MEXICO CITY—President Bush’s nephew, campaigning for overseas votes in Mexico on Saturday, called the federal policy of arming U.S. Border Patrol agents with plastic pellet guns “reprehensible.”
Speaking in a mix of English and sometimes-halting Spanish, George P. Bush said his uncle was not to blame for the gun policy, which has angered Mexicans. He instead blamed it on “some local INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) guy who’s trying to be tough, act macho.”
“If there has been American approval for this policy, that is reprehensible,” Bush said of the guns, essentially paintball projectiles filled with chile powder. “It’s kind of barbarous.”
The pellet guns, which were approved at the federal level, have been used on a trial basis since 2001 in California and Arizona. The U.S. Border Patrol fired the pepper-balls in 81 instances in 2002-03 and reported no deaths or severe injuries.
President Bush’s Hispanic nephew—he’s the grandson of migrant worker Jose Maria Garnica—is in Mexico on a week-long visit to drum up support for his uncle among the estimated 1 million Americans living there.
The younger Bush, whose father is Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and mother, Columba, is originally from Mexico, acknowledged at a news conference that the war in Iraq is not popular in Mexico but defended the military action, saying “we’re almost done with it.”
He also acknowledged that “there are some people in our (Republican) party who don’t see the benefits of immigration,” but promised that President Bush was a proponent of immigration reform.
He called Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez “a dictator” and cast doubt on his victory last week in a recall referendum, saying Chavez had “a long history of fraud.” Outside observers, including former President Jimmy Carter, have endorsed the Venezuelan vote counts.
Christopher Fussner, global chairman of Republicans Abroad, which funded Bush’s trip, called Mexico “the most important country” for getting overseas votes.
Fussner said Republicans are advertising in overseas English-language newspapers around the world in hopes of capturing expatriate votes.
Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry’s campaign also has enlisted family members to woo voters in Mexico. His sister, Diana Kerry, chairwoman of Americans Overseas for Kerry, visited Mexico City in July.
Kerry supporters also held a voter-registration and ballot-request drive in Guadalajara on Thursday.