- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2006

Almost 20 years ago, an American president stood in a divided Berlin and challenged Mikhail Gorbachev to “Tear down this wall.” President Reagans language was full of hope, declaring that the United States purpose was to “promote true openness break down barriers that separate people create a safer, freer world.”

That wall is long gone, and with it the communist governments of East Europe that tried to hide from the forces of change behind walls, electronic sensors and armed guards. The world is clearly the better for it.

But we in North America now see a new wall being built, this one between two countries that have long been friends, neighbors and — since the North American Free Trade Agreement ushered in a new era of cooperation — partners. It is a wall built on fear, myopia, and distrust. This week we saw the White House bow to the pressure of those who ask for more troops and more guns to secure our common border.

Secure it from what? Mexico is a vital partner of the United States in the fight against terrorism. We work closely with Washington to stem the flow of drugs, to identify and interdict illegal money flows, and to prevent terrorists from using the border to cross into the U.S. or attacking either of our countries. Our shared border is a safe border — which is in the national interest of both our nations.

But President Bush spoke about a different kind of “threat” in his address last month, one that supposedly stems from Mexicans who migrate to the United States. As a Mexican, a diplomat, and adviser to the leading candidate for my countrys presidency, let me say clearly: These migrants do not threaten U.S. security. Like the many millions of immigrants who preceded them and built the great country that the United States is today, all they seek is the opportunity to earn an honest wage for a full days work.

In terms of national security, the migrants are a bigger vulnerability for Mexico than for the U.S.: People make a nation, and we are losing some of our best people. The Mexicans who risk their lives crossing the border in search of a better life than my country has been able to offer are exactly the sort of hardworking, risk-taking women and men that North America needs to compete in the 21st century. Mexicos loss is Americas gain. Our challenge is to make this human capital our regions common gain.

The irony is that conventional wisdom in the United States has it exactly backward: Somehow these bold, hardworking migrants who are increasingly critical to the success of the American economy are seen as such a threat to U.S. national security as to justify calling out the military. Something is wrong with this picture.

Of course, all politics is local, and Mr. Bush must respond to those who fear Mexican migrants, and countless other ghosts. But rhetoric and parochialism should not drive policy. The leaders of both countries need to continue to look for mutually beneficial solutions that protect the rights of Mexicans, maintain the security of our shared border and meet the labor needs of the U.S. economy. There is much in President Bushs proposals that points in that direction. We should be able to find a win-win solution for both nations built around documenting the undocumented and providing certainty, legality, and predictability to the flow of people across the border. We should be able to agree on a plan with the simple goal of assuring every Mexican crossing our border into the U.S. does so legally.

This is exactly the kind of solution advocated by Felipe Calderon, whom I expect to be elected President of Mexico next month. Most importantly, he has pledged to make the creating jobs the linchpin of his presidency, which is critical to giving Mexicans the opportunities they deserve in their own country.

He has declared he will work with the United States to make our border the safest, most secure in the world. And he has insisted he will do everything in his power to defend the basic human rights of Mexicans, wherever they work and live.

Geography is destiny: America and Mexico are fated to live with each other. Both of our great nations will benefit if we can find solutions that bring walls down. Ronald Reagan would have demanded no less.

Arturo Sarukhan is the former Mexican consul general in New York, and a career diplomat on leave working as international affairs adviser to Felipe Calderon.

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