There is no shortage of criticism of our immigration laws from detractors who contend that they are unjust and immoral. And though criticism of U.S. immigration laws can be fierce – particularly in the case of Arizona’s SB 1070, the Support our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhood Acts – Mexico’s much harsher immigration laws rarely get noticed.

Upon Arizona’s passage of SB 1070,  critics attacked the law with claims of racial profiling. Among the opponents were the open border lobby, including the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF), other liberal interest groups, President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder.  In addition to critics here at home, the bill also found an enemy in Mexican President Felipe Calderon.  He famously lectured our country in his address to Congress in 2010, declaring that the law “ignores a reality that cannot be erased by decree” and “[that it] introduces a terrible idea using racial profiling as a basis for law enforcement,” he said to cheers from some in the House chamber.

The speech and Calderon’s remarks received considerable media attention, particularly from a largely sympathetic Hispanic media. But receiving far less scrutiny was how President Calderon and his country are dealing with illegal immigration.  Upon closer examination, Arizona’s SB 1070 looks like amnesty compared to Mexican law.

The Law Library of Congress released a report in April 2006 titled, Immigration Law Sanctions and Enforcement in Selected Foreign Countries: Brazil, Egypt, Japan, Mexico, Sweden, and Switzerland. The report observed how Mexican law considers “[i]legal entry a federal crime … penalized with imprisonment for up to two years, a fine from three hundred to five thousand Mexican Pesos, and deportation.” Repeat offenders receive even harsher sanctions of 10-year imprisonment and a fine of up to five thousand pesos and deportation.

Although Mexico recently reformed the Ley General de Población (General Law of the People) in January 2011, our neighbors to the south continue the policy of maintaining fines at the current level of five thousand pesos, or $418.10 in March 2011, for those who don’t follow deportation orders (Chapter 8, Article 117).

Among the other findings of the Library of Congress, through its “enforcing arm, the National Institute of Migration –INAMI” (the equivalent of ICE here in the USA), the Mexican Police Force, may carry out the following:” (Chapter 10, Article 151)

  • Perform verification visits
  • Cause a foreigner to appear before immigration authorities
  • Receive and present complaints and testimony
  • Perform migration inspection operations on routes or at temporary points different from established inspection locations
  • Obtain such other elements of proof as may be necessary for the application of the Act, its regulation, and additional administrative provisions

Lastly, “the authorities of the country, whether federal, local, or municipal, and the notaries public and commercial brokers are required to request that the foreigners whom they deal with prove their legal presence in the country” and illegal immigrants who wish to get married to Mexican citizens “must request authorization from the Secretariat of the Interior.”

In contrast, let’s look at the far less complicated17-page Arizona legislation that caused so much uproar last year, even though it’s clear that many of the fiercest critics neglected to read it. Law enforcement officials can only check on the immigration status of an individual after a lawful stop, detention, or arrest for “any other law or ordinance of a county, city or town or this state.”  And they can only check on the immigration status if they have a “reasonable suspicion” that the individual is an alien and is unlawfully present in the United States.  Further, the Arizona law specifically prohibits racial profiling – race and ethnicity cannot be considered by law enforcement officials.  The Arizona law also states that:

  • “Except as provided by federal law, officials…may not be prohibited or … restricted…for the following purposes”: (8.F)
    • Confirming the identity of any person who is detained (8.F.3)
      • If the person is an alien, determine whether the person is in compliance with the federal registration laws prescribed by Title II, Chapter 7 of the Federal Immigration and Nationality Act. (8.F.4)
    • Transport any convicted alien who has been released from jail to the “custody of the USICE or the USCBP. (8.C)

In other words, the law simply makes it a state crime to be in the state of Arizona illegally and requires law enforcement officials to check on the legal status of persons who have been detained or arrested for other reasons – but only if there is a reasonable suspicion that they are in the United States illegally.

The law specifically defines who is considered an illegal alien. The person in question must meet both of the following: be present in “any public or private land in the state” and be in violation of 8 U.S.C. §§ 1304(e) or 1306(a). If a person is arrested in violation of this new law he is not eligible for “suspension or commutation of sentence” and, along with facing penalties for any other law he may have broken, must pay a fine of at least $500 for a first violation and twice the amount specified in the first sentencing. The entire bill can be read here.

As our country tries to enforce the rule of law with sensible immigration laws, it is worth remembering how other countries are also grappling with the national security, economic, political and social concerns that come with illegal immigration.  With nearly sixty percent of illegal immigrants originating from Mexico, it is particularly helpful to remember that our neighbor to the south is dealing with illegal immigration in a much harsher manner than the United States, a fact that illustrates the hypocrisy of Calderon’s criticisms of Arizona’s new law.  


Andres Celedon, an intern at The Heritage Foundation is a junior at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he is studying public policy with a minor in history.