Rick Perry thinks Mexico may have just solved America’s immigration problem

If, a handful of years into the future, the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States has fallen sharply or zeroed out, the president will deserve all the credit. Mexico’s president, that is.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, no stranger to the tough debate over the nation’s immigration laws, thinks recent legislation passed by Mexico’s Congress, a major priority of President Enrique Pena Nieto, may have set in motion a reversal of the flow of undocumented immigrants northward. In a short time, Perry said in an interview Saturday, undocumented immigrants may be streaming back over the U.S.-Mexico border, headed for lucrative energy sector jobs back home.

“The landscape on immigration is fast changing,” Perry said. “My instinct is that immigration and immigration reform are going to be substantially less of a flashpoint than they have been in the last several years.”

The change, Perry predicted, will come as private investors begin taking stakes in Pemex, Mexico’s state-owned oil monopoly. In December, Mexico’s Senate ratified outlines of legislation that would allow private investment in the company, which could eventually lead to complete privatization. Outside analysts believe the new rules will eventually make Mexico one of the world’s largest oil producers.

The new jobs that result from the energy boom, Perry predicted, will attract immigrant labor that would otherwise come to the United States.

“At that point in time, this whole issue of immigration reform, I think loses a lot of steam. And then the immigration debate may become, how are we going to efficiently allow people into this country to fill the agricultural or hospitality or construction jobs that these people had historically been filling,” Perry said.

Perry said that takes the pressure off Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives, where immigration reform legislation has stalled in recent months after passing the Senate.

“I would suggest [Congressional Republicans] continue to push for a federal solution to securing the border, working with the states,” Perry said.

The shift toward privatization in Mexico isn’t complete yet. Foreign companies still want the right to drill on Mexican soil, or offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. But the legislation does allow foreign companies the opportunity to partner with Pemex, which could issue licenses to drill for oil.

More than half the estimated 11.7 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, about 6.8 million, come from Mexico. The number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. has already declined, according to analysis by the Pew Research Center, due in large part to the recession, which cost thousands of undocumented immigrants their jobs.

In the interview, Perry, who leaves office next year after 14 years as governor of Texas, wouldn’t say whether he will take a second run at the presidency. But, he said, he has mixed feelings about leaving his current job.

“For the last 30 years, I’ve been in elected positions of one form or another,” Perry said. “I’m starting to transition out. And it’s a bittersweet time for me. I love being governor.”

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