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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 May 2006, 18:51 GMT 19:51 UK
US border build-up worries Mexico
By James Hider, Mexico City

People queue in Mexico waiting to cross into the US
The US-Mexican border is the busiest in the world
Despite US President George W Bush's assurances that he was seeking a comprehensive package on immigration reforms, Mexico's reaction focused primarily on the deployment of National Guard members along their mutual frontier.

"6,000 US troops on the border," clamoured the headline of El Universal, one of Mexico's main broadsheets, while Reforma warned of a "US Border Fortified".

The prospect of more border troops raised the spectre of more migrants dying as they try to cross ever more arduous areas of the border, seeking jobs and higher wages.

The popular left-wing newspaper La Jornada saw the move as a show of force by Mexico's much more powerful neighbour, just six weeks before presidential elections in Mexico.

Walls are not a solution
Felipe Calderon
Mexican presidential candidate

"Installing National Guard support bases on the border is a way of warning Mexican voters... that the relationship with the United States could get dangerously complicated if a president is elected who does not understand the gringo power," wrote the paper's columnist Julio Hernández López.

In a statement likely to swell his lead in the opinion polls, presidential candidate Felipe Calderon, from President Vicente Fox's own PAN party, was quick to add his own condemnation of the deployment of national guardsmen.

"The focus on more security for the frontier, and the temporary use of the National Guard... has been seen in the past to be misguided," Mr Calderon said.

"The increased social and human costs for the migrants will only benefit criminal groups which profit from the hopes and suffering of those looking for new opportunities for themselves and their families. Walls are not a solution," he added.

'Positive move'

Some 4,000 migrants have died in the deserts along the border since frontier passages were first restricted a decade ago.

A US patrol drives along the US-Mexican border in Nogales, Arizona
The US plans to deploy up to 6,000 troops on the border

Since the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US, the restrictions have been further tightened.

Fabiene Bennet, director of the pro-migrant Mexican group Sin Fronteras, also warned that "the reinforcement of border control has only led to more deaths more accidents and also more money and more clients for traffickers".

However, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez took the far more conciliatory view that the deployment was the price to be paid if Mr Bush wanted to push broad-ranging reforms past his more conservative critics in Congress

Stressing that the deployment was only for a year, Mr Derbez said: "We never thought at the beginning of President Fox's term in office... that a US president would one day broadcast to the nation to discuss a programme that combines frontier security with a programme of regularisation for temporary workers."

"I see that as very positive. President Bush made it very clear he wants comprehensive migration reform," Mr Derbez said.

Muted reaction

While Mr Fox is not running in the 2 July election, he is keen to protect his legacy of pushing for immigration reforms.

About 11.5m illegal immigrants in the US
Four out of 10 have been in US five years or less
75% were born in Latin America
Most enter via southern US border
California, Texas and Florida host most illegal immigrants
Many work in agriculture, transport and construction

Reaction in the streets has been muted - Mexican television stations did not even interrupt their evening schedule of soap operas to broadcast Mr Bush's speech live.

"It's very strict, it's exaggerated," said Mario, a 63-year-old taxi driver.

He said the tough new measures would not deter illegal migrants, but might lead to more deaths on the border.

"What happens here is there are no jobs, and people will always look out for their own best interests, a better life," Mario said.

But he conceded that the US had the right to protect its own borders, and blamed the Mexican authorities for not doing enough to provide work for its own people at home.

Newsagent Eric Galbres, 29, was more blunt about the new border restrictions.

"No country has the right to do that. It's bad, people are only looking for a better life, that's all," he said.

3,200km (2,000 miles) border divided into nine Border Patrol sectors
US plans 1,130km (700 mile) fence along part of border
Border guards made 1m arrests in 2005
500 people died trying to cross illegally in 2005, say rights groups
Thousands cross legally daily to shop and work - in 2003 88m cars, 48m pedestrians crossed

Watch President Bush's address on immigration


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