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GIs will be monitored closely

Story courtesy of the San Antonio Express-News
by Dane Schiller

MEXICO CITY — If National Guard troops catch undocumented immigrants sneaking into the United States, Mexico will challenge such police-like actions in American courts, Mexico's foreign minister warned Tuesday.


The comments come in the wake of an announcement by President Bush that he would temporarily send up to 6,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to support Border Patrol agents combating undocumented immigration.

Outlining his new border control strategy Monday, Bush stressed the Guardsmen wouldn't arrest immigrants, but provide support, from conducting surveillance to building fences.

Mexican Foreign Minster Luis Ernesto Derbez said Mexico will keep a close eye on the situation.

"If a real wave of abuse starts, if we see the National Guard acting outside what the president of the United States has said, we will file suit," Derbez said in a radio interview.

U.S. law prohibits military personnel from engaging in police-like action on U.S. soil, including the detention, arrest and interrogation of civilians.

The Mexican government will send additional personnel to its consular offices along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border to monitor the operation, Derbez said.

Andres Rozental, president of the Mexican Council of Foreign Relations, said President Bush could hardly have chosen a more dangerous and provocative course than deploying the Guard.

"It is offensive when you militarize the border with your partner, your neighbor and people who you say are your great friends," Rozental said, referring to Bush's speech.

"The fact is, (the guardsmen) are going to be in uniform and they are going to be armed and at the border," Rozental continued. "It is a high-risk gamble that is really meant to appease a very extreme portion of the people who have been anti-immigrant all along and will never agree to comprehensive immigration reform."

Because National Guard troops are not trained as Border Patrol agents and many have served in combat in Iraq, deploying them on the border increases the chance for violence, he said.

He pointed to two Texas incidents as examples of how things can go wrong when soldiers work with the Border Patrol

A Green Beret conducting nighttime surveillance in brush along the Rio Grande near Brownsville in 1997 shot an undocumented immigrant in the back.

The immigrant, clad in his underwear, had just crossed the Rio Grande and later admitted that he was carrying a pistol. But he said he did so to protect himself and that he thought the soldiers were bandits. He pleaded guilty to assaulting a federal officer.

A few months later, near the community of Redford, high school student Ezequiel Hernández Jr. was herding his family's goats when he was shot and killed by a Marine.

Hernández had apparently mistaken the heavily camouflaged Marine for an animal and fired his .22-caliber rifle.

Investigators found that the Marine returned fire several minutes later. Hernández, a U.S. citizen, was killed less than 40 yards from his home.

Both shootings raised tensions between the United States and Mexico and resulted in the Pentagon suspending a program that permitted military personnel to conduct armed surveillance patrols near the border.

Jesús Velasco, a Mexico City political scientist, said Bush wants to send a message that he is in favor of securing the border and is not worried about Mexico's leaders.

"President Bush is making a decision without considering what the Mexican government thinks," Velasco said.

"He can do it, like (Mexico) can go to the border near Laredo and build a pink bridge. It won't look nice, but (Mexico) can do what it wants in its territory."

Outside the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, where there have been gatherings of demonstrators in favor of giving more rights to Mexican immigrants, there is no doubt people are watching what the United States does next.

Not everyone here is angry.

"The United States is doing what it should have done years ago," said businessman Everardo Lujan, 67, whose family temporarily fled to El Paso to escape the violence of the Mexican Revolution.