Ex-diplomat talks immigration in LR | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Ex-diplomat talks immigration in LR

Posted By on Wed, Jun 11, 2008 at 2:04 PM

John A. Ritchie, a retired diplomat who served as the State Department's Coordinator for U.S.-Mexico Border Affairs from 2004-2006, spoke of the complexity of American-Mexican relations this afternoon at the Arkansas Committee on Foreign Relations.

National immigration legislation was one topic on the mind of questioners at the event. "We have to get away from the feeling that there's something magical about a piece of paper," Ritchie said of continuing attempts at national immigration reform law. His point was not to denigrate those attempts -- we need to regularize temporary work programs, he said -- but rather to point out that there are all sorts of structural issues that  make the immigration situation so complex.

Ritchie put particular emphasis on the employment challenges Mexico faces. 60 percent of Mexicans are unemployed -- at least insofar as you can use that term, since the Mexican government offers no employment benefits to its jobless. Education is also a huge issue: Ritchie argued that Mexico needs to improve the quality of jobs it has available, a task that he said is made difficult by the fact that most Mexican workers have no higher than a 9th grade education.

Ritchie gave one particular example of how the lack of innovation is hurting the Mexican economy: Though Mexico sits on the largest natural gas reserves in North America, it lacks the capability to mine them. Instead it imports natural gas from Texas at high cost.

Ritchie also spent some time talking about the drug trade, which he said used to be dominated by Colombia but now is a Mexican venture even up to the point of distribution in the U.S. There are four major drug cartels in Mexico. Despite the Mexican government's increased crackdown on the trade, drug-trade-related violence has continued to spread, resulting in some spectacular gun battles. Killings have happened even in Monterrey, which Ritchie said has traditionally been safe from such drug violence.

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