Copyrighted material


by Diego Cevallos

Senate Opens Door To Landmark Immigration Reform (March, 2006)

(IPS) MEXICO CITY -- Despite the storm of diplomatic protests from abroad and historic social mobilizations in the United States, the U.S. Congress decided to build a 700-mile fence along its border with Mexico in an attempt to curb illegal immigration.

The Mexican government immediately protested the measure, which it said would hurt relations between the two countries. Similar statements are expected from the rest of the countries of Latin America and from the Latino community in the United States, which held enormous protests between March and May to demand comprehensive immigration reform.

By a vote of 80-19, the Senate on Friday approved the bill, which had already made it through the House of Representatives. President Bush had indicated earlier this month that he planned to sign it into law.

"We know that fencing works," said Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions on Friday. "It's time to make it a reality."

Republican lawmakers say the measure will be complemented, at some time in the future, by broader immigration reform.

Sergio Pelaez, a professor of international policy at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said the bill shows how little grasp U.S. legislators have on the complex phenomenon of immigration, which they see as a security issue.

But "we cannot deny that they have a right to decide what to do with their borders," the analyst told IPS.

The fence, which is likely to be completed by late 2007, "is an electioneering measure that will make migration more difficult, but will not stop it," Pelaez added.

Congress went into recess Saturday, and many of its members will now dedicate their time to the November legislative elections.

The new stretches of fencing will be added to the existing 112 kilometers of walls and fences along the 3,200-kilometer border between the United States and Mexico.

Besides the double layer of reinforced fencing, which will be separated by an all-weather road to be patrolled by U.S. border agents, the bill authorizes additional cameras, sensors and unmanned aircraft, as well as an increase in the number of border agents, from 13,300 to 14,800.

The decision to reinforce the border left aside a broader immigration reform bill that was under debate in the two houses of Congress. The earlier initiative included a means of legalizing many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States, a majority of whom are from Latin America.

The further stiffening of anti-immigration measures in the United States will create greater difficulties for the millions of immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean, whose remittances, which totaled $53.6 billion in 2005, are a key source of income for their families in their countries of origin.

Some 500,000 undocumented immigrants make it into the United States every year, but around 1.5 million are captured and deported.

The new stretches of fencing and tighter controls will further limit the areas where migrants attempt to cross the border, generating even more victims of thirst and exposure in remote desert areas and driving up the payment demanded by the "coyotes," or people smugglers, say observers.

In May, the Bush administration began to deploy thousands of National Guard troops along the border to assist the Border Patrol agents.

Last year, 472 people died in their attempt to cross the U.S.-Mexican border, compared with 254 in 1998, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported earlier this month.

Some 40 million people of Latin American birth or descent live in the United States today.

Since January, the governments of five countries of Central America, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Mexico have held periodic meetings to join forces against the U.S. plan to extend the fencing along portions of the border and to push for immigration reform that would create guest-worker programs and allow undocumented immigrants living in the United States to legalize their status.

However, their efforts met with frustration.

This week, lawmakers from Latin America, Spain and Portugal meeting in the Uruguayan capital pronounced themselves against the construction of border fencing and walls aimed at keeping out migrants, adding their voice to that of non-governmental organizations.

And between March and May, hundreds of thousands of immigrants held the largest such demonstrations ever in the United States, to protest immigration policies -- but to no avail, as demonstrated by Friday's vote in Congress.

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor   October 6, 2006   (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.