October 20, 2006

Mexico’s Fox administration gets the bulk of border fence controversy

By Isaac Garrido

WASHINGTON - The proposed U.S.-Mexico border fence is just as controversial in Mexico as it is in the United States - with Mexican President Vicente Fox getting the bulk of the criticism.

Since the U.S. Senate passed the bill authorizing construction of a high-tech fence on the U.S.-Mexico border on Sept. 29 and President Bush signed it Oct. 4, the Mexican government has rejected it, insisting on a comprehensive approach, based on the principle of shared responsibility, to address illegal immigration.

The Mexican government said in a press release that “partial and exclusively focused on security measures are not realistic and, under the current circumstances, they represent a politically motivated response instead of a viable solution.”

Rafael Eugenio Laveaga, spokesman for the Mexican embassy in the United States, explained that the decision about the border fence has to be made by the U.S. Congress, but it should include a path to improve the situation of the undocumented immigrants and an agreement on Mexican guest workers.

But with the midterm U.S. elections next month and Mexican president-elect Felipe Calderón taking office Dec. 1, the controversy surrounding the border fence summed up the immigration reform debate that started in 2000, when Fox introduced the topic to the U.S. foreign policy agenda.

Andrew Selee, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute, said the border fence is just a political strategy to win votes in the Nov. 7 election, when all House seats and one-third of Senate seats are on the ballot.

A Newsweek poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International Aug. 10-11, 2006, showed that, among 1,001 adults, 39 percent trust Democrats do a better job handling the immigration issue and 37 percent trust Republicans. But that finding is within the poll’s margin of error, plus or minus 3 percentage points.

A quarter of those asked said they were unsure, or that both or neither would do a better job.

A CNN poll conducted Sept. 29 to Oct. 2, just after the fence proposal passed the Senate, found that 54 percent of Americans favored the fence, with 44 percent opposed and 2 percent undecided. The Poll of 1,014 adults had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

In the CNN poll, 66 percent said they disapproved of the way Bush is handling immigration, with 30 percent in favor and 4 percent unsure.

Selee said he believes that, in the end, a fence shorter than the 700-mile fence called for in the Secure Border Initiative will be built, having only a little impact on economics and illegal immigration.

However, he said, the major impact will be to the United States foreign policy, as the fence sends a message that the United States is strengthening and reinforcing its exterior politics.

Mexican newspaper editorials criticized the fence and its approval so close to the midterm elections.

On Sept. 30, an EL UNIVERSAL editorial said the border fence has a political-electoral character rather than an anti-terrorism focus and is far from being effective.

The editorial pointed out the U.S. Congress’ unwillingness to give a comprehensive revision to the topic, relying on what the editorial called “concepts of electoral nationalism.”

The Mexican newspaper said the Republican majority backed the measure to reinforce its image as a party for the upcoming midterm elections. The editorial said the paper regrets that none of the proposals originally backed by Bush and many Democrats, in which the fence would be accompanied by parallel measures to legalize immigrants, had been successful.

For Michele Waslin, director of immigration policy research for the National Council of La Raza, the largest U.S. Latino civil rights and advocacy organization, the border fence is not a solution for undocumented immigration and would be harmful for border communities.

Waslin explained that when border reinforcement took place in California, people began crossing through Arizona, increasing deaths due to dehydration and extreme temperatures.

Although at the beginning of Fox’s administration, the Mexican government urged Bush to work on comprehensive migration reform, after the Sept. 11 attacks, security became the priority of the U.S. government.

Major newspapers pointed out the Mexican government’s role, and some editorials underscored Mexico’s economic situation and criticized Fox’s administration.

On Oct. 5, the Mexican newspaper, La Jornada, ran an editorial headlined “U.S.: the fence, achievement of foxism.” It pointed out Mexico’s “governance ineptitude” to solve internal problems that had led to illegal immigration and Mexico’s foreign policy submission to U.S. policies and the incoherence of the U.S.-Mexico bilateral relation.

The approval of the border fence budget coincides with the transition of the Mexican administration, and illegal immigration stands out as an issue to be included in Calderón’s foreign policy agenda.

However, Laveaga said the fence is a step backward in the bilateral relations of Mexico and United States, and whenever the fence is raised, it will damage the bilateral relation of both countries.

Ana M. Patraca, a 25 year-old a reporter for Mexico’s ABC Radio, part of the Mexican Editorial Organization, said the fence makes her feel frustrated. She described it as “offensive and indignant.”

“It is a situation that makes people feel frustrated. As a Mexican it frustrates me, and authorities seem to be under the Yankee spirit,” Patraca said.

The fence construction measure is what Patraca called the result of a historical “father-son style relation” between the two countries.

“The wall is a punishment from the United States. They are grounding us: Your politics are not useful and you don’t know how to deal with your foreign policy, so our punishment is a fence along your border,” Patraca said.

For the reporter, the fence would be a symbol of the failure of bilateral relations.

“It is a contradiction from Bush. He is trying to close the doors to immigrants, and the U.S. is a country originally made from immigrants,” Patraca said.

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