December 22, 2005

Mexicans incensed by new US border fence plans

By Monica Medel and Kieran Murray

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Few things unite Mexicans more than
perceived U.S. insults and plans to build a high-tech fence to
stop migrants crossing the border have incensed people here,
regardless of their social class or political stripes.

Mexicans are almost universally offended by the U.S.
Congress' proposal to build the new fence with security cameras
on parts of the border and make illegal immigration a felony

President Vicente Fox's top foreign policy goal when he
took office five years ago was to win sweeping U.S. immigration
reform in favor of millions of Mexicans living and working
illegally in the United States.

U.S. President George W. Bush pledged to work with him but
they have so far failed to win reform and Fox said the new
bill, approved last week in the House of Representatives,
showed the United States was going backward on the issue.

He has called the proposal "shameful," opposition parties
say it is racist, and most ordinary Mexicans interpret it as
another insult to their country and to their relatives working
in the United States.

"I'm really pissed off," Elia Arredondo, a painter in
Mexico City, said on Thursday. "I'm angry because I don't like
people being treated like that."

"It strikes me as absurd. It's like returning to the years
of the Berlin Wall," said Javia Velasco, a 28-year-old bank

Mexico's relationship with the United States has for long
been contradictory. Thousands of people cross the border every
day in search of a better life and the money they send home
keeps their families and entire towns financially afloat.

But there is resentment at the way Mexicans are treated in
the United States, and the new proposal for tighter security on
the border is widely seen as further proof of U.S. racism.


"It is a way of demonstrating their rejection of us, the
Mexicans," said Jonathan Torres, an emergency worker.

Like many, he said the fence would fail to stop migration
but that Mexicans would be forced to use more remote, dangerous
routes across the desert. "The only thing they are doing is
increase the risks for those people who do it.

The U.S. Senate is expected to take up the immigration
reform in February. Mexico's government hopes the security
proposals will be watered down and that the Senate will approve
a guest worker program for Mexican migrants.

Fox is trying to drum up support from other Latin American
nations to increase pressure on the Senate, and he was given
unexpected support from Venezuela's left-wing President Hugo
Chavez, who recently assailed him for his close ties to the
Bush administration.

"The stance of the Mexican president seemed dignified to
me, worthy of the dignity of the people of Pancho Villa, of
Emiliano Zapata, of the Aztecs," Chavez said on Wednesday.

Mexico's demands that its migrants be better treated clash
with its own handling of workers from Central America who cross
its southern border on their way to the United States.

Mexican police routinely detain illegal immigrants, often
in filthy cells, and its human rights ombudsman this week said
the country has failed to provide the same respect for
migrants' rights that it insists on from Washington.