“The US militarization of the border is a threat to Mexico”

Four Mexican intellectuals reject the immigration measures being discussed in Washington and criticize the Peña Nieto government for being “spineless”

A protest against US immigration policy in California.
A protest against US immigration policy in California.David Maung (EFE)

The comprehensive immigration bill that is expected to be passed by the US Senate will release money to complete a 1,100-km fence on portions of the border with Mexico. Senator and former presidential contender John McCain, who is one of the so-called “Gang of Eight” Republicans who back President Obama’s immigration proposal, predicted that the US-Mexican border will be “the most-well-defended border since the Berlin Wall went down.”

At the same time, David Axelrod, who was Obama’s campaign advisor in the 2008 race, said that the number of military troops that will be dispatched to the border will exceed soldiers that are currently stationed on the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas.

The added security measures outlined in the bill are tied to Obama’s proposal to legalize some 11 million undocumented workers – most of them Mexican – living in the United States.

On Tuesday, Mexican Foreign Minister José Antonio Meade broke his government’s long-held silence on the issue, telling reporters that “walls aren’t the solution to the migratory phenomenon, and they aren’t congruent with a modern and secure border.”

“They don’t contribute to the development of the competitive region that both countries want to encourage,” he said.

Now that the public debate has just begun south of the Rio Grande, EL PAÍS asked four of Mexico’s intellectuals, who are all well verses in US politics and society, for their opinions over Washington lawmakers’ plans to beef up the border.

In a questionnaire sent to them, EL PAÍS asked three questions:

1. Do you consider these measures, including the proposed deployment of 40,000 troops, a threat to Mexico and what will be the impact?

2. President Enrique Peña Nieto called the debate “an internal affair” during his recent visit to Washington. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this position?

3. Why do you think it has taken the government, the political parties and Mexican society so long to react to these possible measures?

ENRIQUE KRAUZE (historian)

“It reminds us of the awful and unjust episodes of our history”

1. Of course it is a threat; another one in a long list that began in 1846 following the US-Mexican War, which was started by the Americans and their thirst for more territory. It is absurd and counterproductive for the United States, at this stage, to refuse to recognize the economic productivity and moral qualities Mexican migration has brought. Demographics will end up convincing them, but the presence of troops on the border – whether real or symbolic – will only serve to remind us of the awful and unjust episodes of our history.

2. Millions of Mexicans work peacefully in the United States, and they contribute to the economy, so they deserve immigration reform. Maybe, the government thinks that staying out of the picture – calling it an “internal affair” – will contribute to the approval of the immigration reform, and that way the United States won’t feel pressured. Foreign Minister Meade did well by diplomatically expressing his disapproval. Diplomacy is a true art form in which everything can be said with respect and imagination.

3. Because Mexico has always been a country engrossed in what is going on here and never looks beyond its own borders or out for at its own interests.

JORGE G. CASTAÑEDA (former foreign minister)

“There will be more deaths among Mexican immigrants”

1. Yes it is a threat to Mexico because these are not measures taken between friendly nations, allies and neighbors. The impact will be difficult to determine but it won’t be good. There will be more deaths among Mexican immigrants who try to cross the border. As the risk increases so will the prices the guides who help them get across will charge, and the Central Americans who cross Mexico on their way to the United States will stay in our country because they won’t be able to cross.

2. It is a very serious mistake, and people are just now realizing this. The border doesn’t just belong to the United States; it is also Mexico’s border. The Mexican government didn’t express itself at the right time and now it is racing against the clock. We need to correct our position and demand that Washington open the doors to this wall by handing out more temporary work visas so that Mexicans can enter legally.

3. The immigration problem has not been denounced by the political elite or the Mexican economists because it has never interested them; or only when there is mistreatment of compatriots. Even society, it pains me to say, has never cared.

HÉCTOR AGUILAR CAMÍN (historian and novelist)

“This reform is the product of an imperialist state”

1. Raymond Aron once wrote that the United States is an “imperialist republic.” The immigration reform before the US Congress is a product of that republic. That 1,000-kilometer wall is the product of imperialism. Democracy wants to legalize its immigrants but the imperialist arrogance wants to criminalize them. It is an absurd game of good cop bad cop.

2. The traditional focus of the Mexican policy toward the United States is this: I don’t get involved in your affairs if you don’t get involved in mine. But I think this only serves to disregard the fundamental features of American internal policy. What exists there politically is what is seen, the noise it makes, and what is presently going on. It is a type of democracy in which those who don’t participate don’t exist. The United States gets involved in the affairs of other nations, whether or not you get involved with them.

3. The leading voice in these issues has always been the government. It has always been that way and it will always be that way. If the government doesn’t litigate, then there is no litigation. It is part of the rough, provincial nature of our political culture. Aside from sports and show business, very few Mexicans and media outlets have any interest in what goes on in the United States.

SERGIO AGUAYO (professor at El Colegio de México)

“When it comes to world relations we are very immature and insecure”

1. Of course it is a threat. It is difficult being neighbors to a great power, which considers itself exceptional, and acts unilaterally. They have always taken us for someone they can rhetorically flatter but ignore when it comes to certain issues. It will always be this way unless we have a government that raises its voice and takes actions to stop it.

2. It was a formal but spineless answer. It is correct to say that immigration policy is a US internal issue. The same can be said about our immigration policy. For example, we should declare Mexican territory a free transit zone for Central and South Americans or reject those deported ex-prisoners that the United States sends us.

3. The answer lies in history. In 1847 we lost a war and half of our territory to the United States. That trauma was so great that we ignored the consequences of living next to a great power. One example of this was that from 1847 to 1971 there was not one academic center in Mexico dedicated to US studies. Of course there have been changes, but to this day we continue to avoid discussing what role the United States should play in the future plans of our country. If you look at the party platforms or their webpages you will see a notable absence of any serious discussions about the United States. When it comes to world relations we are very immature and insecure.

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