enrique Berruga confirmed that he would direct
the office for Mexicans abroad.

Berruga then made a pitch for support from the immigrants,
many of whom had rallied behind Hernández in recent days as
stories of the Castañeda power play began to circulate.

Noting that Mexico maintains 47 consulates in the United States,
Berruga said, "We are dedicating, at each of the consulates, at
least one official who will devote full time" to immigrants.

The immigrants' economic and political importance in Mexico
has grown steadily, as they send home an estimated $750
million each month to relatives who are often swayed by their
political views. Moreover, the immigrants in the United States
are pressing for the right to vote in Mexican elections from their
new homes.

Demetrios Papademetriou is co-director of the Migration Policy
Institute and an expert on immigration. He has worked closely
with Hernández and praised his work.

"He put on the Mexican political map the explicit requirement
that this president and subsequent presidents will have to take
into account the interests of Mexicans abroad," Papademetriou

Just how provocatively Hernández has conveyed that message
could be seen yesterday on the Fox administration's Web site. It
said Hernández "has been commissioned to carry the strong and
clear message of the president to the Mexicans abroad: Mexico
is a nation of 123 million citizens, 100 million who live in Mexico
and 23 million who live in the United States . . . "

According to the U.S. census, 23 million people of Mexican
descent live in the United States, 8 million of whom were born in

In a controversial appearance on ABC's "Nightline" last year,
Hernández said he wanted Mexican-Americans to be more like
politically active Puerto Ricans and Jews in the United States.
Then he added, "I want the third generation, the seventh
generation, I want them all to think 'Mexico first.' "

Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies,
expressed alarm at the claim – also made by Fox – that 23
million people living north of the border are essentially subjects
of Mexico.

"That's a hostile act," Krikorian said. He added, "What's really
happening is that Mexico is seeking a kind of shared sovereignty
over the Southwest and Mexican-Americans."

Cecilia Muñoz of the National Council of La Raza, a Latino
advocacy group, called Krikorian's claims "ridiculous" and said
immigrants from Mexico are repeating the story of previous
generations of new Americans.

"Throughout our history, immigrants have come and
transformed America and been transformed by America," she
said. "The immigrants who come today continue that dynamic

Asked about the Mexican claim to 23 million immigrants and
descendants of immigrants, she said, "It reflects a perspective
that isn't really shared by the U.S. Latino community."

She noted that other immigrant groups retain close ties to
ancestral lands.

"Nobody questions that," she said. "What's the difference here?"