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Global doors slam shut on immigrants

While Arizona's anti-immigrant law gets all the attention, countries around the world are pursuing tough immigration polices on a scale rarely seen in history.

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"I feel that it's my country now. I made my life here; I got married here. We just want to be legal," Lopez explains in the modest apartment she lives in on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. "My son's future is here. He speaks Hebrew, and goes to a public kindergarten, like every other Israeli boy."

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The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, have changed the way nations think about immigration as well. Suddenly, especially in the US, border control has become a function not just of controlling populations and domestic jobs but keeping the country safe. The issues merged in Europe, too, after the terrorist attacks on a train in Madrid in 2004 and later on public transportation in Britain in 2005. "9/11 changed immigration politics, even in those kind of bellwether immigrant welcoming lands," says Mr. Miller. "There is more overt political opposition."

In the US, undocumented Mexican workers who had been pouring into Texas, California, and Arizona for decades suddenly were viewed as a national security threat. And the security argument has grown louder, especially as Americans watch the drug-trafficking violence next door that has taken nearly 30,000 lives in the past four years.

While America is divided on the immigration issue – as is virtually everywhere else on the globe – the US has garnered a reputation for being one of the most anti-immigrant countries in the world. The perception has been fanned by the high-profile controversy over a tough new enforcement law in Arizona, elements of which have now been blocked by a federal judge. Yet not everyone thinks the fortress image is warranted.

"It is a preposterous claim," says Robert Gorman, a professor at Texas State University in San Marcos. "There are huge numbers who have come to this country who have come legally and illegally. Because it has always been a country with a dynamic economy, it has always been receptive to some level of immigrant populations."

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The complexity of dealing with the illegal immigration issue is evident in the complaints that come across the desk of Marco Calzada, the boyish-looking mayor of Tultitlan. Mr. Calzada is dressed smartly in a button-down shirt. He exudes the calm of a CEO. But what's happening outside his office, on the gritty streets, is far more chaotic.

An anti-immigrant sentiment is brewing here that he has little control over. Migrants, who once just passed through, are becoming increasingly tied to criminal groups. He has pleaded with the federal government to step up deportations. "They bring problems here," he says. "People ask me to get rid of them, but there is nothing I can do."

In Tultitlan, a crossroads outside Mexico City for trains arriving from the south and departing north, dozens of migrants arrive each day, mostly on freight cars that carry them, perilously, through the countryside. Residents who live near the tracks, like Ms. Perez, feel overwhelmed. She no longer lets her teenage children walk alone at night.

Officially, Mexico has shown more tolerance toward migrants of late. In 2008, the Mexican government decriminalized immigration; it no longer jails those it catches but instead just deports them. Now the country is moving toward adopting a law that allows migrants to lodge complaints and to seek medical and other care without having to prove their immigration status. It overturns a longstanding mandate that all authorities, federal or local, have to ask for migration papers when approached by foreigners and alert immigration officials of those here illegally – not unlike parts of the Arizona law that has so riled Mexicans.

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