In the economic food chain of the Americas, the U.S. is not the only country with an undocumented-worker crisis. As the lure of better wages in the U.S. has grown, so too has the number of jobs going unfilled back in Mexico.
That's where Central Americans come in: conservative estimates say that around 120,000 people enter illegally each year mostly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to work in southern Mexico, not only as seasonal coffee pickers but also as construction workers, maids and gardeners. As in the U.S., the black market in labor has created a host of problems for the border regions. Workers are routinely exploited, while detention centers are overflowing and the border patrol is simply overwhelmed. In short, the problems on the southern border with Central American neighbors are very similar to the problems at the northern border with the U.S.
Mexican President Felipe Calderón invoked human rights in his recent promise to establish a guest-worker program that will allow long-time residents finally to come out of the shadows. "Migrants are not delinquents," he said. "They are honest people in search of a better life for themselves and their families."
A guest-worker program may brighten the outlook for Mexico's internal illegals, but observers say the compassionate rhetoric is not just for domestic consumption. Calderón, who is meeting this month with President Bush to talk about how Mexican migrants are treated in the U.S., seems to be following a simple maxim: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.