Mexico has reacted furiously to a bill signed into law by the US this week that would fund a border wall and prevent illegal Mexican migrants from obtaining US driving licences.
President Vicente Fox said he would lodge a diplomatic complaint, and was considering complaints to multilateral bodies if Mexico could not unable to resolve the problem bilaterally.
In the US, leaders of the Mexican community threatened to strike to send a message to US employers that they could not survive without cheap Mexican labour.
Santiago Creel, Mexico’s interior secretary, said the “Real ID” law was “negative, inconvenient, and obstructionist”.
“Building walls doesn’t help anyone build a good neighbourhood,” he said. “Taking away the possibility of obtaining driving licences for people who are working in legal jobs, who pay their taxes there, who send remittances home here, seems to us to be an extreme measure, particularly given the new understanding that we thought we had after the re-election of President Bush.”
Andrés Manuel López Obrador, mayor of Mexico City, supported Mr Fox’s stance. He said the problem of growing immigration could be “resolved by encouraging development in Mexico and Central America, not by building walls and using the border control”.
Since 2002, Mexico has adopted a popular policy of issuing undocumented labourers with consular identity cards, which are accepted as proof of identity by many US states for issuing driving licences, and for opening bank accounts. Under the new law, this would no longer be possible. The immigration provisions approved by Congress were attached by House Republicans to a bill that will provide more than $80bn for the war in Iraq this year, giving lawmakers little choice but to support it.
The White House, which at first opposed the new restrictions, supported them when it became clear they would pass Congress in spite of administration opposition.
President George W. Bush has said he wants to deal with illegal immigration by creating a temporary guest worker programme. But many Republicans are using the anxiety about terrorism to push for a crackdown on illegal immigrants.