Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Bush administration yesterday accused the Mexican government of facilitating illegal entry into the United States after Mexican officials said they would distribute maps of dangerous border areas and posters with safety instructions and other tips.

Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) said the maps, which would provide details of the terrain, cell-phone coverage and water stations set up by the U.S. charity Humane Borders, would help to save lives.

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

“This effort will entice more people to cross, leading to more migrant deaths and the further enrichment of the criminal human trafficking rings that prey on the suffering of others,” he said.

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

“No government, including the government of Mexico, should facilitate or encourage its citizens to try to enter the United States outside established legal procedures,” he said.

Rafael Laveaga, spokesman for the Mexican Embassy in Washington, said the NHRC is an independent body and receives no government funds. He said the commission is working with Humane Borders in distributing the maps.

Hundreds of Mexicans die every year while crossing the southern U.S. border illegally in search of a better life in the United States. They sometimes walk in temperatures that exceed 110 degrees.

The NHRC said it would distribute about 70,000 posters beginning in March, mostly in border towns and villages, as well as bars and restaurants frequented by emigrants.

The commission also said the posters show the estimated time it takes to walk or drive to nearby cities, note with red dots where migrants have died in the past and mark the location of water stations and emergency beacons set up by U.S. authorities.

“This is going to give people a false sense of security,” said Shannon Stevens, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Border Patrol in Tucson, Ariz. “This is going to give them the idea that they are better educated so they can cross the border easier.”

But Mexican officials disagreed, saying that illegal border crossing by thousands of people each year is a fact of life and that they are simply trying to prevent tragedies.

“Without a doubt, these maps will enable many lives to be saved,” Mauricio Farah, an inspector with the NHRC said in Mexico City. “We are not trying in any way to encourage or promote migration. The only thing we are trying to do is warn them of the risks they face and where to get water, so they don’t die.”

Mexican officials also said that the posters would warn potential emigrants not to believe promises of an easy journey from smugglers. “Don’t Do It,” the posters say. “It’s Hard. There’s Not Enough Water.”

At the same time, they advise migrants to travel with someone they trust and bring enough water and food, phone numbers of relatives, identification, and shoes adequate for a long and difficult journey.

Last year, the Mexican government issued a comic-style book as a guide to migrants on how to cross the border and avoid detection. It included “practical advice” on when and where to enter and what to wear and other instructions, including a tip to avoid sending children with strangers.

Illegal migration has become a thorny issue in the U.S.-Mexico relationship.

Mexican President Vicente Fox has called for a “status of regularization” for Mexicans illegally in the United States, which would allow them to remain as long as they were employed. He also has criticized recently approved legislation in the House authorizing the construction of 700 miles of fence on the U.S.-Mexico border and the designation of illegal entry as a felony.

“What is not resolved by intelligent policies and by leaders is resolved by citizens. That is how the Berlin Wall fell and that is how this wall will fall,” he told Reuters news agency Tuesday. “I hope it isn’t even built because, if it is, it will fall.”

Migrants working in the United States are a huge source of revenue for Mexico, sending home an estimated $16 billion a year — Mexico’s second largest source of foreign currency after oil exports.

The Mexican government has vigorously lobbied U.S. lawmakers and civic leaders for a guest-worker status for millions of illegal aliens in the United States, working through a coalition of U.S.-based immigration rights groups.

Part of the Fox administration’s effort to assist Mexican nationals in this country has included a move to adopt the consular or “matricula” identification cards issued to its citizens in the United States. The cards assist Mexican nationals in sending money home.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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