By Sandra Sanchez
AFSC Iowa Immigrants Voice Program Director

Martha Sahagún de Fox, former First Lady of Mexico, delighted a group of about 80 women and a few men this Wednesday, March 28, during a speech sponsored by Nexus, a networking group for women leaders in Des Moines. I had the unusual opportunity to talk to Mrs. Fox for a few minutes. After her keynote speech, I asked her if she would address Mexican immigrants and her thoughts on immigration. She graciously accepted my request.

“First I want to send my warmest salute to all of them,” she said. “They are amazing people whose commitment to their families has forced them to migrate in order to support them. Furthermore, I would like for people here to recognize that many of them may not even want to be here, yet they are here because of extreme poverty and lack of opportunities in our dear but troubled Mexico.”

I was a little surprised by the candor of Mrs. Fox!

“The disparity between the haves and the have-nots unfortunately keeps growing in both countries," she continued, "and we all have a responsibility to those more vulnerable in our midst. That’s why Vicente and I opened the Centro Fox and the Follow Me Foundation in an effort to effect change among Mexico’s poorest.

“We receive an average of 500 children from poor communities every day, and we also have a few cabins to host dozens of them if they want to stay for a few days. Our main purpose is to instill in them a sense of self-esteem and self-value which they often lack at home and at school. One child’s response left a deep impression.

“The worker at the center near to me asked him, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ and he said, ‘I want to be a drug dealer.’ My assistant gave me a significant look but I advised her to say nothing. At the end of the day we asked the same child, ‘What do you want to be when you are a grown up?’ and his answer was, ‘I want to be president.’ That’s the impact we are seeking to have in these children. You too are helping and mentoring other people. We all can do more.

“But getting back to immigration, I truly believe that it is a mismanaged resource and both countries could benefit immensely if those who are unauthorized could have the opportunity to get a legal status. Then, both countries could tap onto the resourcefulness and entrepreneurship of this hard-working population.

“We also ought to keep and cherish our shared family values instead of breaking families apart. I really hope that the issue of a path to legalize unauthorized immigrants can be at the forefront of the political arena once more. Immigrants deserve it, and our countries will undoubtedly benefit from it.”

I thought that Mrs. Fox would shy away from such a controversial issue; but far from it she spoke with candor and a shared sense of responsibility, and for that I am thankful. Now at least 80 more business and political leaders of Des Moines have a different perspective on the issue, one that comes from a respected woman they see as a fellow leader.