[Mb-civic] Down on Border, 'La Linea' Isn't So Clear - Washington Post
swiggard at comcast.net
Thu Mar 30 03:35:41 PST 2006
Down on Border, 'La Linea' Isn't So Clear
Bush to Discuss Illegal Crossings and Drug Trade at Three-Way Summit in
By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, March 30, 2006; A04
NOGALES, Mexico -- Troops. Barricades. Guns.
On the border, this is the vocabulary of U.S.-Mexico relations. Here at
one of the busiest crossing points, dingy metal walls separate the
United States from Mexico, rich from poor. The walls are spray-painted
with crude images of American border patrol agents, their pistols
leveled at brown-skinned men.
Even as differences over immigration and border security -- roiled this
week by congressional debates and massive protests by Latinos across the
United States -- threaten to dredge a deeper divide between the nations,
it is clear that they are increasingly knit by an exchange of business,
ideas and, above all, human beings.
On Thursday and Friday, when President Bush meets in Cancun with
President Vicente Fox, there will be no topic more pressing than the
border -- "La Linea," as Mexicans call it -- a barrier that dominates a
relationship marked both by enormous potential and overwhelming
problems. Bush arrived in Cancun Wednesday night.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will also participate in the
talks at the coastal resort, the second session since the formation of
the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America, intended to
foster cooperation among the United States, Mexico and Canada.
Historic feelings of mistrust remain strong on the Mexican side of the
border with the United States. Business is booming, but so is crime, and
the rapid but lopsided economic development of the region has
highlighted the persistent differences in living standards between the
In 2005, the United States imported a record $170 billion in goods from
Mexico and exported $120 billion to its southern neighbor, according to
the U.S. Department of Commerce. Twelve years after the implementation
of the North American Free Trade Agreement, American business people tap
into high-speed, Wi-Fi networks in the lobbies of U.S.-style hotels in
border towns such as Nogales.
But out in the remote deserts, the border sizzles with a different kind
of activity. An all-time high of 1.17 million people, the great majority
of them Mexican migrants, were arrested by U.S. agents for illegal
border crossing between October 2004 and October 2005. A record 473
people died while trying to cross, according to the U.S. Border Patrol.
Uncounted hundreds of thousands more make it into the United States
illegally and blend into a nationwide pool of surreptitious, cheap
labor. They work on cleanup crews in Houston, construction sites in
Virginia and onion fields in California, ever one step ahead of deportation.
At the same time, Mexico remains a major conduit for illegal drugs,
turning border towns such as Nuevo Laredo and Juarez into virtual
shooting galleries and further complicating relations with the United
In the 700-mile corridor between El Paso and Nuevo Laredo, U.S. drug
enforcement agents seized 1,220 kilos of cocaine in 2005, up from 700
kilos four years earlier. The amount of methamphetamine confiscated
between the Texas border cities of Laredo and Brownsville nearly tripled
in those years, to 354 kilos, while marijuana seizures in the Phoenix
border-crossing area more than doubled, to 285,000 kilos.
The torrent of drugs and migrants across the Arizona border -- an
especially hazardous trip because of the dangers of dehydration in the
vast desert -- has turned that state into a flash point for confrontation.
Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) issued an executive order this month allowing
her to dispatch more National Guard troops to the border, even as she
stated that "we are not at war with Mexico." The state legislature has
tried to take steps of its own to marshal troops, and the volunteer
Minuteman Civil Defense Corps launched citizen border patrols.
Outside Nogales, a city of 20,000 where the main roads funnel north to
the Arizona border, the cycle of attempted crossings, arrests,
deportations and more attempts revolves like a surreal game.
One recent afternoon, Abram Gutierrez, a 23-year-old migrant with
chipped fingernails and a dirty sweat shirt, devoured a bowl of instant
noodles outside the building housing Grupo Beta, a humanitarian aid
program funded by the Mexican government. Hours before, he had been
caught in Arizona and taken back to Nogales. Now he was plotting a
second try -- and a third and fourth, if need be.
"We'll see who gets bored first," Gutierrez said, laughing. His friend,
Lasaroa Damian, 27, said Bush and Fox should realize that migrants "are
like cats" who find another way into a house after the front door is closed.
In the United States, debate over illegal immigration has become
super-heated with election-year politics. The House of Representatives
passed a bill in December that would make it a felony for a person to be
in the United States illegally, and some members have proposed building
a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border.
Now the divisive issue has moved to the Senate, where this week the
Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would create a large
temporary-worker program and allow an estimated 11 million illegal
immigrants to apply for work visas after paying fines. But Majority
Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has proposed stiffening penalties for
businesses that hire illegal immigrants, and many conservatives strongly
oppose any amnesty.
The Fox government took out full-page ads last week in several major
U.S. newspapers, including The Washington Post, urging an immigration
pact that would allow assimilation of undocumented workers living in the
United States. "We are your friends and neighbors. Let's work together,"
the ads read.
"Mexico and the U.S., I think, are becoming more aware that they are
interdependent, and perhaps neither of the countries feels entirely
comfortable with that interdependence," Geronimo Gutierrez, Mexico's
undersecretary for North American affairs, said in an interview. "The
relationship is at a fairly complex moment of catharsis."
But Fox, who cannot run for reelection and will leave office in
December, has responded angrily to U.S. proposals to tighten the border.
In a recent speech, he predicted that by 2010, the United States would
"beg" Mexico for workers in vain, suggesting that by then the Mexican
economy would generate enough jobs to sustain its 100 million-plus people.
"The rhetoric is more strident. The politics is driving this," Michael
Shifter, director of the nonprofit Inter-American Dialogue, said by
phone from Washington. "The U.S. and Mexico have a knack for bringing
out the worst in each other."
It wasn't supposed to turn out this way. When Fox was elected in 2000,
many here and in the United States predicted an era of what was dubbed
"ranchero diplomacy," with the two leaders bonding at Bush's Texas ranch
and Fox's hacienda. On Sept. 5, 2001, Bush declared that Mexico
represented the most important international relationship for the United
Six days later, terrorists smashed planes into the World Trade Center
and the Pentagon, and the U.S. focus shifted to the Middle East and
South Asia. Mexico later alienated the United States by not supporting
the war in Iraq.
Mexicans weren't entirely surprised to see their relationship drop from
the forefront of U.S. foreign policy. But Shifter said that "the
question Mexicans raise is, did it have to completely disappear?"
A disappearance of another sort, beyond the vigilant gaze of border
patrol agents, is exactly what Abram Gutierrez wants. For him, the other
side of the border represents " el color verde " -- the color green, the
color of money. Sitting in the hot Nogales sun last week, he vowed to
make it across this time, whether by "holes or tunnels or the desert."
Francisco Loureiro, who runs a shelter in Nogales that has housed
600,000 migrants in 24 years, recognizes Gutierrez's determination. It
is a quality, he said, that he has seen over and over in the men who
pass through his shelter.
Loureiro says the only solution is a broad guest-worker program,
something the Bush administration recently proposed. But he said his
expectations are low for the upcoming meeting between the U.S. and
"Every time they talk, I have hope," he said. "But things are getting
When the sun drops, Loureiro's little shelter will be full, as it is
every night. When Gutierrez disappears, he knows, thousands more will
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