Illegal Immigrants: In Search of the Mexican Dream

They say "denial" is a river in Egypt, but it's actually a desert in Mexico.

As much as Mexico's politicians stress that the dangerous trek across this expanse to slip across the American border is a pursuit of the American dream, they've paid no attention to Mexicans' dreams.

Because for every Mexican who spends a season or more a world away from his family just to send home needed cash, there is a broken dream back home. Behind that is a broken system, a government that seems to have given up on utilizing the country's resources, on valuing hard workers, and on keeping families together in their ancestral homelands for generations to come without living in fear of vicious druglords or abject poverty.

I spoke at length with former Mexican President Vicente Fox on his U.S. tour for his book %%AMAZON=0670018392 Revolution of Hope: The Life, Faith, and Dreams of a Mexican President %%, hope that apparently wasn't meant for his paisanos as the book wasn't released in Spanish and wasn't released in Mexico.

While prodding the United States to accept more immigrants, grant illegal immigrants all the perks, and stop branding immigrants as people who don't learn English ("I see most of them learning English") or use fake or stolen identities to get jobs ("I don't know any case of using different Social Security numbers"), Fox painted such a rosy image of Mexico that you'd think no one would ever want to leave.

When I prodded him on that message, he gave me these types of nuggets: "People think of Mexico as violent and crime-ridden, but it's comparable to the U.S." When I asked him about the fact that deaths of journalists in Mexico in 2006 were second in the world only to Iraq, he responded, "Let's not generalize. Yes, I understand there was newspaper people that was killed. This is the exception; there are a few cases like this. I can assure that the crime in Mexico is no more than the crime here in the U.S. ...Organized crime is exceptional, is bad, and that battle will be won. Mexico is a safe country. Mexico respects human rights."

Denial.

On his tour, Fox reminded every journalist who got a sit-down with him that his grandfather, Joseph Louis Fuchs, immigrated to Mexico from Cincinnati before the turn of the century. But Fox's grandfather left the United States because there was a malfunction in America at the time -- discrimination against Catholics. How much was Fuchs going toward something as opposed to getting away from something bad?

Similarly, how many proud Mexicans begrudgingly leave their land of deep roots because they feel Mexico's major malfunctions leave them no other choice?

While ordinary Mexicans eke out paltry wages from smog-choked Mexico City to the lush beaches, their government, police and judiciary have made corruption an art form.

Fox predicted that by 2040 the Mexican economy would be the "fifth largest in the world." How, through its $25 billion a year drug trafficking industry?

This is a country that gets tough on drug cartels only when the U.S. is looking, where around 2,350 people have been killed just this year in drug violence.

Mexico is a country where the government can't even accept the fact that the recent massive flooding that left half a million people homeless in Tabasco state could be due to poor dam management and dollars unspent on flood-control infrastructure. Instead, President Felipe Calderon lifted a line from the Al Gore playbook: "I can assure Tabasquenos that the origin and cause of this catastrophe is enormous climate change."

This is a country that has seen the worst series of murders in memory -- hundreds of women slain and hundreds more missing in Ciudad Juarez since 1993. And a government that has not only closed unsolved cases, but criticizes journalists who bring up the crimes.

And proving that poverty can make you do desperate things, this is a country that nearly fell prey to the neo-Socialist blather of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who promised Mexico the moon with the backing of Hugo Chavez.

And now Calderon, the president who claims he can fix it all, can't even deliver a state of the nation address in front of his own congress.

When it comes to illegal immigrants dying trying to cross a desert choked with AK-47-toting traffickers, we can't put a Band-Aid on internal bleeding. Between treating Central American migrants like dirt and then blaming the U.S. for violating illegal immigrants' rights, Mexico's leaders need to summon enough introspection to realize what their country can be, and then summon enough courage to take the painful steps needed to get there.

Because the American Dream is well-loved, but there's absolutely no reason why there can't also be a Mexican Dream -- in a thriving, desirable homeland.

Bridget Johnson is a columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News.