The United States needs comprehensive immigration reform or the country will become increasingly fragmented, said Ruben Beltran Guerrero, Consul General of Mexico in New York, at a Master’s Tea on Thursday.
Speaking to an audience of 25 people at the Ezra Stiles Master’s House, Guerrero said immigrants make up an important piece of what he called the American “quilt.” While consulates provide services ranging from legal aid to health care, Guerrero said, the Latino immigrant community should build solidarity by fostering connections among Latino immigrants from different countries. And immigrants and minorities of all backgrounds should recognize that they share a history of similar struggles, he added.
“We stand on the shoulders of Rosa Parks,” Guerrero said. “We stand on the shoulders of the Jews who were discriminated against in the Lower East Side of New York.”
Mexico has 50 consulates in the United States — the largest number of consulates any one nation has in a host country — which serve 12 million Mexican nationals. The consulate system helps to promote Mexican business in the United States and issues passports and other documents to nationals, while also providing legal assistance for Mexican immigrants, he explained. Consulates also help to ensure that immigrants are treated fairly by local governments, he added.
“We create a more favorable environment for Mexican nationals,” Guerrero said, “and liaise with local authorities to create an understanding.” He added that the consulates achieve this by urging local authorities to enforce labor laws or provide health care to immigrants, regardless of their legal status.
Guerrero also said he tries to improve cooperation and solidarity among different communities of immigrants in his work on projects with the Coalition of Latin American Consulates in New York, a group of consulates of 16 Latin American nations.
As part of one Coalition project, the consulates created a poster to be put in airport detention rooms listing the emergency numbers of all 16 consulates and informing detained immigrants of their right to call their respective consulates. This project had “practical value,” Guerrero said.
The United States must reform its immigration policies, Guerrero said, or it risks isolating the Latino community.
“My fear is immigrants 20 years from now that have a resentment towards a society that never accepted their parents,” Guerrero said. He added that he saw “the embryo of unrest” in a small and moderately violent segment of the immigrant population during Los Angeles demonstrations on immigration policy in 2006 and 2007.
Guerrero also said that until undocumented immigrants are granted legal status, attending school will not lead to high-paying jobs, and Latinos will continue to drop out at high rates.
Guerrero supports the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act — or the DREAM Act — which would provide legal status to immigrants who finish high school, he said, but he is wary of pursuing the act at the cost of more complete reform.
“It’s dangerous to proceed in a piecemeal way,” he said. “That will endanger our reaching the point of comprehensive reform.”
The three audience members interviewed said they thought Guerrero was an interesting speaker.
Alexa Chu ’11 said his talk gave good examples of solutions to the immigration problems the United States faces.
“I thought he was very honest,” Mariel Novas ’10 added. “I was expecting a politician’s response to everything.”
Guerrero took office in December 2007 after serving as the Consul General of Mexico in Phoenix and Los Angeles.