MEXICO CITY — The U.S. Senate’s proposal to spend $46 billion to help secure the country’s southern border may or may not persuade skeptical colleagues in the House to support broader immigration reform. But the proposal is generating some serious grumbling in Mexico.
“We are ‘friends and neighbors,’ as is repeated ad nauseam,” Fernando Belaunzaran, a congressman with Mexico’s left-wing Democratic Revolution Party, tweeted this week, “but the U.S. is about to militarize the border with Mexico as if we were at war.”
“Neighbors don’t do this to each other,” Univision news anchor Jorge Ramos wrote in the newspaper Reforma.
On a national radio show, Lorenzo Meyer, a respected columnist and academic, suggested that Mexico retaliate by kicking out CIA and Defense Department officials who are collaborating with the government in the fight against drug cartels. Or perhaps, Meyer mused, Mexico could get back at the U.S. by refusing to accept any more American retirees.
The proposed spending spree at the border — which supporters have labeled a “surge,” after the 2007 U.S. troop increase in Iraq — was included as an amendment to a broader immigration bill that cleared the Senate on Thursday. The additional spending would add nearly 20,000 Border Patrol officers, roughly doubling the current force. It would also fund the completion of 700 miles of border fencing and 24-hour surveillance flights by drones.
The Senate voted 67-27 on Monday to end debate on the amendment. Supporters are hoping that a lopsided approval of the immigration reform bill in the Senate will build momentum for the proposal as it heads to the House of Representatives. Thursday’s vote was 68-32.
In the lower chamber, some conservative lawmakers do not want to support the bill’s provision of a “path to citizenship” for unauthorized immigrants, particularly because they fear it will encourage more people to sneak in. But supporters of the surge are hoping to convince skeptical House members that slipping across the border will become far more difficult.
The plan’s American critics include immigrant rights advocates, budget hawks and civil libertarians wary of the expanded surveillance capabilities the Border Patrol would be granted. In Mexico, most of the complaints have come from the left, whose leaders have reiterated the long-held opinion here that U.S. border policy, with its walls, fences and armed border agents, is an insult to their nation.
A number of critics also have taken aim at the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto for not speaking out more forcefully.
“The passivity and negligence of his government is incomprehensible; it’s as if this had nothing to do with him, as if this was not going to seriously affect millions of Mexicans,” Ramos, the TV anchor, wrote in his column Sunday.
Peña Nieto’s team has chosen to hang back from the immigration debate north of the border, apparently out of fear that any cheerleading for the cause could be construed by American conservatives as unwarranted meddling. Former Mexican President Vicente Fox’s efforts to persuade Americans to accept immigration reform in 2001 led to a harsh backlash.
Fox’s former foreign secretary, Jorge Castaneda, who helped lobby for a change in immigration law in 2001, said the Mexican government needed to speak out about the plan.
On Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Jose Antonio Meade delivered a measured statement in which he reiterated the government’s contention that U.S. immigration reform would help millions of Mexican migrants.
But fences, Meade said, “are not the solution to the phenomenon of migration, and aren’t consistent with a modern and secure border. They don’t contribute to the development of the competitive region that both countries seek to promote.”