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Latin Leaders Balk at US "Wall"

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    The proposed 700-mile barrier is to be a big issue at Thursday s North American summit. Latin Leaders Balk at US Wall By Danna Harman The Christian Science
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 3, 2006
      The proposed 700-mile barrier is to be a big issue at Thursday's North
      American summit.

      Latin Leaders Balk at US "Wall"
      By Danna Harman
      The Christian Science Monitor
      Monday 27 March 2006

      Nogales, Mexico - Some envision a wall. Others, a fence - or even
      a "virtual" fence of cameras, lighting, and sensors along the
      US-Mexican border. Whatever form it will take, the US is discussing,
      planning, and, in some places, already building it - much to the fury
      and frustration of neighbors south of the border.

      As Mexican President Vicente Fox prepares to meet Thursday with
      President Bush and Canada's new prime minister, Stephen Harper, in
      CancĂșn, the proposed 700-mile, $2.2 billion barrier is a major point
      of contention - not just for the US and Mexico, but for the US and the
      whole region.

      Regional leaders - whose countries in 2004 received some $45
      billion sent home from immigrants in the US - have met three times
      recently to discuss how best to oppose it.

      "At a moment when relations between the US and Latin America are
      at their lowest point since the end of the cold war, this fence
      proposal is viewed as a terrible affront," says Michael Shifter, vice
      president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think tank.

      "It is hard to imagine any other symbol that more strongly
      reinforces the image of the "ugly American" and is more sharply at
      odds with the "good neighbor" concept."

      It's not just the barrier, but other issues as well in proposed US
      immigration reform legislation that irk regional leaders and caused
      hundreds of thousands of people to protest in multiple US cities over
      the past few days.

      The US Congress passed a tough immigration bill in December that
      would make it a felony for illegal immigrants to be in the US, impose
      new penalties on employers who hire them, and erect a fence along
      one-third of the border's total length.

      At present, just over 80 miles of federally enforced barriers and
      fencing are erected at strategic points on the border, mainly in Texas
      and California.

      This week, the Senate will debate a comprehensive bill that is
      expected to include guest-worker provisions and avenues for legal
      residency, while at the same time beefing up border security. So far,
      a draft of the bill calls only for expanding and reinforcing fencing
      in Arizona - the border state with the most illegal immigration
      traffic - and adding 200 miles of vehicle barriers there, but more
      extensive fencing elsewhere is still under discussion.

      "No country that is proud of itself should build walls," Fox told
      reporters when he last met Bush one year ago, and a month after the
      House began talks on approving a fence. "[I]t doesn't make any sense."

      Since then, as the debate has continued in the US over what kind
      of fence is needed and where, Fox has called the proposal everything
      from "stupid" and "discriminatory" to "shameful," and heralded illegal
      migrants as "heroes" who will in any event find ways to cross the border.

      Last year 1.2 million illegal immigrants were apprehended by the
      border patrol as they tried to cross into the US, and it is frequently
      estimated that close to the same number make it. Last year was also a
      record year for deaths. In 2005, 473 would-be immigrants died en
      route, many victims of thirst, heatstroke, exhaustion, or exposure
      when they tried to cross less carefully guarded desert areas.

      Currently, 11.5 million to 12 million illegal immigrants live in
      the US, according to estimates in a report released this month by the
      Pew Hispanic Center. Of these, an estimated 6.2 million, or 56
      percent, are Mexicans. Another 2.5 million, or 22 percent of the
      total, come from other Latin American countries.

      The money these people send home is vital to the region's economy.
      In 2005, legal and illegal immigrants from Latin America and the
      Caribbean sent home $45 billion in remittances, double the total of a
      decade earlier, according to the Social Outlook 2005 report by the
      Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), a UN
      regional body. Mexican workers alone sent home a record $17 billion.

      So while Fox might be the regional leader most concerned with, and
      vocal about, US immigration policy - he is far from the only one.

      Spearheaded by Mexico, and galvanized by the fence proposals,
      foreign ministers and other top officials from Belize, Guatemala, El
      Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama as well as
      Colombia, Ecuador, and the Dominican Republic met March 15 in
      Guatemala and vowed to coordinate their lobbying efforts against the
      US bill if it should pass in the Senate.

      Guatemalan Vice President Eduardo Stein, in turn, called the bill
      "an affront to Latin America by a government that claims to be our
      partner, but which apparently only wants our money and our
      merchandise, and that sees our people as an epidemic."

      This was the third time representatives from these 11 countries
      have gathered to discuss the US bill. In early January, they convened
      in Mexico City and put out a joint statement saying that "incomplete
      measures that only involve the stiffening of immigration policies do
      not represent an integral solution for dealing with the challenges
      posed by the phenomenon of migration."

      In February, the group met again in Cartegena, Colombia, and
      devised a plan to identify key US senators to reach out to on the
      issue. Both the Mexican parliament and the five- nation Central
      American Parliament have condemned the proposed fence and are calling
      on the Senate to throw it out.

      "Our message is that we are your neighbors, we are your friends.
      This is a common challenge," Carlos de Icaza, Mexico's ambassador to
      the US, told reporters in Washington last week. "And we are part of
      the solution, not only part of the problem."


      Ms. Harman is Latin America correspondent for the Monitor and USA



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