Don’t Fence Me In: Mexico Lashes Border Plan

Sydney Morning Herald, October 6, 2006

Mexico City—Mexico says it may go to the United Nations to challenge US plans to build hundreds of kilometres of fences on its southern border.

The Foreign Secretary, Luis Ernesto Derbez, said the plan was offensive.

Asked if he would take up the issue with the UN, a step some Mexican politicians have called for, Mr Derbez replied: “Without a doubt, we are examining, with the foreign relations legal team, what options are open at an international level and we will take them.”

The US President, George Bush, yesterday signed a homeland security funding bill that includes $US1.2 billion ($1.6 billion) for fencing along the US-Mexico border to stop illegal immigrants and criminals sneaking over.

The outgoing Mexican President, Vicente Fox, has called the plan “shameful” and compared it to the Berlin Wall. Mr Fox has spent his six-year term lobbying for a new guest worker program and an amnesty for Mexicans working illegally in the US.

On Thursday, all eight parties in Mexico’s Congress joined forces to exhort Mr Fox to use all diplomatic means to try to stop the construction of the fence.

Mr Fox’s spokesman, Ruben Aguilar, said the US Congress was unlikely to approve enough funding to finish the project, despite the $US1.2 billion approved.

“There is no money to build it, so it won’t be built,” he said.

Although some say the whole project could be finished at a cost of $US2.2 billion, others say it could be much higher.

The president-elect, Felipe Calderon, who takes office on December 1, has also attacked the plans.

“One could stop more migrants with a kilometre of new roads and development than with a wall,” he said.

There are an estimated 11 million Mexicans in the US.


Mexico City—President Vicente Fox’s government yesterday blasted as “useless and unworkable” the construction of hundreds of miles of new fences along the U.S.-Mexico border to stem illegal immigration.

As President Bush traveled to Arizona to sign a law that will pay for $1.2 billion of fencing, Fox spokesman Rubén Aguilar predicted the wall will be so costly to build that it will never be completed.

No one knows how much the border fence will cost, but a 14-mile segment under construction in San Diego is priced at $125 million.

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While Fox’s government attempted to downplay the impact of the wall, immigration experts who gathered yesterday in the Mexico City offices of Baja California-based Colegio de la Frontera Norte said it is certain to mark a chilling of U.S.-Mexico relations.

“In Mexico, it will be very difficult, in the face of negative public opinion, to have the same level of cooperation with the United States,” said Andrés Rozental, a former deputy foreign minister of Mexico who now heads the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations. “The symbolism of erecting a visible wall has an unfriendly connotation for a neighbor and a partner like Mexico.”

The backlash over the wall is certain to spill into other critical areas such as trade, the fight against drug trafficking and efforts to combat terrorism, said Jorge Santibáñez, president of the Colegio de la Frontera Norte.

“Confronted with these kinds of measures, Mexico has to question the entire relationship,” he said. “We have to read the message of the wall: That Mexico is not capable of controlling its border.”

Mexico has strongly objected to the fence, which it sees as an affront to Fox’s efforts to negotiate an immigration agreement.

On Monday, the Mexican government sent a diplomatic note to Washington criticizing last week’s U.S. Senate vote to authorize the new fencing. And on Tuesday, all eight political parties in Mexico’s Congress urged Fox to take diplomatic steps to stop the construction of the fences.

President-elect Felipe Calderón criticized the U.S. measure during a trip this week to Central America, saying fences “are truly obstacles to the mutually beneficial relationship that two neighboring countries must have.”

As the Fox government lodges its protest with the Bush administration, it must also confront Mexico’s dependence on the money sent home by migrants, said Rodolfo Tuirán, an immigration specialist at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico. The Mexican government predicts nearly $25 billion will be sent home this year. Only 93 of Mexico’s 2,350 municipalities do not receive money from migrants working in the United States.

Mexico’s biggest challenge is to create economic and job growth, said Tuirán. “Our country is addicted to immigration,” he said. “If the wall is announcing an end to the tolerance of migrants in the United States, then we are facing a serious problem.”

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