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Keeping Mexicans home

Migrants trying to illegally cross the border from Mexico to the U.S. near Calexico, Calif.

KAI RYSSDAL: The immigration rallies have been here today.That is to say, in the United States. But in Mexico, President Felipe Calderon has been trying to solve what he sees as an emigration problem.

Pamela Starr studies Latin America at the Eurasia group. That's a political risk consulting firm. Pamela, good to talk with you.

PAMELA STARR: It's a pleasure to be here.

RYSSDAL: When President Calderon was elected, he sort of ran on a platform as the jobs candidate. That he was gonna create jobs down there, in part sort of to keep the Mexican population home. How is that going for him?

STARR: Well, it's gonna be a long, hard slog. Calderon is going to have to do some heavy restructuring of the Mexican economy. Which is not great news for the United States in terms of the migration issue. But the very positive news is that Calderon is the first Mexican president to admit that Mexico, indeed, is part of the migration problem, and that it needs to begin resolving the problem at home by creating more jobs.

RYSSDAL: Is the Mexican economy set up to structurally add new jobs at a quick pace?

STARR: It's not. And that's what Calderon has to do, he has to restructure key elements of the economy. The main things he has to do is he needs to implement a labor reform and he needs to increase competition — particularly in the area of cement and in telecom — so that the prices on those become lower and the Mexican economy therefore becomes more competitive internationally.

RYSSDAL: Other than jobs, is he doing anything in terms of social programs that might give people an added incentive to remain at home?

STARR: He's trying to two or three things. One of the things he's trying to do is to add to Mexico's anti-poverty program that's known as "Opportunities." And the idea is that you actually pay mothers to keep their children at home. It's not like U.S. welfare, where you pay mothers to be at-home mothers, but rather the idea is to keep kids in school and to get them to health clinics so that they get their immunizations. That program now covers children in very poor areas through high school. What Calderon wants to do is extend that into their first job. It's called his first jobs program, in which the government pays all the health and retirement benefits for workers on behalf of the firms if companies hire these individuals who are coming out of this anti-poverty program.

RYSSDAL: Do you think, when all is said and done, that anything that's happening in Mexico City is going to be enough to change the terms of the debate here?

STARR: I don't. I think Mexico needs to do precisely what it's doing. Mexico is trying to create jobs because it's in the Mexican national interest, not because it's going to change U.S. public opinion. U.S. public opinion . . . I don't see how it's going to change significantly in the near term about Mexico, simply because of the amount of political hay that can be made playing to irrational emotions about migrants. It is a useful tool for politicians when they want to be reelected and they want to play on an emotional issue in the United States.

RYSSDAL: Pamela Starr is a Latin America analyst at the Eurasia Group. Ms. Starr, thanks a lot for your time.

STARR: It was a pleasure to be here, Kai.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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