Fri, Jan 20, 2006 - Page 9 News List

A defensive fence riles Mexico

The US Senate will soon consider a bill that adds fencing to 700km of the Mexican border, much to the displeasure of most Mexicans


A proposed US law that would plug holes in its porous southern border has unleashed a storm of protest in Mexico and Central America after it passed the US House of Representatives late last year.

In the coming weeks, the US Senate is expected to begin considering the Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act, which calls for US$2.2 billion to build an additional 700km of double-fencing along the border.

Sponsored by Republican representatives James Sensenbrenner and Peter King, the legislation is arguably the harshest piece of anti-immigration legislation passed in a generation.

But it has already triggered a howl of street protests and stinging criticism in official circles in Mexico. Mexican President Vicente Fox has called the legislation a "disgrace" and a "very bad sign" that "does not befit a country that prides itself on being democratic."

Some critics have compared the proposal to the Berlin Wall.

But not until late last week did the US respond to the growing outcry. US Ambassador to Mexico Antonio Garza issued a five-page retort, calling the criticism "excessive, often irresponsible and almost always inaccurate," Knight Ridder newspapers reported on Monday.

"There is no human right to enter another country in violation of its laws," Garza was quoted as saying. "Illegal immigration is a threat to our system of laws and an affront to the millions around the world, including in Mexico, who play by the rules in seeking to come to the United States."

After the bill passed the House, Mexican newspapers were indignant, filling their pages with commentary complaining about the brazenness of the rich northern neighbor and the heartlessness of denying Mexicans a chance to share in its riches.

Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez said the bill was misguided, and he announced Mexico would do everything to block it.

Interior Minister Carlos Abascal was photographed with people who had just been returned by the US, saying they were worried about the way they were treated.

Human rights advocates, international organizations and churches in the US also raised a loud cry against the project.

Collectively they said it amounted to xenophobia. Constructing a wall will not inhibit poor people seeking a better life in the north, and more people will die taking more dangerous routes into the US, they said.

Last year, the official count of people who lost their lives crossing the border illegally was 324; the true count was likely to be much higher.

But the US bill found a sympathetic ear at the conservative newspaper Reforma.

"The United States has every right in the world to block illegal immigrants," it wrote.

Mexico would do the same if 2 million immigrants stormed the country, it said. And, of course, Mexico would not tolerate criticism from outside the country. Who is allowed to immigrate and who is not is a sovereign decision of each state, Reforma said.

The border between the US and Mexico is about 3,200km long, stretching from the Pacific Coast in California to the Gulf of Mexico in Texas. That border has been crossed by millions of Latinos, a majority of whom are Mexicans, who found jobs in the US or Canada.

Their relatives and friends receive billions of dollars sent back home. Mexicans alone send back US$16 billion annually.

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