Saturday, July 22, 2006 | Luis Cabrera, the consul general for Mexico in San Diego, has a very grand title, but what exactly does a consul general do? He ponders everything from immigration and cross-border traffic and performs weddings.
But as Mexico is left without an elected leader, Cabrera is essentially left without a boss, but that doesn’t mean he’s sitting back and taking it easy.
We sat down with the consul general and asked him about relations between the United States and Mexico, the recent border shootings of Mexican citizens, the safety of journalists in Mexico and, of course, a little issue called illegal immigration.
In your two-and-a-half years in office, have relations between the United States and Mexico worsened as a result of the increased pressure over illegal immigration to the United States?
I think we have to see always relations in a broad sense, and the big picture of the relationship is, of course, positive for both countries. You can always say that in the intensity of this relationship, there will be problems to solve, but more frequently, we have opportunities to move forward.
That’s what is important about the relationship – having a positive approach in our relationship.
There is currently something of a power vacuum in Mexico while the general election vote is recounted. Is it strange to not know who your boss is going to be in the next few months?
That’s part of democracy, part of the rules of the game. Very clearly, that’s part of our electoral system. The electoral system is very clear that, after recounting the votes, the parties have the opportunity to make some observations or to challenge the results. Then the electoral judicial institution is the competent authority to look at those challenges and make a final decision. So everything is moving according to our electoral system.
What exactly does a consul general do? What’s your role?
In such a busy area as San Diego and Tijuana, it’s difficult to have a standard day, but consulates in foreign countries represent the interests of a country in certain jurisdictions and the interests of the people of that nationality living in the country.
The jurisdiction of the Mexican consulate in San Diego is the county of San Diego. We look after the interests, the right of Mexicans living here and promote the interests of Mexico.
There is always a line of people outside the consul offices in Little Italy. Why? What are they waiting for?
That’s only part of our work – the people you see here in the mornings requesting a service from the consulate. They come here mainly to have a passport or a consular ID, or they’re foreigners wanting to get a visa to go to Mexico for a particular activity, or also, we perform a public notary service and the civic registry. So we register here births of Mexicans.
I can perform marriages, but only if the couple both are Mexicans.
You perform marriages yourself?
Have you done any this year?
Yes. Two or three. But that’s only part of our job.
A Mexican citizen, who was in the United States illegally, was recently killed by federal agents as he tried to cross back into Mexico. Do you think the response by the local government has been adequate to establish what happened in the incident?
We are still waiting for the final report, and we are pressing to have the report quickly. There are two cases which are very worrying – one that happened on the 31st of December last year, and one that happened a month and a half ago. In both cases, we are very worried, because of the use of force. The result of that – a person being killed – is always worrying.
But we are waiting for the report and let’s see what conclusions the authorities come back with.
Northern Baja is undergoing something of a real estate boom, do you hope that real estate can revitalize Baja’s economy as it has done in San Diego?
I think that what we’re seeing happening in real estate, for example, is just an example of how intense the relationship between the two countries is, particularly in this region, so that we can not talk any more of two countries – San Diego and Tijuana. They are forming a region.
The intensity of their relationship is huge. We are at the busiest border crossing point in the world, so what is happening with real estate is just an example of what is happening in many other areas.
I stayed in a migrant camp in Carmel Valley for a week. The immigrants there had no running water, no electricity, and relied almost entirely on volunteers for health care and other services. Should the Mexican government be doing more for these people?
I think, within our limits, we are trying to do all we can in benefit of the Mexican community. In terms of the protection of the rights of the Mexicans living here, we perform a very very active role. Last year, we had more than 7,000 protection cases. That gives you an idea of how intense our work is concerning the protection of the rights of Mexicans – in different fields – labor, migratory, human rights, etc.
Repatriation of minors, for example, is a very serious problem, due to an unsolved legal framework concerning migration, so there are many problems that arise from the migratory phenomenon.
What both countries want is to have a legal, safe an orderly migration. In order to have that, it’s clear that a comprehensive migratory reform has to be agreed by Congress here in the U.S.
Why are we interested in that? Because there are many Mexicans living here undocumented. Why are we interested in that? Because many Mexicans come here to perform jobs of the labor market that needs that purpose. And what do we want? We want them to come here in a legal, safe and orderly manner, so that their rights are respected, so that they live in a proper way, so that they are not exploited as a result of their irregular situation.
On that, what do you think of the hearings that Congress is holding around the country to discuss immigration reform?
We follow, very very closely, the political debate in Congress concerning migration. I think it’s urgent to have a comprehensive migratory reform, because it’s clear that something is not working. If there are 12 million undocumented persons living in the U.S. Half of them may be Mexican – six million. It’s clear that something is not working.
By the way, not all of them came undocumented through the border. Forty-five percent of those 12 million – those are the estimates – entered into the U.S. legally, then they overstayed. So there are lots of issues that have to be addressed, and these hearings – of course we are following them very closely – but our concern is that they are focusing on one main aspect of the migratory reform, which is security. But that’s not all.
If the migratory reform is focused only on security, something is lacking, and that’s very worrying. Because you have to address what are you going to do with the 12 million that are here? What are you going to do to have a guest worker program according to the economic reality of this country?
And you don’t feel that’s being addressed?
I think there has been great progress in the discussion in Congress, with the approval of the initiative in the Senate. At least those aspects were balanced.
The same group of undocumented migrants said of the U.S.-Mexican border “There is no border, we come and go as we please,” what do you think of that statement?
I would like not to comment on something that I did not hear first-hand, but certainly the position of the Mexican government is what I have been describing. We have to address the reality of the migration phenomenon with intelligence, with precision and tackling all the different aspects involved.
We have many different things in common, Mexico and the U.S. We share many many issues. Migration is one of them.
There is a big difference in the income between Mexico and the U.S. There is a big difference between the economies of the two countries. So of course this is happening in a logical way. If the income is 10 or eight times what it is in Mexico, there is a magnet here, and the pull factor is very strong.
Building strong economic ties between Mexico and the United States is seen by many San Diegans as good for both Mexico and this country. How do we continue to maximize that interaction?
I think that at the end, it’s an economic problem concerning migration. If we have more development, more investment in Mexico, we will need more people to perform jobs that we are going to create. It’s a matter of leveling the degree of our two economies, of the income of our two economies.
In San Diego, investigative journalists work without fear of retribution, but a few miles south, journalists face daily threats and a few journalists have been killed of late. What is the Mexican government doing to protect those journalists and to ensure a free press in Mexico?
I think there is a free press in Mexico and the government is responsible for giving the conditions to have this free press. Very important during this administration of President Fox, it has been created the Federal Institute of Information Access, which is a very important step forwards in terms of having a guarantee of transparency and a free press.
What about security issues for journalists, is that a concern still? Is it getting better?
I think if there are isolated cases of reporters or members of the press that have been threatened or killed or whatever, it’s very worrying for any society and the government has the duty to prosecute and to make clear what has happened in order to guarantee the free press, which we are convinced is something that in a democratic society is absolutely necessary.
The border wait, coming from Mexico to San Diego is very frustrating. It takes a long time. Are there any plans to do anything to lessen that border wait, and when will San Diegans and Tijuanenses get a border that functions fluidly and quickly.
That’s something that is of great concern and we are working very very intensely with the U.S. authorities. Authorities of both governments meet frequently at different levels in order to make these decisions. We want a safe and secure border, but at the same time a border that allows a quick flow of people and goods, because otherwise the region suffers.
So we have to have the balance between security concerns and also the need to allow people and goods to cross in an expedited way, and for that a lot of resources have to be invested in both countries, in technology, in infrastructure etc. And that’s what we are doing.
We are studying new crossing points, for example Otay Two. We want to improve the crossing in Chapparal, San Ysidro, so we are working on it.
– Interview by WILL CARLESS