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Mexico proposes stopping migrants before border

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/world/3149899 April 23, 2005, 1:31PM Mexico proposes stopping migrants before border By MARK STEVENSON Associated
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 23, 2005

      April 23, 2005, 1:31PM
      Mexico proposes stopping migrants before border
      Associated Press

      MEXICO CITY � Mexican lawmakers have proposed a bill
      to stop Mexicans from traveling to dangerous border
      areas, a measure some say is needed to save lives but
      others say violates the right of free movement and
      bows to U.S. interests.

      For decades, Mexico has said its constitution prevents
      it from stopping its own citizens from migrating
      illegally to the United States. But the proposal
      challenges that tradition in a country that both
      relies on and regrets migration, that mourns migrant
      deaths but does little to prevent them.

      Promoted as a humanitarian measure rather than a move
      to restrict migration, the bill has put Mexican
      legislators in the unusual position of receiving both
      praise from U.S. anti-immigration groups and criticism
      from pro-migrant activists.

      "This bill will be very controversial. ... But I hope
      it can at least open a debate about Mexico's
      responsibility for the outflow of migrants," said
      Jorge Santibanez, president of Mexico's College of the
      Northern Border.

      The measure has proved so sensitive that, even though
      it won approval in a Senate committee, the Interior
      Department asked its sponsor, Sen. Hector Osuna, to
      temporarily withdraw it Tuesday for some last-minute

      The department wants to specify that only police � not
      soldiers � can stop migrants; Osuna will resubmit the
      bill once those changes are made. "We can't just sit
      by with our arms crossed and wait for one more person
      to die," he said.

      The bill would allow police or Mexico's
      migrant-protection agents to designate border areas as
      temporary "high-risk zones" and declare them
      off-limits to average citizens.

      When high temperatures are forecast, for example,
      "patrols would go out, inform people of this, and take
      them to a safe place until it (the heat) is over,"
      Osuna said. After that, the migrants are once again
      free to go where they wish.

      "The analogy I use is what you see in the movies, when
      a person tries to commit suicide by jumping off a tall
      building," he said. "What does the government do? It
      tries to stop them."

      Several hundred Mexican migrants die each year of heat
      stroke, drowning, dehydration or assaults at desert
      border crossings.

      Osuna argues that both Article 11 of the constitution
      and civil defense laws have long allowed authorities
      to limit Mexicans' movements under certain
      circumstances. "There are a lot of places you aren't
      allowed to go," he said.

      And Mexico already deports more than 200,000
      undocumented migrants per year � mainly Central
      Americans � caught trying to reach the United States.

      The bill passed the seven-member Senate Population and
      Development Commission unanimously in mid-April and
      was headed for debate on the floor of the Senate when
      migrant activists in the United States caught wind of
      it and began publicly criticizing it.

      "It's useless to try to close the border from either
      side, the Mexican or U.S. side," said Claudia Smith,
      of the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation.

      Those in favor of reducing migration to the United
      States disagree.

      "It is heartening to see Mexican politicians turning
      their attention to the tragedy of Mexicans risking
      their lives to illegally cross into the United
      States," said Jack Martin, of the Washington-based
      Federation for American Immigration Reform.

      In Mexico, some have considered the bill tantamount to

      Aldolfo Aguilar Zinser, a former senator and national
      security adviser, said President Vicente Fox's
      conservative National Action Party, to which Osuna
      belongs, "wants to look as accommodating as possible
      to (U.S. President George W.) Bush."

      "Mexico cannot do the United States' dirty work on
      this side of the border," said Zinser, who calls the
      bill "a very bad idea."

      Such criticism stings Osuna.

      "This is a humanitarian issue," he said. "We are not
      doing anybody's work for them."

      Osuna added that while some Mexican news media "report
      this as if we're trying to seal the border, or stop
      migration, that's not the intention, and it's not even
      possible." Mexico walks a thin line on a lot of
      migration issues. It has asked the United States for
      more work visas for Mexicans, but has never offered to
      stop those who lack visas from crossing the border

      It has published safety guides for migrants and
      defends migration as an economic and historical
      necessity, while officially claiming to discourage it.

      And while Mexico has often pledged to crack down on
      migrant smugglers, the so-called "coyotes" still
      operate freely, openly recruiting clients at border
      bus stations.

      Mexico has sometimes tried to demand U.S. citizenship
      for its migrants and criticized what it calls U.S.
      discrimination against them. But Mexican migrants
      living in the United States actually have broader
      rights � such as assuming public office or owning land
      � than do foreign residents in Mexico.

      Some say Mexico has to start talking straighter, if it
      wants a migration agreement with its northern

      "(Mexico's) basic assumption that the United States
      ought to absorb all its excess labor is very dangerous
      for U.S.-Mexican relations," Zinser said. "It only
      ignites attitudes of fear and xenophobia."


      On the Net:

      California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation:

      Federation for American migration: http://www.fairus.org/
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