Saturday, June 05, 2004 Victor Landa Victor Landa

San Antonio Express-News

It was 108 degrees in Laredo on Memorial Day. By some reports it was as hot as 112. When my father and I went to look for breakfast that morning, the sun already left a sting on the skin. "Va a estar caliente el dia," he said. It's going to be a hot day.

This is not news in South Texas; it's just something you get used to, a seasonal thing. It seems as if it's always been that way.

There are some things that are new, though. High temperatures along the border mean that soon the death toll of undocumented immigrants will rise. They'll be found trapped inside boxcars and trailers or lying in the desert where heat and thirst overcame them. These are seasonal things that we shouldn't get used to.

Newspapers in Mexico have reported that there is an agreement in the making between the United States and Mexico that would help save the lives of immigrants.

But there is something about the accord that doesn't sit right. The agreement, called the Safe Repatriation Accord or Secure Repatriation Accord, was made, according to Mexican news reports, between the Department of Homeland Security and Mexico's Secretaría de Gobernación (a kind of national internal affairs department, with all the privileges that implies). Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge apparently brokered the deal with Gobernación's minister, Santiago Creel.

Under the agreement, undocumented immigrants detained in the United States will be transported to locations close to the border (several cities in Arizona have been mentioned) from where they'll be taken to cities in the interior of Mexico (Guadalajara is one possible place). From there the Mexican government would be in charge of transporting them to the capital of their state of origin. After that they're on their own.

Mexico's Foreign Relations Department is up in arms over the deal, mainly because it was sidestepped. Undersecretary Gerónimo Flores, according to a report in Mexico's Proceso magazine, denies that such an accord has been reached. Apparently, the U.S. administration was in a hurry to announce the agreement before summer sets in and was looking to put the plan in place this past week. But an internal Mexican tug-of-war has gotten in the way.

I'm curious, though, about what homeland security has to do with the repatriation of Mexicans, especially since the plan is supposed to be a way to prevent the deaths of immigrants coming to the United States.

I remember a scene in Laredo because I saw it so many times. A green Border Patrol bus would pull up to the sidewalk and a stream of Mexicans would be let out. They were escorted by armed men to the middle of the international bridge. Common knowledge told us the immigrants would soon make their way back, this time with a little more savvy.

This new accord would eliminate that scene. It would place the immigrants deep within Mexico, back in their home states.

What's interesting to me is that the agreement is an admission by default that the Border Patrol game of cat-and-mouse is futile. It's interesting that under the reorganization of the departments that handle immigration, customs and enforcement under the umbrella of Homeland Security, a new light is being shed on undocumented border crossings.

It's naïve to think that such a scheme will deter or prevent deaths in the desert. Immigrants don't cross the border because it's close, they cross it because there are jobs on the other side. Tossing a person looking for work back into deep Mexico will only waste his or her time.

Interestingly, recent headlines in Mexico lament the fact that more jobs in that country are being lost to China. Unemployment across the border is rising.

It was 108 degrees in Laredo on Memorial Day, and summer is just beginning.


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