Mexico Slams U.S. Border Buildup Plan

PHOTO: Isabelle Rodrigues speaks with a relative through the U.S-Mexico border fence in Nogales, Mexico. On Tuesday Mexicos government criticized plans to make the border fence bigger.Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images
Isabelle Rodrigues speaks with a relative through the U.S-Mexico border fence in Nogales, Mexico. On Tuesday Mexico's government criticized plans to make the border fence bigger, which have been attached to an immigration reform bill in the U.S. Senate.

It took a while, but after several calls for action from prominent intellectuals, the Mexican government finally said something about the United States' proposed plans to scale up security on its side of the border.

Mexico's Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Jose Meade, read a statement to reporters Tuesday afternoon in which he criticized a U.S. bill that would add 700 miles of border fencing and double the number of Border Patrol agents, in exchange for the legalization of 11 million undocumented immigrants.

"We are convinced that fences do not unite [both nations]," Meade said. "The enlargement of this wall is not congruent with plans to create a modern and secure border, and to develop the region."

Meade thanked the U.S. government for the bill's main aim: trying to establish a legal status for millions of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., many of whom are Mexican. But he said that plans for increased fencing and patrolling - which have been attached to immigration reform efforts by conservative politicians - would hamper commerce along the border and disrupt the lives of 14 million people who live in counties on either side of the fence.

"Our country has let the U.S. government know that measures which will affect the links between communities do not coincide with the principles of good neighborship and shared responsibility," Meade said in typical diplomatic parlance.

His criticisms may sound tame, but they actually mark an interesting shift in the Mexican government's position on the immigration reform debate.

In recent years, the administrations of Presidents Enrique Peña Nieto and Felipe Calderón had stayed strictly on the sidelines of that debate, reluctant to issue any pronouncements that might stoke U.S. worries about Mexican intervention in American affairs. Some analysts have also argued that any Mexican declarations could be used as ammunition by congressional critics of immigration reform.

But after momentum gathered around plans for a law enforcement buildup on the border, several well-known analysts in Mexico pressed their government to say something about U.S. immigration reform, arguing that at some point, Mexico had to stand up for the interests of its citizens at home and abroad.

"This is a contradiction," historian Lorenzo Meyer said in a Monday morning radio show about plans to build up border defenses. "The United States wants commerce with Mexico, they want [laws that allow U.S.] investment, but they don't want the unavoidable part of this relationship between unequal countries: The [Mexican] workers."

"It is a very unfriendly move," former foreign minister Jorge Castañeda said Tuesday on MVS Noticias, one of Mexico's top radio shows. Castañeda described the U.S. proposal as something that would happen along the borders of enemy countries "like North Korea and South Korea" - another border where the U.S. stations thousands of troops.

So if the U.S. border buildup proceeds, what will Mexico do in response? It is still unclear. But a couple of suggestions have been made.

"We have things we can shut down, too," said Meyer, who suggested that in retaliation, the Mexican government could make it harder for U.S companies to invest in the country, or cancel laws that enable U.S. citizens to buy property in Mexico. Meyer said that while those measures might have a small impact, they could "send a signal" to the U.S. government about Mexico's displeasure with the border fence.

Sergio Aguayo, a lawyer and human rights activist, had a more moderate suggestion. He said the Mexican government should seriously lobby the U.S. congress and American society in general for policies that better suit the country's interests, just as Israel currently does through a robust lobbying presence in Washington.

Aguayo said that when it comes to lobbying, Mexico has an advantage that Israel did not have: More than 30 million Mexican-Americans who already live in the U.S. and make up 10 percent of the country's population. That segment of the population, he added, tends to sympathize with Mexico's interests.