Why Mexico welcomes Obama's plan to send 1,200 US troops to border

Departing from its complaints about the Arizona immigration law, Mexico cautiously welcomes President Barack Obama's plan to send 1,200 troops to the border.

Matt York/AP
The international border in Nogales, Ariz, shown in this April 22 photo. President Barack Obama will send 1,200 National Guard troops to help secure the US-Mexico border.

The Mexican government all but praised President Barack Obama's decision to send 1,200 troops to the border, in a departure from the usual complaints about the US immigration enforcement policies.

Unlike President Felipe Calderon’s fiery opposition to Arizona’s immigration law or his calls for a new immigration policy, Mexico’s official reaction to the deployment of US National Guardsmen near the border has been measured, even as the public response has been mixed.

The troops will “strengthen efforts to combat transnational organized crime," the Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement, which predicted the guardsmen will not be involved in immigration enforcement. The ministry also wrote of a “shared responsibility” in fighting drug traffickers and called for additional resources to prevent arms and cash smuggling into Mexico.

IN PICTURES: The US/Mexico border

Some Mexicans said they respected the United States’ right to send armed forces to protect its citizens. Mexico, after all, is battling drug cartels on this side of the border. Others saw it as a ruse to target undocumented migrants:

“This is not just about catching drug traffickers. They are out to get illegal immigrants and the narcos are just an excuse,” said Carmen Rodriguez, 49, a translator from Mexico City who has family members in Boston. “There will be more violence at the border.”

Obama administration officials said the troops won’t conduct searches for illegal immigrants, but will gather intelligence, work on surveillance support and train local law enforcement. Obama will also ask Congress for $500 million for law-enforcement in the region.

Mexican worries

An editorial in the local newspaper La Cronica de Hoy, said the National Guard deployment coupled with recent news that legislation is moving forward in 14 US states to crack down on illegal immigrants is "more than worrying."

Mexican drug trafficking analyst Jorge Chabat said the new measure won’t hurt US-Mexico relations, but neither will they stop the flow of drugs and undocumented migrants, as smugglers will find new routes into the United States.

“The U.S. government has spent over a decade taking similar measures, placing the National Guard at the border and building a wall, but there is no significant impact on the flow of drugs or undocumented workers,” said Chabat, of Mexico City’s Center for Economic Research and Teaching.

The Obama administration said that illegal border crossings have slowed, but analysts say that is thanks to a weak economy, not increased security.
“This is long overdue,” said George W.Grayson, a professor of government at the College of William & Mary who studies Mexico-US relations. “Our current law enforcement agents at the border simply cannot handle the pressures that come from human smugglers, illegal immigrants and drug traffickers.”

Raul Calles, a 65-year-old public administration consultant in Mexico City said his country’s elected officials are to blame for not reining in drug violence and leaving Obama with no choice but to send in troops.

Calles said that a history of foreign invasions in Mexico leaves him uneasy with a militarized US border and that he doubts the National Guard will do anything to help his country -- by, say, stopping the flow of US weapons into Mexico.

“If Obama is doing this, it’s not because he cares about Mexico, but it’s for his own interests.”

IN PICTURES: The US/Mexico border


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