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IMMIGRATION-US: New Restrictions Draw Angry Response from Mexico

Diego Cevallos

MEXICO CITY, May 12 2005 (IPS) - The Mexican government will send a "formal and firm" protest over Washington’s latest anti-immigrant initiative, President Vicente Fox announced Thursday, despite the fact that similar complaints in the past have largely fallen on deaf ears.

Mexico reacted with anger to the new legislation passed Wednesday in the United States that will make it impossible for undocumented immigrants to acquire a driver’s license – something currently allowed in a number of states – and authorises the extension of the security walls built along the border separating the two countries.

The government, human rights groups and academics in Mexico have harshly criticised the initiative, which they view as a direct attack on the over eight million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, of whom roughly five million are Mexican.

The so-called Real ID Act requires applicants for a driver’s license to prove that they are in the country legally. It also establishes more stringent requirements for immigrants seeking asylum in the United States.

The new measure was tacked onto a must-pass emergency funding bill for military operations in Iraq and elsewhere, which was unanimously approved by the U.S. Senate on Tuesday and signed into law on Wednesday by President George W. Bush; it had been passed by the lower house of Congress last week.

Driver’s licenses are often the only ID documents available to undocumented immigrants, and are widely accepted as proof of identification for opening a bank account or buying train or plane tickets.


Fox said that his government would be presenting a formal complaint against the new legislation, which he described as incompatible with "the harmonious development of relations between the United States and Mexico."

A short time earlier, Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez had announced that his country would take its protests against U.S. immigration policy to the United Nations.

The two countries have held migration talks on a number of occasions since Washington began stepping up controls on its southern border in 1993, with a greater police presence and the construction of security fences and walls.

Mexico has repeatedly spoken out about the measures adopted to staunch the flow of immigration into the United States, which remains unabated. The beefed-up controls have merely forced would-be emigrants to cross the border at points that are less carefully monitored, which also tend to be more difficult and dangerous.

In the last ten years, over 3,000 people have died trying to get across the border into the United States.

"There is a lack of political will, because even though the United States and Mexico engage in high-level talks, there has been no progress made in practice," Karina Arias, of the Mexican non-governmental organisation Sin Fronteras (Without Borders), told IPS.

Like most observers in Mexico, Arias believes Washington is committing a serious error in treating immigration, a question involving human rights and development, as a security issue – the purported reason for the adoption of the Real ID Act.

Neither walls nor restrictions on driver’s licences will curb immigration, analysts maintain.

The exodus of Mexicans is spurred by the possibility of better economic conditions in the United States, the desire to join family members who have already emigrated, and the employment opportunities resulting from the high level of demand for cheap labour.

Average annual per capita income in the United States is 36,000 dollars, as compared to 9,000 dollars in Mexico.

There are currently around 40 million Latin American immigrants living in the United States, the majority of whom are from Mexico.

The remittances sent home by Mexican immigrants living in the United States totalled 17 billion dollars in 2004, and are the main means of economic support for 1.6 million families in this Latin American country.

And while the U.S. government cracks down ever harder on illegal immigration, the demand for undocumented migrant labour in the U.S. farming sector continues to rise. According to official statistics, undocumented immigrants accounted for 38 percent of the agricultural workforce in 1994 – a proportion that had climbed to 60 percent by 2003.

Decades of promises and negotiations between Mexico and the United States are effectively being flushed down the drain, Mexican academic Tomás Vergara remarked to IPS.

The bill signed into law by Bush on Wednesday allocates funds to extend the roughly 112 km of metal and concrete walls already erected along the 3,200-km border between the two countries.

The rest of the border is heavily guarded or rendered impassable by natural barriers or fences.

The new legislation specifically establishes the extension of the wall – from 22 to 27 km – that currently separates the cities of San Diego, California on the U.S. side and Tijuana in Mexico.

"It is truly foolish to build walls, because this does not make a border more secure," said the Mexican foreign minister.

The passage of the Real ID Act is only the most recent symptom of a growing anti-immigrant climate in the United States.

In April, a "vigilante" group calling themselves the Minutemen patrolled a small stretch of the U.S.-Mexican border in the state of Arizona to help track down undocumented migrants, and have pledged that they will return in October.

In addition, various states are studying initiatives similar to Proposition 200, which was adopted last November in Arizona during the presidential elections, and restricts access to health care and education for undocumented immigrants.

Similar anti-immigrant initiatives are now being considered in the states of Arkansas and Colorado, as well as California, whose governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, publicly declared his support for the Minutemen.

 
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