TOPICS > Politics

U.S.-Mexico Border Disputes

August 18, 2005 at 12:00 AM EST
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GWEN IFILL: August in southern Arizona, where forbidding desert terrain and 100-plus-degree temperatures have done little to stem the flow of illegal immigrants crossing into the U.S. from Mexico. U.S. law enforcement officials say Arizona and New Mexico’s porous 350-mile border with Mexico, has also become a magnet for crime, drug smuggling and gang violence. The states’ two governors, Democrats Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Janet Napolitano of Arizona, last week declared states of emergency. The twin declarations free up disaster aid money– $1.5 million for Arizona and $1.75 million for New Mexico– to assist counties along their southern borders. Napolitano said she was forced to step in where the federal government would not.

GOV. JANET NAPOLITANO: Because we are really targeting the crime that facilitates illegal immigration — automobile theft, identity theft, human trafficking — we want to work with the sheriffs, the county attorneys, assist them, you know, help with overtime, help with cleanup expenses, all the other sorts of things that are associated with the fact that this border is lacking operational control.

GWEN IFILL: Border towns have been plagued by violence, much of it from organized crime. And since October of last year, federal agents have recorded more than 500,000 arrests of illegal border crossers in just two sectors of Arizona. But Mexican President Vicente Fox has criticized the governors’ actions, saying controlling cross-border crime should be a joint responsibility.

JEFFREY BROWN: One of the two governors to declare a state of emergency joins us now, Bill Richardson, Democrat from New Mexico. And with me in Washington is Mexico’s ambassador to the United States, Carlos De Icaza, welcome to both of you.

CARLOS DE ICAZA: Thank you.

JEFFREY BROWN: Governor Richardson, starting with you, what are the U.S. and Mexican governments not doing now that you think must be done?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON: Well, on the American side I believe very strongly that there is no immigration policy, there is not enough resources at the border, Border Patrol, the 9/11 Commission recommends 2,000 Border Patrol agents, the administration proposes 200. Clearly in my stretch of 180 miles in New Mexico there’s very little patrolling going on, and as Gov. Napolitano said in her clip, the traffic of human beings is spawning smuggling of drugs, desecration of property.

On the Mexican government side I have been very encouraged lately by discussions I’ve had with the ambassador and with the governor of Chihuahua this morning about increased cooperation. It’s a matter of resources, but it’s also a matter of both our federal governments recognizing that more steps need to be taken; otherwise state officials like myself, like governors, local law enforcement are going to have to step in to protect our citizens. And so what we need is a national immigration policy, a federal act by the Congress that deals with the 12 million undocumented workers that are in America today, plus also increased border security that is good for Mexico and United States and the federal government, the Congress has failed to do that. And these are why states are taking this action.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, Ambassador on the Mexican side, a spokesman for President Fox said, the Mexican government does not share the views of Gov. Richardson. Now, what is wrong with a state taking direct action on its own to declare a state of emergency?

CARLOS DE ICAZA: We respect the declarations made by both governors, in fact we share some of their concerns. Our border has two sides, and two sides have to cooperate because we face common challenges. In no way Mexico can condone violence at the border, in no way Mexico accepts that certain parts of the border can be safe havens for criminals.

In fact instructions that consuls and embassy has from President Fox is to cooperate with local and federal authorities. We’re very committed in fighting against crime. And in fact if you see what has been happening the past two months Mexico Segura is an unprecedented operation launched by the Mexican government with thousands of federal policemen in certain areas of the border, restoring order because we have been in a way victims of our own success. Some criminal gangs that have been dismantled are trying to regroup in challenging us and also a point which is important, we have to manage together migration flow between both countries in a humane, safe, orderly and legal way. So we need immigration reform and we want to work together in this and so many other issues.

JEFFREY BROWN: Tell us a little bit more though, explain what explains the rise in violence at the border.

CARLOS DE ICAZA: Well, the rise in violence has to do with the fact that so many kingpins have been jailed in the past few years –

JEFFREY BROWN: You mean, drug and criminal kingpins?

CARLOS DE ICAZA: Drug and criminal kingpins, and then there is a fight for power among certain cartels because there is a void of power and they’re fighting for territory. And this is also the response in certain parts of the border, not in all the border, in areas in which we have been very, very effective and we are restoring order, we have better, new policemen; we are enforcing the law and we are cooperating with American authorities.

Sometimes we fail to recognize that we have along our conflict border within the United States and Mexico some of the largest corporations and drug enforcement in the world but the challenges are big and also the opportunities of working together.

JEFFREY BROWN: Governor Richardson, do you see the Mexican government as having sufficient enforcement and control on their side of the border?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON: No. And I believe that their local law enforcement, their federal law enforcement, they need more resources. It’s the same as what our law enforcement, our border patrol needs. My problem is this: I know there’s been perhaps progress as the ambassador mentioned in Arizona and Texas and in other border states. In New Mexico, there hasn’t been. And this is why I took these steps. We have in the 180 miles, it’s small. And there’s a 54-mile patch where I toured it by helicopter. I saw where some of these tracks were taking place by these individuals that are smuggling human and drugs. I saw no enforcement on either side. I was on a helicopter. I saw cattle mutilations, I saw the absence of any kind of activity at the fence and then my chief of police from Columbus, New Mexico, tells me he was shot at recently.

So I would like, I hope the ambassador and I have had some good discussions, I have asked for a specific course of action; there’s a little town south of our New Mexico border called Las Chepas, which is an abandoned town which is a staging area for drug smuggling, human smuggling and I have asked the Mexican government and we’ll work with them, how can we bulldoze and terminate that town. That would be a very practical step that at least for the New Mexico border would make a big difference.

And I know the Mexican government is considering this, but those are the specific steps that we need. We just can’t go in and keep talking and saying we’re going to have meetings and task forces. Unfortunately there are people on the border on both sides that are being victimized by these crimes and this illegal activity. And so this is why you’re seeing governors with this cry for help.

We don’t want to be disrespectful of our relationship with Mexico. In fact my state, New Mexico, is the most immigrant friendly state. We have licenses for undocumented workers. We have scholarships for them to go to our university because we want to integrate them; we don’t want them out driving without insurance. But when you have border security that is such a concern in terms of terrorist activities, in terms of drug smuggling, human smuggling, this is why we’re asking for, pleas to both federal governments to just get a little more involved and active.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, Mr. Ambassador, there’s a specific action that the governor is talking about bulldozing this place that is known as a staging area for illegal immigrants.

CARLOS DE ICAZA: Well, he has — the governor in contact actually has just sat with the governor of Chihuahua and obviously Chihuahua is assessing the situation because it’s locality that is placed on the state of Chihuahua. I personally have told the governor that I accept his invitation that he kindly offered me when we had our contact to go to New Mexico in the near future and to have a good conversation with him and see what we can do together. But we have varying important examples of things we’re doing together at the federal level that are an example for all the border.

For instance, yesterday we launched Operation Oasis, which is targeting smugglers and traffickers of persons in a coordinated effort according to the law of each country. So there are many things in which we are having success, other ones that are big challenges and more effort is required.

But let’s make no mistake about it; we are very committed in working together in making our border as safe as possible, the communities along the line to serve it, I know the governor of Chihuahua is also very engaged and we have difficult challenges. But we have to face them together: The border between both our countries that we have to protect.

JEFFREY BROWN: Are there frustrations on the Mexican side when you look across the border at the U.S. side, with our policies, with things that aren’t getting done?

CARLOS DE ICAZA: I think it’s a unique border in the world. You have challenges, 1 million legal crossings every day of people, $700 million of merchandise safely crossing the border. And yes we have opportunities and challenges in things that we have to work further together. But we have been able to build confidence and trust between authorities; yes, sometimes we need more resources. We need to work closely together. But I think we are in the right path.

What I would like to see indeed is that we can advance immigration reform. To see this is the debate that will happen inside the United States, but we are partners and we can be part of the solution. So we’re really waiting and to see how the debate will start this September in Congress; it will be very important; we have to work at the federal level, the local level and to have this dialogue frank, open, direct, as we’re having with candor today.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, Governor Richardson, a last word, this notion of immigration reform obviously is connected to the question we’re talking about at the border. Do you think that a real debate on that is now coming?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON: Well, I hope so. I have my doubts because the Congress has refused to deal with this issue. I think there are folks on the president’s right that don’t want him to go as far as he has. And there are those that don’t want him to take any steps at all. I think it’s critically important that the Congress face this issue before not just our border but our whole country is politically divided.

JEFFREY BROWN: Okay. Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Ambassador Carlos De Icaza, thank you both very much.