- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 26, 2006

Mexico canceled plans yesterday to distribute 70,000 border maps with safety instructions and tips to migrants aiming to cross illegally into the United States, but denied that the decision was a reaction to criticism by Bush-administration officials.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in Mexico City said it “rethought” the decision after human rights organizations in several border states said the maps would show anti-immigration groups — and watchdogs such as the Minutemen volunteers — where the migrants were likely to travel.

The NHRC maps would have provided details to migrants about the terrain, cell-phone coverage and the location of water stations set up by the U.S. charity Humane Borders.

“This would be practically like telling the Minutemen where the migrants are going to be,” said NHRC spokesman Miguel Angel Paredes. “We are going to rethink this, so that we wouldn’t almost be handing them over to groups that attack migrants.”

Much of the Mexican media have accused the Minutemen of attacking illegal aliens on the border, accusations that have not been substantiated and have been denied by Minutemen organizers. The Mexican government has described the volunteers as vigilantes, as has President Bush.

Mr. Paredes said the commission’s decision was not a response to U.S. pressure, adding, “We have not taken that into account.”

On Wednesday, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the department opposed “in the strongest terms” the publications of maps “to aid those who wish to enter the United States illegally. … It is a bad idea to encourage migrants to undertake this highly dangerous and ultimately futile effort.”

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack also said the United States would “take whatever steps it deems necessary to protect its own borders.”

The NHRC had planned to distribute 70,000 maps beginning in March, mostly in border towns and villages, as well as bars and restaurants frequented by migrants. The commission said they were intended to save lives by noting the estimated time it would take to walk or drive to nearby cities, places where migrants have died in the past and the location of water stations and emergency beacons.

Hundreds of migrants, mostly Mexican nationals, die every year trying to cross the desert illegally into the United States, mostly through Arizona.

The NHRC cited the Minutemen as a sign that anti-immigrant extremism was on the rise in the United States. The civilian Minutemen group set up observation posts in Arizona in April and from California to Texas in October to report illegal aliens to the U.S. Border Patrol.

Minuteman co-founder Chris Simcox said the NHRC’s decision demonstrated the effectiveness of the “peaceful, law-abiding actions by Minuteman volunteers” to secure the nation’s borders.

“The Mexican government ought to be ashamed that their policies drive their citizens to risk death in the Arizona desert trying to escape their country,” he said. “Rather than giving away maps to help their citizens flee, the government of Mexico should dedicate itself to making Mexico a country their citizens can be proud of and want to live in.”

Mr. Simcox denied accusations that Minutemen had attacked anyone, instead pointing to life-saving rescues by the group of nearly 200 aliens abandoned in the desert by human traffickers.

“The maps the Mexican government released will still be used by the Minutemen to determine where we set up our observation posts along the southern U.S. border,” he said. “Those maps are not just aids for illegal aliens simply seeking to escape Mexico; they are also road maps for terrorists who seek to enter the United States to murder Americans.”

The NHRC was created 17 years ago by the Mexican Interior Ministry as the General Human Rights Department. The name was changed a year later and in 1999, the NHRC became fully independent of the government.

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