A proposed US law that would plug holes in its porous southern border has unleashed a storm of protest in Mexico and Central America after it passed the US House of Representatives late last year.
In the coming weeks, the Senate is due to begin considering the Border Protection, Anti-terrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act, which calls for US$2.2 billion to build an additional 700 kilometres of double-fencing along the border.
Sponsored by James Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin, and Peter King, a Republican from New York, the legislation is arguably the harshest piece of anti-immigration legislation passed in a generation.
But already it has triggered a howl of street protests and stinging criticism at the official level in Mexico. Mexican President Vicente Fox has called the legislation a "disgrace" and a "very bad sign" that "does not befit a country that prides itself on being democratic."
Some critics have even compared the proposal to the Berlin Wall.
But not until late last week did the US respond at all to the growing outcry. US Ambassador to Mexico, Antonio Garza, issued a five-page retort, calling the criticism "excessive, often irresponsible and almost always inaccurate.
"There is no human right to enter another country in violation of its laws," Garza was quoted as saying.
"Illegal immigration is a threat to our system of laws and an affront to the millions around the world, including in Mexico, who play by the rules in seeking to come to the Untied States."
After the bill passed the House, Mexican newspapers were indignant, filling their pages with commentary complaining about the brazenness of the rich northern neighbour and the heartlessness of denying Mexicans a chance to share in its riches.
Mexico's Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez said the bill was misguided, and he announced Mexico would do everything to block it.
Interior Minister Carlos Abascal was photographed with people who had just been returned by the United States, saying they were worried about the way they were treated.
Human rights advocates, international organizations and churches in the United States also raised loud protests against the project. Collectively they said it amounted to xenophobia. Constructing a wall will not inhibit poor people seeking a better life in the north, and more people will die taking more dangerous routes into the United States, they said.
In 2005, the official count of people who lost their lives crossing the border illegally was 324, but it is likely much higher.
But the US bill found a sympathetic ear at the conservative newspaper Reforma.
"The United States has every right in the world to block illegal immigrants," it wrote. Mexico would do the same if 2 million immigrants stormed the country, it said.
And, of course, Mexico would not tolerate criticism from outside the country. Who is allowed to immigrate and who is not is a sovereign decision of each state, Reforma said.
The border between the United States and Mexico is approximately 3,200 kilometres long, stretching from the Pacific Coast in California to the Gulf of Mexico in Texas. That border has been crossed by millions of Latinos, a majority of whom are Mexicans, who found jobs in the United States or Canada.
Their relatives and friends receive billions of dollars in money sent back home. Mexicans alone send back US$16 billion annually.
But it's not only people seeking to improve their economic situation who cross the border, as guns, drugs and their dealers also cross over.
Crime in the northern Mexican border towns has become an uncontrollable problem that reaches into Texas and Arizona, where armed vigilantes have started patrolling the border regions.
Hardly a night goes by when fewer than 10 people are killed in the Mexican border towns.
Mexico's state security organizations, demoralized by corruption, are not in a position to restore security.
The army was deployed to the region last summer, but with little success in controlling the crime problem.
Mexicans feel the proposed wall is an insult because it would divide Mexico from the rest of North America and from the booming US economy that is the cornerstone of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Source: China Daily