Mexico proposes stopping migrants before border
April 23, 2005, 1:31PM
Mexico proposes stopping migrants before border
By MARK STEVENSON
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
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
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
"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
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/