MEXICO CITY — The Mexican government, angered by a U.S. proposal to extend a barrier along the border to keep out illegal aliens, has struck back with radio ads urging Mexican workers to denounce rights violations in the United States.
Facing a growing tide of anti-immigrant sentiment north of the border, the Mexican government is also hiring an American public relations firm to improve its image.
Mexican President Vicente Fox denounced the U.S. measures, passed by the House of Representatives on Friday, as “shameful” and his foreign secretary, Luis Ernesto Derbez, said Monday the barrier was “stupid.”
It’s hard to underestimate the ill feeling the proposal has generated in Mexico, where editorial pages are dominated by cartoons of Uncle Sam putting up barriers bearing anti-Mexican messages.
Many Mexicans, especially those who have spent time working in the United States, feel the proposal is a slap in the face to those who work hard and contribute to the U.S. economy.
Fernando Robledo, 42, of the western state of Zacatecas, said the proposals could stem migration and disrupt families by breaking cross-border ties.
“When people heard this, it worried everybody, because this will affect everybody in some way, and their families,” Mr. Robledo said. “They were incredulous. How could they do this, propose something like this?”
Mr. Robledo, whose son and mother are U.S. citizens, predicted the measure “would unleash conflict within the United States” as small businesses fail for lack of workers.
He said many Mexicans felt betrayed by the anti-immigrant sentiment.
The government is scrambling to fight on two fronts. On Monday, it announced it had hired Allyn & Company, a Dallas-based public relations company to help improve Mexico’s image and stem the immigration backlash.
“If people in the U.S. and Canada had an accurate view of the success of democracy, political stability and economic prosperity in Mexico, it would improve their views on specific bilateral issues like immigration and border security,” Rob Allyn, president of the PR firm, said yesterday.
Mexico has also said it is recruiting U.S. church, community and business groups to oppose the proposal.
The government has stepped up its defense of migrants, airing a series of radio spots here aimed at migrants returning home for the holidays.
“Had a labor accident in the United States? You have rights. … Call …,” reads the ad, sponsored by Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department, which has helped migrants bring compensation suits in the United States.
Kathryn Rodriguez of the Derechos Humanos/Alianza Indgena coalition in Tucson, Ariz., said the bill could expose those who help sick or dying aliens to criminal prosecution.
The House bill, passed on a 239-182 vote, would also enlist military and local law enforcement to help stop illegal aliens and require employers to verify the legal status of their workers.
Mexicans are outraged by the proposed measures, especially the extension of the border barrier, which many liken to the Berlin Wall.