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El Border Wall Has Mexico Feeling Helpless?

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El Border Wall Has Mexico Feeling Helpless?

At the beginning of every school year, bad news comes from Mexican heartland states such as Zacatecas and Querétaro: Local authorities are closing hundreds of schools because so many families have moved north to the U.S. heartland.

Mexicans feel helpless before the migrant exodus, and talk about it the same way they talk about the weather. Everyone complains about it, but there´s not much you can do about it.

On Friday night, the U.S. Senate approved a 700-mile high-tech border barrier in a bid to stop the immigrant flow. The decision, a seminal event in the two neighbors´ relations, has left many Mexicans wondering if the open door to the north is closing.

Some Mexicans saw the vote as a collective slap in the face that highlighted the failure of their country´s leaders to give Mexicans a reason to stay home.

"Our politicians have not lived up to their responsibilities toward the people who migrate," said Homero Aridjis, a poet, activist and onetime Mexican diplomat. "Our government has failed before the economic and social plight of the poor."

"I´m from Michoacán," said Aridjis. "When I go there, I see fertile farmland and orchards that have been abandoned."

Few observers here expect the new barriers to stop people from Mexico and Central America from seeking a better life in the United States. New smuggling routes are expected to open through ever-more-remote stretches of desert, or over the waters of the river that Mexicans call the Rio Bravo del Norte.


But the bill approved by both houses of U.S. Congress, and soon to be signed by U.S. President George W. Bush, might signal the end of an era that has seen dramatic cultural and demographic changes in both countries.

The wave of Latin American migration that began in the 1980s helped make Hispanics the largest minority in the United States and the largest ethnic group in Los Angeles and many other U.S. cities. The beginning of the 21st century saw Hispanic immigration spread to almost every corner of the United States, with Spanish-speaking communities booming in states such as Tennessee and Ohio.

Latin Americans see the initiative as a rejection of the cultural changes brought forth by Hispanic in the United States. In angry editorials and speeches, Mexican writers and politicians have compared the project to the Berlin Wall and the Great Wall of China.

"The exploitation of fear among the citizens of the United States has been at the center of the debate," the newspaper EL UNIVERSAL said in an editorial Saturday. "This wall, like all those built with xenophobic aims, will be far from effective."

President Vicente Fox and President-elect Felipe Calderón have denounced the new fence, as have a host of Mexican political leaders.


For decades, social scientists here have seen migration to the north as a "safety valve" that keeps Mexico from exploding into social conflict. Now, a small number of voices are saying the brain and muscle drain to the U.S. cannot continue indefinitely.

When the head of the Central Bank, the Banco de México, told a Texas newspaper last week that a new wall between the United States and his country might not be such a bad thing, his remarks were front-page news here. Surprisingly, there were few public expressions of disagreement.

"It would be best to keep its people in Mexico, and it would give incentives for Mexico to create jobs that are needed," Guillermo Ortiz, the bank official, said in an interview with the editorial board of The Dallas Morning News.

Rather than return to Mexico, many immigrants are sending for their families, accelerating the declining enrollment in rural Mexican schools, analysts say. In Zacatecas, state education officials said last month they were closing 269 schools because of declining enrollments.


Before 1929, Mexicans were not required to obtain a visa to enter the United States. Ever since, "The history of the border has been a history of closing the border," said Tony Payan, a professor at the University of Texas, El Paso and author of "The Three U.S.-Mexico Border Wars: Drugs, Immigration, and Homeland Security."

The new measures approved Friday will seal off most of the Arizona-Mexico border. Immigrant smugglers probably will move farther east, to remote crossing points on the Rio Grande upriver from the Texas cities of Eagle Pass and Del Rio, Payan said.

Wayne Cornelius of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California, San Diego, told the Judiciary Committee that even if the entire land border were sealed off, immigrant smuggling probably would move to the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Lorenzo Meyer, one of Mexico´s leading historians, argued that the Senate vote had revealed an essential hypocrisy in U.S.-Mexico relations.

"In 1993 we signed the North American Free Trade agreement," Meyer said. "It was supposed to be the beginning of a period of cooperation and friendship." Now the U.S. government has "unilaterally" announced the construction of a wall, he said, despite Mexico´s strenuous objections.

"We see now that the idea of a united ´North America´ is fiction," Meyer said. "The reality is the wall."

It seems you don't value it until its gone. I cant wait until the first part of the reality is built.

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