The United States must increase pressure on Mexico to improve its economic conditions and discourage illegal immigration, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rosario Marin said Thursday in her first major policy speech of the campaign.
The root cause of such movement has been masked by the contentious debates over immigrant driver's licenses and President Bush's proposal for a temporary guest-worker program, she said.
"As an immigrant from Mexico whose first language was Spanish, I know firsthand the reasons why people leave," she said in a speech at the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda.
"My parents left because there was no hope to improve our poor economic conditions.... My adopted mother country gave the opportunities that Mexico couldn't."
Marin, who immigrated legally to the U.S. with her family when she was 14, is one of 10 Republican candidates hoping to face Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer in November. The GOP primary is March 2.
Of the four major GOP candidates, Marin -- a former U.S. treasurer under Bush -- is the only one to support the president's guest-worker proposal. Former Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian of Carlsbad has denounced the plan as unworkable and immoral; former Secretary of State Bill Jones and former Los Altos Hills Mayor Toni Casey have been supportive of Bush but critical that the plan might create another amnesty program.
Marin reiterated her support for the Bush proposal Thursday but insisted that Mexico bears more responsibility for illegal immigration than the U.S. She said Mexico must reduce the tax burden on low- and middle-income residents, encourage private investment in industries such as energy and do more to police its own porous border.
She acknowledged that Congress has no authority over Mexico's domestic policies but said pressure could be applied through strings on economic aid and treaties. Because of her immigrant background, she said, politicians on both sides of the border will listen to her.
Among reforms needed, she said, is the renegotiation of an extradition agreement with Mexico that allows each country to refuse to surrender suspects facing the death penalty. Mexican courts expanded that to include anyone facing a life prison term, that country's most severe sentence.
Her proposal follows by two months a similar effort by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). There are 360 major-crime suspects living in Mexico that should be returned to the U.S. for trial, according to federal authorities, including Jorge "Armando" Arroyo Garcia, suspected of killing Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff David March in April 2002.
Marin also proposed returning illegal immigrants convicted of crimes to Mexico to serve their sentences. A second treaty with Mexico requires prisoners to agree to transfers before they can be moved to their home country; that too must be changed, she said.
But Marin demurred when asked by reporters after her speech about a related issue: giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. Marin opposed a bill signed by then-Gov. Gray Davis last year allowing such licenses.
She refused to say, however, how she would vote on legislation introduced in September by Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.). It would withhold up to 25% of a state's federal highway funds if it allows illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses.
"I understand the frustration people have, but it's not dealing with the root of the problem," she said of the Tancredo bill.
Jones' campaign has criticized Marin for refusing to address the driver's license issue. Jones has opposed the issuance of driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, but a spokeswoman said his views on the Tancredo bill are not known.