Mexico breaks silence on US immigration bill: 'Walls aren't the solution'

Mexico has been quiet in recent years on the US immigration debate after former President Vicente Fox's vocal push for US reform prompted criticism.

Samantha Sais/Reuters
The Arizona-Mexico border fence near Naco, Arizona, March 29. Mexico breaks its silence on the US immigration reform debate this week, declaring that 'walls aren’t the solution.'

Mexico broke its silence on the United States immigration reform debate this week, declaring that “walls aren’t the solution.”

US lawmakers are considering extending the border fence as part of the added security measures that would accompany plans to provide legal status to more than 11 million immigrants, the majority of them Mexican.

Foreign Minister José Antonio Meade said the legislation would benefit Mexico’s countrymen in the US. But he also warned that the proposed fence extension could impact commerce, and the enormous legal flow of products and people across the border each day.

“Walls aren’t the solution to the migratory phenomenon, and they aren’t congruent with a modern and secure border,” he told media on Tuesday. “They don’t contribute to the development of the competitive region that both countries want to encourage.”

Seventy percent of bilateral commerce happens over the border via trucks, and it’s worth $1 million per minute, Mr. Meade said. More than 1 million people cross the US-Mexico border legally every day.

Mexico has been publicly quiet in recent years on the US debate over immigration reform after former President Vicente Fox's vocal push for US reform appeared to some to be an overreach. He made specific demands, including wanting to see reform by "year end." That was in early September 2001, days before the 9/11 terrorist attacks that would set the country on a new course and see immigration reform fall by the wayside.

During the current US debate, the Mexican government has kept mum – at least publicly – on the legislation, saying the debate is an internal domestic issue. But Meade said that Mexico has sustained a “permanent dialogue” with everyone involved since lawmakers began crafting the bill.

“Our country has let the United States government know that measures that could affect links between [border] communities detract from the principles of shared responsibility and neighborliness that both nations agreed upon.”

On the issue of shared responsibility: Over the past year, Mexico has found itself in the uncomfortable position of deterring increased illegal immigration through its own territory.

Illegal immigration between Mexico and the US fell to net zero last year, meaning that the number of crossers and returnees roughly canceled each other. However, in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, US authorities saw an increase in apprehensions of migrants – the vast majority from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, according to a report by the Washington Office on Latin America. Mexico recently announced that Marines would take over securing its southern border.

As the US debate over the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 gains steam, Meade noted Mexico’s requests are rooted in its desire for stronger economic development. These include the modernization of the infrastructure and administration of border ports of entry and measures that better facilitate the transit of products and people.

During last month’s meeting in Mexico, Presidents Enrique Peña Nieto and Barack Obama promoted the idea of a unified economic region saying they could better compete globally, together.

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