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LatinNews Daily Report - 26 June 2013

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Mexican concerns about US security plans

Development: On 25 June Mexico’s foreign minister, José Antonio Meade Kuribreña, expressed concern over US plans to step up security along the two countries’ common border, saying they “depart from the principles of shared responsibility and good neighbourliness”.

Significance: While Mexico supports President Barack Obama’s efforts to carry out a comprehensive reform of US immigration laws that would allow millions of Mexicans currently living in the US illegally to be regularised, it is taken aback by talk of a deal being struck in the US congress between the Democrat administration and the Republicans that would significantly ‘militarise’ the common border. The government led by President Enrique Peña Nieto says trade requires a more open, rather than a more closed, border.

Key points:

  • The Obama administration has been seeking to introduce the biggest reform of US immigration law in over two decades. At its heart are the plans to offer a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants already in the country; but in order to get Congress to accept this, the government has been asked to show that it can tighten border controls so as to effectively stop those seeking to enter the US illegally. It is estimated that up to 11m Mexicans live in the US without proper residence papers.
  • An amendment to the current immigration bill in the US Senate calls for a doubling of the number of agents patrolling the southern border to 40,000 over the next ten years;  the construction of 700 miles of additional border fencing; and the introduction of more high-tech equipment to prevent people from coming across. Senate Republicans have supported the amendment, which envisages investing up to US$46bn on additional border security. It was passed in a 67-27 vote and the bill is now set to go to the House of Representatives.
  • Critics of the changes proposed by the Senate say it would lead to a high-security border, appropriate perhaps for the boundaries separating North and South Korea, but not for two democratic countries with peaceful relations and significant bilateral trade and tourism. The US lobby group, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), has noted that in 2003-2012 the number of border agents has already multiplied by a factor of five, but the number of illegal immigrants turned back per agent has fallen sharply.
  • Meade made it clear that Mexico also thinks this is the wrong approach. As he put it: “we are convinced that fences do not unite, fences are not the solution to the migration phenomenon, and are not in line with a modern, safe border”. Both metaphorically and literally, Meade said that instead better bridges were required between the two countries to encourage trade.
  • Ironically, just as the Senate discussed increasing border security, Mexico’s tourism minister, Claudia Ruiz Massieu, was meeting officials at the US Customs and Border Protection agency to discuss making it easier for US tourists to visit Mexico. Visa and immigration procedures are being streamlined; about 8.0m US visitors travelled to Mexico in the first four months of this year.