Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto paid an official visit to California, visiting two major cities this week, and even though he was met with two groups of protesters who had two different agendas in mind, his focus was to improve relations for immigrants between both countries.
He stopped by in Los Angeles, on Monday, August 25 and in Sacramento, on Tuesday, August 26.
In Sacramento, Californias capital, he addressed a joint session of the state Legislature.
Peña Nieto speech main topics were:
- He praised California for passing some immigrant-friendly laws, including one that will allow undocumented immigrants to apply for drivers licenses.
- He also mentioned California allows undocumented students to receive grants and scholarships to attend public colleges and universities.
- Peña Nieto also praised California for offering legal help to about 3,900 unaccompanied immigrant children from Central America now staying there.
- He asked US legislators to follow Californias example and work on immigration reform.
- Both governments are interested on speeding up the process of crossing the border, and they are planning to open at least two more checkpoints.
Mexican authorities mentioned this visit is in return to California governors recent visit to Mexico, where both countries expressed their will to strengthen their commercial cooperation. Mexico is the largest export market to California. Gov. Jerry Brown is interested on expanding the use of alternate energy along the border with Mexico.
Peña Nieto made clear that California is of special interest to Mexico because besides the commercial trade between both states, the largest Mexican community outside Mexico lives in the Golden State.
Meetings and protests
In Sacramento, about 150 people protested in front of the building where Mexican president Peña Nieto was having lunch with California’s governor and members of his cabinet and other elected officials. Protesters demanded the release of Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, who was arrested in April when entering Mexico with weapons and ammunition in his car. Nineteen state Republican lawmakers signed a letter asking for the Marines release.
Mexican presidents very seldom meet pro-immigrants grass roots organizations or civil rights activists when visiting the U.S. The well planned meetings are carefully arranged, and this visit wasnt an exception.
The few Mexican-Americans and Mexican nationals allowed to talk during Peña Nietos visit to Los Angeles expressed concern for the lack of support to Mexican business entrepreneurs investing in California, the status quo of Michoacan state, where violence is still rampant despite the Mexican army’s involvement to control drug trafficking and the rise of armed vigilante groups.
Others also asked for support to Dreamers and one Mexican immigrant asked President Peña Nieto to provide voting documentation to Mexicans living in United States who are willing to vote. Current legislation allows Mexicans abroad to vote, but they have to apply in Mexico for the mandatory voter ID.
Outside the Hotel Millenium Biltmore, in Los Angeles, where that meeting was taking place, about 50 protesters complained about the high level of violence in Mexico and demanded the government control it.
Low expectations for the Enrique Peña Nieto’s visit
More than to protest, we wanted to express President Peña Nieto our disappointment with his double standard when dealing with immigration, said Luis Magaña, long time activist and coordinator of Proyecto Voz, of the American Friends Service Committee, based in Stockton.
He asks USA to pass an immigration reform while he is doing to opposite in Mexico with Central American immigrants going throughout Mexico on their way to USA.
Magaña also said former braceros were present, one of them willing to present Peña Nieto with a personal letter a traditional Mexican way to communicate with high ranked officials but there wasnt any connection with Peña Nietos entourage.
Magaña was part of a group of people voicing their complains and concerns during Peña Nietos lunch in Sacramento.
Some activists protested the recent energy reform law Peña Nieto pushed for which, they said, will privatize oil, benefiting private corporations.
Many people asked me to voice their concerns about the lack of safety in Mexico, said Magaña. My expectations were around enacting regulations regarding labor rights for temporary farmworkers coming to California But nothing happened.
According to Magaña, it could be perfect timing to talk about such regulations since Labor Day is around the corner. Such regulations would be of great benefit for thousands of Mexican farmworkers working in California But this was just a visit.