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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

U.S. Department of State Press Briefing: Results of U.S. - Mexico Binational Commission

Antonio O. Garza, Jr., U.S. Ambassador to Mexico

Washington, DC
November 13, 2003

2003/1158
(11:05 a.m. EST)

[ ... ]

QUESTION: Yes. I know we keep pestering you guys with this, but it's important. The fact that there were no concrete steps -- I know you said that it was an assessment opportunity -- but people are wanting to hear from both of your governments, from Mexico and the U.S., whether or not you will head towards an immigration agreement.

You have a lot of advocacy groups who are saying, "Hey, listen. You know, it's nice to talk the talk, but do the walk also." So what do you see happening in the next year or so?

AMBASSADOR GARZA: Well, it -- I think it would be difficult for me to put a very specific timetable on it, but I think if you look at the -- certainly the past year -- that in the whole area of making our borders more secure, you've seen the implementation of the 22-point plan. You've seen the integration of technology, both in terms of the movement of people and goods, trying to allow for more efficient flow of people and goods so that we can focus our resources on those that might come into our country to harm.

Conversely, Mexico has worked very closely with us in terms of securing their southern border and the exchange of information. I say this because it's an important fact in terms of addressing American concerns about Homeland Security, and it helps create an environment, I believe, in Congress, where we can return to more productive discussions and dialogue about migration reform, specifically with Mexico.

Both administrations, both in Mexico and in the United States, here President Bush remain committed to migration reform. The President has enunciated, I think, some very clear principles with respect to what should guide our reforms, that it be safe, legal, orderly, humane and sensitive to the market realities that we face. And to try to minimize the importance of this process, I think is misplaced; this is an important process.

Congress, I think, increasingly, you've seen any number of bills filed, both sides of the aisle represented, both in the House and the Senate, that have returned to a discussion about migration reform.

Secretary Powell yesterday talked about incremental steps, perhaps in, I think what he said was the not-too-distant future, and I think that's a fair assessment that we'll start to see more movement. But before you have that sort of movement, Congress is, I think, developing a capacity and a comfort level that the ongoing efforts between our two countries in homeland security and counterterrorism are real, and they are.

So it's difficult to put a timetable on it. I think there is increasingly a recognition of an urgency, and that's certainly the first step in, I think, building Congressional support for it, but certainly the Administration, I think, has laid out its principles very clearly, and certainly those are the principles that are going to guide that debate.

QUESTION: Yes, Ambassador, I wonder if you are aware of the apprehension in Tijuana of these polleros that was specialized in trafficking Arabs into the United States, and if you know about this. That was something that was big news in Mexico yesterday. But I wanted to know how worried is the U.S. Government about this because, I mean, it's not just undocumented Mexicans, but Arabs that are coming, you don't know, from which countries.

AMBASSADOR GARZA: Without getting too much into the specifics of that, the whole role of the pollero in the process is something that is -- quite frankly, the way polleros prey on people is the most disgusting aspect of it, and I think it really is part of creating an environment that is risky for the people being transported.

In terms of the counterterrorism component of it, we have, for some time now, been working very closely with our Mexican counterparts, up to and including the sharing of information about individuals being transported. We're working on interfacing our databases more efficiently so that we can share information real-time about individuals that are apprehended, get some sense of what their intentions might be.

But that's really a part of -- I mean, there's two parts of it:

One is the initial apprehension, and that's something that we've worked very well with Mexico on, and it's part of our overall strategy in terms of securing the border -- not closing the border, but securing it, making it safer and allowing for the more efficient movement of people and goods.

The second aspect of that is, once you have apprehended individuals, the ability to transmit information readily about those individuals so we get some sense of what their intentions might be.

It's a good example of the sort of coordination that is important not only to the United States, but as importantly, to Mexico in terms of securing the Mexican homeland and assuring the safety of that country's citizens as well.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? You kind of steered away from part of -- of an important part of that. But I do remember when there were stories coming out about these Arab -- Arab smuggling, people-smuggling rings.

Didn't the U.S. say that that was exaggerated, to some extent? Do you really -- do you feel that there were -- I mean, after 9/11 do feel that there were organized smuggling rings just to get Arabs -- therefore suspect of being al-Qaida type people, into the U.S. from Mexico?

There were a lot of stories about that, and I remember them somehow being discounted, to some extent, when that -- when those came out.

AMBASSADOR GARZA:  Well, I don't remember them necessarily being discounted, nor would I want to comment on the level of organization. I think wherever you have the ability both to secure a border, apprehend individuals, and you have the capacity to assess the individuals in terms of their potential threat to our country, and we have that in place, that whether it was the product of an organized effort, whether it were one individual, ten individuals or any number of individuals, that we have a responsibility, to the extent that our technology and relationship will allow us, to assess what kind of threat those individuals pose.

So whether you want to characterize it as exaggerated or organized is almost beside the point. The point is, if you had the capacity to secure the border and assess the threat level of the individuals being transported, I think you have a responsibility to do that.

QUESTION: But having the problem was -- was the smuggling in of potential al-Qaida members specifically.

AMBASSADOR GARZA: That would be very difficult for me to assess, in the sense that, again, going back to my response, I mean, I think if we have the ability to secure the border, to enforce our laws, and then assess the threat level of the individuals apprehended, and we have that, that that's something that we should be doing. Whether it's one or ten or larger is almost beside the point, one person can do serious harm.

And so, therefore, I think this ongoing coordination between our two countries, quite independent of perceived volume is important that when we're apprehending, whether it be Mexico on its southern border, us on Mexico's northern border, we have a responsibility to assess. We have a relationship that now allows us to exchange information comfortably, and we should be doing that. We owe that to the citizens of both our countries.

QUESTION: If you could follow up on your initial remarks about the relationship. I'm sure you hear this a lot. But in the beginning of this Administration, and also even when President Fox came in, there was a kind of feeling that this was a real renaissance in the U.S.-Mexico relationship, a lot of promise that these two countries were going to do a lot of work together in the hemisphere. There's been a lot of water under the bridge between then, not just on 9/11, but with Iraq there was some feeling that perhaps Mexico's opposition to the war was a little bit of sour grapes over the lack of progress of migration.

Can you talk about whether you feel as if the U.S. and Mexico have really now, as the Secretary said, when he said move past 9/11 on the other side, are you really on the other side of the bridge and moving -- turning a new corner in the relationship?

AMBASSADOR GARZA: Well, in one sense, yes. And I think certainly our two presidents enjoy, I think, a good relationship, and one that is based largely on respect and an appreciation for the importance of this relationship and how integrated it is.

In another sense, I think yesterday's Binational Commissions were a good indicator of how institutionalized our relationships really are. Even back in what some would characterize as the most difficult period, back in February/March when President Bush expressed his disappointment, our institutions continued to interface. We have had, in terms of the day-to-day efforts with respect to counterterrorism, no better ally than Mexico.

If you look at the law enforcement efforts and the apprehension of major drug traffickers, they're way up. Numbers of extradition, albeit, some remain difficult and contentious, those numbers are up. The institutions continue to function, I think, very effectively, our ability to coordinate on the day-to-day -- and in today's world, the day-to-day is actually quite major -- I think is a healthy sign of the maturity of the relationship and the integration of the relationship.

So I think the perception was, somehow, that there was this break. The reality is that we never stopped working together well on issues that were important to the United States and Mexico. And so I think Iraq is certainly behind us. Mexico was very supportive of the last resolution at the UN, and in that sense, I think we've, we've, -- as we like to say in Texas -- moved down the road.

But what as important to me, day in and day out, was to see our institutions never breach, in terms of their responsibility, to continue working on issues that were important to both the United States and Mexico.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah. Going back to this securing the border issue, at some point there was discussion -- I mean the U.S. position seemed to be, "Let us first secure the border, then let's talk about migration." And yesterday Secretary of State Powell sort of seemed to indicate that now we're moving beyond that.

I'd really like to understand clearly, is the border now considered secure? And if not, sort of, what remains to be done so that that border is eventually considered secure and maybe things can move along then on the immigration reform?

AMBASSADOR GARZA: The -- I think the border is, is certainly more secure. If you looked at any number of the proposals under the 22-point plan, which you saw was the integration of technology -- whether it was in passenger information systems; whether it was in the ability to x-ray cargo, the ability to do off-site inspections, the ability to integrate some level of pre-clearance into sentry lanes and fast lanes.

Those of us that -- just as a sidebar -- those of us that grew up along the border think much of this overdue in terms of investments in technology to allow for the more efficient movement of low-risk people and goods. So I think we've established several templates that can now be replicated in other ports of entry.

To that extent, it allows you to then allocate your resources to what would be your higher-risk movement of people and goods; and I think that's an important part of what we're doing. What that does vis--vis migration, I think, is give Americans a little more comfort in terms of what we're doing at the border, in terms of the coordination of our efforts. And when you start to develop a comfort level that your security is being addressed, I think it creates a capacity for a discussion about migration.

Now, security, efficiency, resources at the border -- that is not the sort of thing that you can just close the book on. It's something that has to be ongoing. If you look at the volumes that we do at the border and the volume of trade, the likelihood of that increasing is very high. I mean we want to see expanded trade.

We'll continue to see movements of people, so I don't think you can simply put a period on that and say, "That's been done." I think it's something that we have to continue to work on, and that helps build the capacity or the comfort level for Americans that were addressing some of those issues so that we can start to have a constructive migration dialogue.

[ ... ]


[End]



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