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President Obama in Mexico

As the U.S. legislative and national debate on immigration gets fully under way, President Obama paid a state visit to the largest source of modern immigration to the United States – Mexico.

In recent years Mexico has been the source of about 60 percent of all unauthorized immigration to the United States. As such, immigration is consistently one of the highest-priority bilateral topics, along with narcotics trafficking and trade.

During the president’s visit, he acknowledged the changing Mexican economy. Mexico’s economy is the second largest in Latin America, but the country has also long suffered from significant income inequality and widespread poverty

But poverty is slowly being reduced, even as Mexico continues a bloody battle with narcotic trafficking organizations that claimed an estimated 60,000 lives between 2006 and 2012.

In 2010 for the first time in years, less than half of Mexico’s population was living in poverty. That year, 46 percent of Mexicans lived below the national poverty line. About 10 percent of the population lived in extreme poverty – on less than about $2 a day.

Although this represents progress, about half the population is still living in poverty—thus, many Mexicans continue to look north for economic opportunity and an escape from dire living conditions.

As Congress begins to debate immigration reform in a serious way, President Obama highlighted during his visit to Mexico the importance of maintaining an international perspective on immigration. He pointed out that what happens in Mexico is crucial to a durable immigration policy fix in the United States.

“I … believe that the long-term solution to the challenge of illegal immigration—so we’re not dealing with this, decade after decade—is a growing, prosperous Mexico that creates more jobs and opportunity right here,” the president said last week in Mexico City.

In the midst of an immigration debate that is decidedly focused on domestic concerns and driven by domestic political constituencies, President Obama’s assertion was a refreshing acknowledgement of the international dimensions of immigration, the “push” factors behind it —something Bread for the World Institute has been researching and writing about for several years now.

As the Senate Judiciary Committee finalizes its version of the bill, it would be wise to heed the president’s message on immigration. This way, reform can be truly comprehensive and lasting. Andrew Wainer

« What Leaving Poverty Looks Like Promoting The Right to Know »

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