Copyrighted material


by Diego Cevallos

Bush's Border Folly

(IPS) MEXICO CITY -- The U.S. government decision to deploy National Guard troops along the U.S.-Mexican border, something that had not occurred since 1916, has opened fissures in the united front forged in the past few months by several Latin American presidents and activists and politicians demanding respect for immigrant rights.

President Antonio Saca of El Salvador said the Bush administration "has every right to militarize its borders," while Mexican Foreign Minister Ernesto Derbez went so far as to say that the measure does not actually involve militarization of the border, which is why the Mexican government does not plan to lodge a protest.

But activist Enrique Morones told IPS by phone from San Diego, California that "On this we definitely do not see eye to eye. This is militarization, and it is born of the idea that immigrants are enemies, which is simply not acceptable."

Morones founded Border Angels, a humanitarian group previously known as the Water/Winter Stations, whose aim is to reduce the number of heat- and cold-related deaths along the border near San Diego.

"We Latinos are going to take to the streets again if the conservative sectors insist on their plans to criminalise us," said the activist, one of the engines behind the mass demonstrations held by millions of immigrants in cities in the United States between March and May 1, International Labor Day.

In a nationally broadcast speech Monday night, Bush announced that his government would send 6,000 members of the National Guard -- military reserves recruited by the states, equipped by the federal government, and subject to call by either -- to help seal the 3,200-km border.

But the Guard troops, who will be unarmed, will merely assist the 12,000 border patrol agents, the president said.

For the space of one year, "The Guard will assist the Border Patrol by operating surveillance systems, analysing intelligence, installing fences and vehicle barriers, building patrol roads and providing training," Bush stated in his address from the White House.

He also said he would continue to press for immigration reform that would create a guest worker program.

His announcement came shortly after the U.S. Senate resumed debate on legislation that would offer millions of undocumented immigrants guest worker status and a path to citizenship, by contrast to the bill approved in December by the House of Representatives, that would build more fences along the border, criminalise illegal immigration, and make it a federal crime to offer services or assistance to undocumented immigrants.

Under the Senate bill, the result of a compromise agreement between Democratic and Republican leaders, immigrants who have lived in the United States for at least five years would be allowed to stay, and would be able to apply for citizenship if they met certain requirements, such as speaking English, paying a fine and back taxes, and passing a criminal background record check.

Those who have been in the United States between two and five years would have to return to their home country briefly, but would then be allowed to re-enter as temporary workers and could apply for citizenship. Immigrants in the country for less than two years would be subject to deportation.

A majority of the roughly 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States -- a country of 296 million -- are Latinos. An estimated 400,000 new migrants make it into the country every year.

The president of El Salvador -- a country that has around two million of its citizens living in the United States -- said the Bush administration's decision to send troops to the border is much less significant than the U.S. president's assurances that he will continue to push for a guest worker program.

For his part, Derbez said Bush's announcement was not bad news. "Militarizing the border would mean the army actually operating within the area, arresting people, and using force," he argued.

He added, however, that the Mexican government of Vicente Fox would take legal action if the National Guard troops actually detain undocumented migrants.

According to Fox's spokesman Ruben Aguilar, Mexico "has been given assurances" that the measure does not amount to militarization of the border. But he also said the government is concerned that the move has not been accompanied by sufficient progress in the debate on immigration reform in the U.S. Congress.

In January, the governments of Colombia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama joined forces to lobby for comprehensive immigration reform in the United States.

The positions they have taken and their demands have largely coincided with those voiced by activists and many legislators in Latin America.

But "we would no longer be able to stand alongside countries that accept the militarization of the border and that fail to speak out against this war that they are trying to wage against immigrants," said the head of the Border Angels.

The secretary of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party in Mexico, Guadalupe Acosta, said the U.S. decision to send troops to the border "is comparable to the segregationist and racist policies that the Nazis applied to the Jews."

The U.S. Census Office reported this month that there are currently 42.7 million Latinos in that country, and that the Latino community grew by 1.3 million between July 2004 and July 2005, accounting for nearly half of the country's total population growth.

The last time that the United States sent the National Guard to the Mexican border was between 1916 and 1920. The mission of the 6,000 troops was to keep the Mexican revolutionaries from crossing into the United States, said historian Jose Villalpando.

The U.S. also sent 3,000 troops to Mexico in 1846, at the start of the Mexican-American war, and in 1866, when it deployed 180,000 troops to the border after the French occupied Mexico.

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor   May 16, 2006   (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.