- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2003

MEXICO CITY Mexicans fear they could be an early casualty of the war as the Bush administration, already upset at Mexico's refusal to back it in the United Nations, begins introducing unprecedented security measures along the border.
In recent weeks, the U.S. government has ramped up restrictions along the nearly 2,000-mile border and with the war, a severe crackdown on cross-nation traffic is expected.
In what amounts to a partial border closure, there will be fewer open entries, more inspections and mind-numbing wait times for the thousands of Mexicans who cross every day.
The Homeland Security Department, which oversees the border, said the security boost is "not against Mexicans, it's against criminals."
Mexico, a nonpermanent member of the Security Council, took a surprisingly adversarial stance with the United States in opposing war with Iraq.
Many feel the new border restrictions are the first of many U.S. decisions that will affect Mexico adversely.
"For us, an exporting country that has hundreds of thousands of Mexicans along the border zone, this will have a seriously negative impact," said Silvia Hernandez, a Mexican senator in the Party of the Institutional Revolution.
Mexico sends more than 80 percent of its exports across the Rio Grande.
Since the Bush administration abandoned its Security Council resolution earlier this week, it's gone overboard to emphasize the importance of its relationship with Mexico.
But down here, the focus is on comments from various U.S. officials calling Mexico's unwavering anti-war stance a "disappointment."
"In one form or another, there will be consequences," said Jorge Montano, former Mexican ambassador to the United States.
Mexican President Vicente Fox, under tremendous pressure from an overwhelmingly anti-war populace, never offered support for the U.S. resolution.
Finding himself, as the Spanish expression goes, "between the sword and the wall," Mr. Fox addressed his nation just two hours after Mr. Bush gave his Monday night ultimatum.
Mexico "laments the road to war," he said, going on to say that "our relationship with the U.S., our closest partner, our neighbor and friend, shouldn't change."
But along the border, things have already changed. Since March 1, when the Homeland Security Department assumed control of the zone, average crossing times increased by as much as a third.
On Monday night, the national threat level was raised to Orange Alert, the second-highest level, and inspections were beefed up with bomb-sniffing dogs, radiation-detecting devices and gamma-ray sweeps of trucks.
For the typical Mexican border-crosser, transporting food and manufactured goods to the United States, that spells serious delays.
Such delays distress many Americans, too. The Chamber of Commerce in San Ysidro, Calif., the world's busiest border crossing, recently reported a 40 percent to 60 percent drop in local business during the first period of Orange Alert last year.

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