MEXICO CITY (EFE) – Foreign ministers from 10 Latin American nations met in the Mexican capital Monday to coordinate a response to moves by the United States to harden immigration policy, including a proposal to physically wall off its southern border.
On behalf of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Belize, Panama, Colombia and the Dominican Republic, the diplomats said U.S. policymakers must accept the principle that immigrants, even those without visas, “are not, nor should be treated as criminals.”
The officials concluded their one-day meeting with a declaration demanding that any new U.S. immigration norms guarantee “full protection of human rights” and “observance of labor laws” for every migrant, regardless of legal status.
THEY also said that a guest-worker program coupled with the opportunity for legalization of undocumented immigrants already living on U.S. soil are indispensable for achieving an immigration process that is “legal, safe, orderly and respectful of human rights.”
Representatives of the Latin American countries, for their part, pledged to “increase cooperation and dialogue” on reducing illegal immigration.
They also said they would work to make it easier and less costly for their compatriots in the United States to send money home. Family remittances already constitute the biggest single source of revenue for El Salvador, and ranks second in Mexico behind oil exports.
THE Latin American governments acknowledged that the phenomenon of undocumented immigration is due – in large measure – to the absence of social and economic conditions in the migrants’ homelands.
Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez said he and his colleagues agreed to form a working group to craft common policies in response to whatever new steps Washington D.C. might take on the immigration front.
While the final statement did not explicitly mention the proposal by U.S. Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) to build hundreds of miles of additional barriers along his country’s southern border, Mexico’s top diplomat left no doubt that the countries represented at Monday’s meeting are strongly opposed to the measure.
“WE are emphasizing very clearly that the Sensenbrenner bill has to be reviewed with care,” Derbez said. Approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on Dec. 16, and due to be taken up this year by the Senate, the bill not only calls for border barriers but would make undocumented entry into the United States a criminal offense, meaning that undocumented migrants could face jail terms in addition to deportation.
Sensenbrenner also wants to criminalize the activity of U.S. groups and individuals who assist illegal immigrants, including those who offer food, water or first aid to migrants.
THERE are thought to be more than 6 million undocumented Mexicans and Central Americans living in the United States. According to figures from the International Organization for Migrations, 90% of the nearly 1.3 million Guatemalans living in the United States entered the country without visas.
The U.S. House of Representatives’ approval of the bill has fanned indignation in Mexico, whose President Vicente Fox called the measure “shameful.” Even the staunchly pro-U.S. government in El Salvador had harsh words for Washington lawmakers.