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the September 2001 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 48,
Negotiating a Migration Accord
A First Bilateral Effort
Diego Cevallos, Inter
Press Service (international news agency), Rome, Italy,
June 22, 2001.
Mexico and the United States announced actions
today [June 22] that are intended to reinforce safety along
their shared 1,900-mile border in a bid to protect the lives
of Mexicans who attempt to enter U.S. territory illegally.
Mexicos Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda said
that Washington for the first time has included
migration matters on its bilateral agenda. This unprecedented
accord will be integrated into a broader agreement that is
currently being negotiated. The final treaty is expected to
include measures granting temporary permits for Mexicans to
work in the United States and residency status to undocumented
Mexican immigrants already living there.
According to the communiqué presented simultaneously
in Mexico City and Washington, D.C., the two governments agreed
on urgent measures to prevent incidents such as the deaths
on May 14 of undocumented Mexicans in the Arizona desert.
They had been abandoned far from any road or town by traffickers
and died of exposure.
The United States will review and, if necessary, modify its
border-control operations. Mexico, for its part, has committed
to launching information campaigns warning would-be emigrants
of the risks involved and to helping prevent the entry of
undocumented Mexicans into the United States.
The Mexican border police will be provided with nonlethal
weapons such as rifles that fire rubber bullets and pepper
spray to be used to dissuade those who attempt
to emigrate to the northern country, said the authorities.
The two governments indicated that they would coordinate efforts
to attend to the problems that affect border security in order
to reduce the risks confronting the migrants, the authorities,
and the border communities.
The bilateral agreement also gives highest priority to cracking
down on migrant smugglers and the criminal organizations that
offer illegal passage into the United States. The smuggling
rings charge each person in the thousands of dollarsoften
paid by family or friends already living there.
An estimated 838 Mexicans cross the border each day in search
of greater opportunities in the United States, home to more
than 20 million people who were born in Mexico or are the
children of Mexicans. Since January, more than 157 people
have died in their attempts to enter the United States illegally.
The tragedies occur mostly because they have followed less-watched
routes, and those are also the most dangerous. The migrants
often face extreme heat in the desert, cold in the mountains,
or perilous river crossings.
On May 25, after a telephone conversation, President George
W. Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox announced they would
do everything necessary to prevent such tragedies from occurring
again. The announcement of the border-security efforts was
moved forward, though Castañeda had said that they
would be postponed until a broader accord was reached, one
that includes permanent visas for Mexicans, a guest
workers program, and the legalization of the undocumented
who are in the United States today. This could not be
put off any longer, because human safety and lives are at
stake, said Enrique Berruga, Mexicos deputy foreign
But according to the Colegio de la Frontera Norte, a Mexican
research center that studies the migration phenomenon, the
United States maintains a police-heavy vision for controlling
the immigration of Mexicans, making it impossible to eliminate
incidents that end in deaths and to eradicate people-trafficking
Mexicos National Population Council, a government entity,
warned that emigration to the United States would continue
even if all possible controls and barriers were installed.
The flow of Mexicans northward occurs also because of ties
with family members already residing in the United States,
says the council. Fox made the suggestion to Bush that the
U.S. government should eventually open the border for people
wishing to cross into the other country. Bush received the
proposal, but reacted with caution.
Despite the different perspectives on the migratory phenomenon,
Fox has been the first to get the United States to discuss
the matter openly and to try to hammer out a common policy.
Migration-related problems prompted several clashes between
Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000) and U.S. President
Bill Clinton (1993-2001), mostly triggered by unilateral actions
taken by Washington, migrant deaths, and human-rights violations
committed by border police. Now the two countries are working
as a team, Fox declared. Both he and Bush have stated that
they maintain a close working relationship on the matter.
The negotiations underway about the guest-worker program,
meanwhile, have won criticism from nongovernmental organizations
(NGOs). The National Coalition for Dignity and Amnesty for
Undocumented Immigrants, an umbrella for 250 NGOs in the United
States, said it opposes the temporary work program because
it does not offer residency rights and does not provide Social
Security benefits for those who cross the border in order
to satisfy the U.S. demand for cheap labor.