Friday, May 30, 2008

Immigrant Rights News - Friday, May 30, 2008

Immigrant Rights News – Friday, May 30, 2008


NOTE: IRN and other NNIRR posts are available at


1. Reuters: “Chertoff was at a conference in Israel to get more Aparteid security measures for the US/Mexico border”


2. Chicago Tribune: RACE IN AMERICA: Does crackdown cross line? Arizona efforts stir racial profiling claims



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Chertoff was at a conference in Israel to get more Aparteid security measures for the US/Mexico border:


INTERVIEW-Chertoff keen on Israeli airport security technology


Thu May 29, 2008 4:03pm EDT


By Avida Landau


JERUSALEM, May 29 (Reuters) - U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said on Thursday he will seek to adopt novel Israeli methods, like behaviour-detection technologies, to better secure America's airports.

"That's a scenario where Israel has a lot of experience," Chertoff said in an interview with Reuters. "I think that it is of interest to us to see if there is any adaptation there."

Israel's Ben-Gurion International Airport, known for its strict security measures, relies heavily on techniques that detect suspicious behaviour among travellers.

Chertoff said such methods, as well as Israeli technologies that detect explosives, are some of the things that may help protect U.S. airports and other public places against attacks.

Chertoff, at a conference in Jerusalem for public and homeland security ministers from around the world, signed an agreement with Israel to share technology and information on methods to improve homeland security.

One of the new systems presented at the conference, developed by the Israeli technology company WeCU, uses behavioural science, together with biometric sensors, to detect sinister intentions among travellers.

The U.S. homeland security chief said that not all methods developed and used in Israel, such as questioning every passenger, are practical in larger U.S. airports.

Israel's Ben Gurion handles about 9 million travellers a year while major U.S. hubs, like Chicago O'Hare, see some 76 million passengers.

"Not every technological approach here (in Israel) is necessarily applicable, but we are always open to look for technology from whatever source," Chertoff said.

Chertoff also said that the U.S. could not adopt border security methods used in Israel, which prevent Palestinian militants from entering its territory, for U.S. efforts to stop illegal immigrants from crossing its frontier with Mexico.

"(It's) a vastly longer border. It's not an area where there is much useful experience," he said.

Chertoff has recently cleared the way for the completion of nearly 500 miles of a planned barrier fence in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

"The challenge will be to keep moving forward. We need to continue to implement the measures we have in place and continue to look for additional things to match what the enemies are doing because they are constantly retooling themselves," he said.

Chertoff is expected to leave his post when President George W. Bush finishes his term in January 2009. (Editing by Jon Boyle)


<><><> 2


Chicago Tribune,0,4678882.story




Does crackdown cross line?

Arizona efforts stir racial profiling claims

By Howard Witt

Tribune correspondent

12:26 AM CDT, May 26, 2008


The newest tactic in America's quickening effort to gain control of its porous southern border starts with a cracked windshield, a broken taillight or even a failure to signal a right or left turn.

That's all the probable cause sheriff's deputies here in sprawling Maricopa County say they need to pull over a vehicle they suspect might be carrying illegal immigrants.

If the driver or the passengers fail to produce a U.S. driver's license or a proper Immigration visa, if they speak only Spanish, or if they can't otherwise convince the officer they are in the country legally, they are likely to be arrested, jailed and handed off to federal Immigration authorities for deportation.

To Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, these zero-tolerance traffic sweeps, which he recently stepped up in heavily Hispanic neighborhoods across the Phoenix metropolitan area, are a successful tool to root out the undocumented workers that many conservative leaders say have overwhelmed America's fifth-most-populous city just a three-hour drive north of the Mexican border. Arpaio's deputies have arrested more than 500 illegal immigrants so far this year.

"We're hitting this illegal Immigration on all aspects of it," said Arpaio, the elected Republican sheriff for the last 16 years. "We know how to determine whether these guys are illegal, the way the situation looks, how they are dressed, where they are coming from."

But to a growing chorus of Hispanic activists, civil rights leaders and Democratic politicians, Arpaio's policy represents a blatant case of racial profiling. It is an extreme example, they say, of anecdotes that have begun surfacing across the country in which local police agencies respond to the national backlash against illegal immigrants by aggressively targeting Spanish-speakers for the offense of "driving while brown."

As a result, Phoenix has surfaced as the latest fault line scarring America's long-troubled racial map.

"We're absolutely seeing a rise in racial profiling," said Cynthia Valenzuela, litigation director for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. "It's simply not legal to use a minor traffic offense as a pretext for investigating Immigration status."

Indiscriminate sweeps

Arpaio's critics allege that both U.S. citizens of Hispanic descent and Mexican visitors with valid visas have been caught up in the sheriff's sweeps and held for hours in special jails until they could prove their right to be in the country. And they say the sheriff's tactics are provoking fear throughout Phoenix's Hispanic community, as well as reluctance on the part of Spanish-speaking crime victims or witnesses to cooperate with police.

One class-action lawsuit already has been filed against the sheriff, and civil rights groups say they are collecting evidence for more.

"If you are of Mexican-American heritage, if you have brown skin, there is nothing you can do not to be stopped," said Mary Rose Wilcox, the only member of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors who has criticized Arpaio's Immigration sweeps and the only Hispanic on the board.

"Deputies are asking for birth certificates. Do you carry a birth certificate with you? Should you have to?" she added.

Arizona's Democratic governor, Janet Napolitano, pulled $1.6 million in state funding for Arpaio's office this month because she said the sheriff's actions "were causing trepidation in the Immigration community."

Last month, Phil Gordon, the Democratic mayor of Phoenix, formally asked the U.S. Justice Department to open a civil rights investigation into Arpaio's tactics, which Gordon said included "discriminatory harassment, improper stops, searches and arrests."

"I understand these are serious allegations," Gordon wrote to Atty. Gen. Michael Mukasey. "As mayor of the city of Phoenix, I must speak out when the rights of our residents are violated and the safety of our neighborhoods threatened."

Under a new city policy, Phoenix police also question anyone they arrest about their Immigration status and refer suspected illegal immigrants to federal authorities, but Gordon has expressly prohibited such questioning during routine traffic stops.

Arpaio, who styles himself as "America's toughest sheriff" and is famous for confining criminals in tented prisons and issuing them pink underwear, scoffs at all the criticism, which he dismisses as politically inspired.

"We don't racial-profile. That's all garbage. Everything [Gordon] has said is a lie," Arpaio said during an interview last week. "The politicians fear the Hispanic vote. They want to stay right on that fence; they don't want to aggravate the Hispanic community."

As training spreads

Controversies like the one in Phoenix are likely to surface with greater frequency across the country as more local police departments take advantage of a federal program run by the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to cross-train state and local officers to make Immigration arrests.

Nearly 50 police agencies have signed on to the program so far, and Arpaio's office ranks as the most enthusiastic participant, with 160 sheriff's deputies trained as Immigration enforcers.

The cross-training is attractive to federal Immigration officials because it means frontline local police can now sift every suspect they arrest for Immigration violations.

But because ordinary traffic stops have long been a bedrock anti-crime tool for local police agencies across the country—felons and others wanted on outstanding warrants are discovered this way every day—the issue is whether such traffic enforcement can now be used as the legal basis for an inquiry into a suspect's Immigration status.

"This is a clearly impermissible use of race as a factor in law enforcement," said Dan Pochoda, legal director of the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is among the groups challenging Arpaio's Immigration sweeps.

"The cars that get stopped are drivers of color, period. And since Arpaio's claiming they are stopped because of traffic violations, he has no individualized suspicion to stop people on the grounds of Immigration violations. There's no way you can know by looking at a person if they are legal or illegal," Pochoda said.

But Arpaio and his defenders—he's got stacks of supportive letters and e-mails on his desk, and a box filled with $5,000 in checks donated to help replace the funding cut off by the governor—strongly disagree.

Just doing their job

The sheriff says that his deputies are not only making arrests for federal Immigration violations but also are pursuing charges under a new state anti-smuggling law that makes it a felony for both human smugglers and their customers to enter Arizona.

"We're enforcing the state laws," the sheriff said. "If we come across any illegals, we take action. But we're not going on the street looking for illegals per se."

On a ride-along last week, during which a Tribune reporter was permitted to observe members of the sheriff's Human Smuggling Unit out on a patrol, there seemed to be evidence for both sides in the debate.

On the one hand, the officers plainly admitted they were choosing vehicles to pull over based on telltale signs that they might contain illegal immigrants, such as low-riding axles indicating a large load of passengers.

But the officers also refrained from making a stop until they had developed legal probable cause, such as one case in which a license plate did not properly match the van to which it was affixed. Inside the van, the officers found a driver and seven passengers, none of whom spoke English or could produce any kind of license, visa or U.S.-issued identification. They gave conflicting stories about their destination, and all were arrested and charged under the state's human-smuggling law.

For their part, federal officials overseeing the Immigration arrests being made by the Maricopa County sheriff's office say they have received no complaints alleging racial profiling. And they say Arpaio's officers are operating within the boundaries of their federal training during their traffic stops.

Yet the federal Immigration department's Web site states that the cooperative law-enforcement program "is not designed to allow state and local agencies to perform random street operations" and "does not impact traffic offenses such as driving without a license unless the offense leads to an arrest."


<><><> the end / el fin / tamat <><><>

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Immigrant Rights News - Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Immigrant Rights News – Wednesday, May 21, 2008


IRN and other NNIRR posts are at:


1. London Review of Books: Short Cuts


2. Two from the New York Times:


A. “Fencing the Border” map

B. Homeland Security Stands by Its Fence



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London Review of Books


Short Cuts


Adam Shatz


Boubacar Bah, a 52-year-old tailor from Guinea living in Brooklyn, is one of 71 detainees to have died in the last four years in the custody of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. An illegal immigrant confined to a detention centre after his green card application was rejected, Bah died after a fall that no one seems to have witnessed. ICE, which was set up by the Department of Homeland Security after 9/11, is responsible for the detention of a staggering number of people: 311,213 last year, a million since 2004. They are held in prisons in which, according to Mark Dow, the author of American Gulag (2005), 'extreme forms of physical abuse are not just aberrations.' The centre where Bah was detained is managed by Corrections Corporation of America, a firm set up in 1983 in Nashville by a group of investors that included a former chairman of Tennessee's Republican Party. A pioneer in running private prisons, it has also been quick to specialise in immigrant detention, the fastest growing branch of the incarceration business.

CCA describes itself as the 'nation's largest provider of outsourced corrections management', with 70,000 inmates and 16,000 staff. Its website speaks proudly of 'similarities in mission and structure' with the US army and makes a special appeal to veterans in search of work: 'How will you make the transition from military to civilian life? CCA features a paramilitary structure: a highly refined chain of command, and policies and procedures that dictate facility operations.'

Transparency is not one of those policies and procedures. On the contrary: according to Dow, CCA 'has warned its shareholders of the dangers of public scrutiny'. So it's no surprise that CCA still hasn't explained how Bah fell, or why he was shackled and left untreated for 15 hours afterwards. US immigration officials haven't said anything either. Indeed, ICE operates in almost perfect opacity: it's not obliged even to keep track of deaths among detainees, much less to report them publicly. When an immigrant dies in custody, the recorded cause of death can be as vague and tautological as 'unresponsiveness' - something the ICE knows all about.

Britain, which holds about 2500 people in 'immigration removal centres', isn't much more open. The UK now has Europe's most thoroughly privatised detention system, though the idea didn't catch on immediately. In 1995, Jack Straw, then shadow home secretary, said: 'It is not appropriate for people to profit out of incarceration.' Two years later, with Labour in power, he'd changed his mind: 'If there are contracts in the pipeline and the only way of getting the accommodation in place very quickly is by signing those contracts, then I will sign those contracts.' One distinct advantage for the government is that it can't be held legally accountable for the mistreatment of inmates not in its care. Today, seven out of ten immigration removal centres in Britain are privately run.

Instances of 'self-harm' are common in these places: in the last four months of 2007 alone, 42 detainees required medical attention after injuring themselves. Asylum seekers facing possible deportation to countries where they're likely to be jailed, tortured or killed might well prefer to commit suicide, as Melanie McFadyean reported in the LRB (16 November 2006). Consider the case of Mañuel Bravo, who fled Angola disguised as a woman after his parents - opponents of the government - were murdered. When Bravo's solicitor failed to show up for his asylum tribunal hearing in October 2002, he had to represent himself. Promised that he would be notified of the tribunal's decision in a month, he spent the next three years waiting; until, at six one morning, with no warning, he and his 13-year-old son Antonio were arrested and transferred to Yarl's Wood for deportation. Bravo hanged himself in a stairwell the following morning, his 35th birthday.

Yarl's Wood, which has been managed by Serco since last year, has been racked by protests, riots and arson since the moment it opened in November 2001; more recently, it has been the scene of demonstrations by a group of mothers complaining about the wretched living conditions. According to one, parents are expected to wash baby bottles in the 'toilet sink'. The conditions at Harmondsworth - a 'fast-track' centre run by Kalyx, a partner of CCA, and located conveniently close to Heathrow - are no better: the chief inspector of prisons likened it to a high security prison.

There is no sign of anyone coming to the detainees' defence. In a landmark ruling in April denounced by the UN, the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal granted the Home Office the right to deport refugees to war zones - to places like Basra and Baghdad. Sweden approved 85 per cent of Iraqi asylum claims last year: Britain approved 13 per cent - that's 500 Iraqis. 'We are pleased,' a spokesman for the Home Office said, 'that the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal has found that conditions in Iraq are such that an ordinary Iraqi civilian is not at serious risk from indiscriminate violence.' Quite how they found this isn't clear.

Maybe these ordinary Iraqi civilians will be comforted to discover that the same firms detaining them in immigration removal centres are providing various 'services' in Iraq. They may, to take one example, land at an airport managed by Serco. Sodexho, Kalyx's parent company, has gone into catering, but it's not likely that repatriated Iraqi refugees will be eating the meals they prepare: the company's eight-year, $881 million contract, signed in 2003, is to feed the US Marines.


Adam Shatz is an editor at the London Review.


<><><> 2A


New York Times

“Fencing the Border” map:


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New York Times


May 21, 2008


Homeland Security Stands by Its Fence



NACO, Ariz. — As the Department of Homeland Security pushes to complete 670 miles of fencing along the Mexican border by the end of this year, it is confronting the sharpest resistance yet while conceding that physical barriers alone do not stop illegal crossings.

In the latest challenge, the Texas Border Coalition, an organization of mayors, county commissioners and economists opposed to the fence, filed a federal lawsuit on Friday. It says that the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, failed to conduct required negotiations with property owners and local authorities when he ordered that the barrier be built in Texas. The group wants the construction halted.

The protests come as known efforts at illegal crossings — measured by the number of people detained at the border — have fallen 17 percent this year, after declining 20 percent in 2007, figures that Chief David V. Aguilar of the Border Patrol points to as proof that the overall approach to border enforcement is working.

Still, Mr. Aguilar and other officials acknowledge, the new fencing has mainly proved useful when it has been backed up with other enforcement methods, like electronic surveillance and aggressive prosecution of illegal immigrants caught by the Border Patrol.

Since last year, the steepest drops in illegal crossings along the 2,000-mile border were recorded here in eastern Arizona and in places in Texas where those combined tactics were applied, official figures show.

Technical glitches have plagued plans to expand and enhance the electronic surveillance into a virtual fence, and it remains uncertain when it will be in broader use.

After months of delays, the Border Patrol approved a pilot system in February from its contractor, Boeing, which now says that most of a prototype tested along 28 miles of border will be replaced. The company will also build a virtual fence on another 30-mile stretch of southern Arizona and test similar technology on the Canadian border near Detroit this year.

Mr. Chertoff acknowledged in an interview that constructing physical barriers — as of last month, about 309 miles of fence had been built — is not the key to stopping illegal immigration, but he defended the fence’s usefulness.

“I don’t believe the fence is a cure-all,” Mr. Chertoff said. “Nor do I believe it is a waste. Yes, you can get over it; yes, you can get under it. But it is a useful tool that makes it more difficult for people to cross. It is one of a number of tools we have, and you’ve got to use all of the tools.”

As many as 2,000 immigrants a day still cross the Southwest border illegally, according to estimates by scholars well versed on the border. Continuing a decades-old cat-and-mouse game, the crossers move away from areas where the Border Patrol establishes control to more vulnerable points, most recently near San Diego.

In addition to the border enforcement, immigrant traffic is influenced by a variety of social, political and economic factors; the recent drop in known crossings, for example, occurred as the economy began to sputter, drying up construction jobs and others that lure immigrants.

Trinidad Alamea, who operates a small shelter across the border from Naco, said several nights had passed recently without a single immigrant seeking help. But, Mr. Alamea said, such fluctuations have occurred before, only for immigrant traffic to return when smugglers adjust to whatever new tactic or conditions confront them on the American side.

“The people are going to cross, wall or no wall,” he said.

Opposition to the fence intensified last month after Mr. Chertoff used authority provided by Congress to waive more than two dozen environmental laws and others to push ahead with construction. Mr. Chertoff said his department needed to bypass the laws if it was to meet the goal set by Congress two years ago of completing at least 670 miles of fence by the end of this year.

Fourteen United States representatives, all Democrats, including Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, have said they support a lawsuit filed in April by two environmental groups — the Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife — that challenges Mr. Chertoff’s waiver.

Meanwhile, officials in border cities, Indian groups and educational institutions have stepped up their criticism of the fence. The broad array of dissenters are protesting what they say are the economic and environmental impacts of the fence for border cities, ranches and natural areas, and questioning whether the estimated $2.1 billion for its construction is the best use of border security money.

“No thought was given methodically to this idea of the fence,” Patricio M. Ahumada Jr., the mayor of Brownsville, Tex., said on Friday in Washington, where the Texas Border Coalition filed its lawsuit. “Homeland Security is using it to give a false sense of security to middle America that it will keep illegal immigrants and terrorists out, but it just isn’t true.”

At a Congressional hearing this month in Brownsville, the president of the University of Texas campus there, Juliet V. Garcia, testified that she had not been consulted before Homeland Security officials announced plans to build an 18-foot-high barrier that she said would leave the campus’s technology center and golf course “on the Mexican side of the fence.”

Ms. Garcia said she believed that the fence would pose “serious harm to the university on many fronts,” including risks to students’ safety, to its property investments and to its educational mission.

In Naco, historically one of the more troublesome spots for the agency in its campaign to curb illegal crossings, construction workers have clawed a trench and fired up blowtorches as they maneuvered giant grates of mesh into place for a second row of fencing. A hodgepodge of steel plating, heavy-duty mesh and towering metallic slats now extends for miles, replacing ragged, five-strand barbed wire fencing that for decades marked the Mexican border.

Arrests of illegal immigrants are down. And this village’s larger twin in Mexico has seen its economy, dependent largely on smuggling, plummet.

Border Patrol officials interpret both developments as signs of success. Michael Hyatt, a Border Patrol field supervisor, noted that a number of steps had been taken in this area, aside from the fence, to frustrate smugglers and repeat crossers, an acute problem here.

Although Mr. Hyatt would not disclose how many agents work there, a station built for 26 agents will be replaced next year by new quarters housing 450. Altogether, he said, word is spreading that Naco is not as easy as smugglers make it out to be.

“They see some of the infrastructure we’re putting out there,” he said.

But Mr. Hyatt is not raising a toast yet. The fence, he said, “is not going to stop people from coming across.”

“It is going to deter some from crossing,” he said. “It’s going to relocate some to other areas to cross where there isn’t a fence.”

Officials of the Homeland Security Department give a broad estimate of $3 million per mile to build the fence, or about $2.1 billion to reach the goal this year, out of $5.2 billion for the Border Patrol this year. The officials have declined to provide Congress with a more exact price tag, saying costs vary depending on the difficulty of the terrain.

Under perhaps the most effective program, which is used in limited areas of Arizona and Texas, federal prosecutors press criminal misdemeanor charges against immigrants caught by the Border Patrol, putting them in detention for up to two months, well beyond the several hours they normally would be held before being returned to Mexico.

The Justice Department is adding 64 federal prosecutors along the border to support these criminal cases. But the authorities cannot expand the program much further because of lack of detention space.

In the Border Patrol sector around Yuma, Ariz., apprehensions dropped 69 percent since the program was begun last year, official figures show. The agency uses its apprehension figures as an approximate gauge of illegal crossings, assuming that agents make fewer arrests when fewer immigrants try to cross. In March 2007, agents caught 5,571 in the Yuma sector; this March, they caught 751.

In a new survey of immigrants from the south-central Mexico farming state of Oaxaca, Wayne A. Cornelius, director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California, San Diego, found that they believed the border had become much more dangerous to cross illegally. The percentage of those caught at least once by the Border Patrol had doubled since 2005, to 48 percent from 24 percent, according to the survey, which was conducted among 821 immigrants from December 2007 to February.

But 97 percent of the immigrants who set out to cross the border illegally said they had succeeded eventually, Mr. Cornelius found, a figure that has not decreased since 2005. In the survey, 82 percent of the immigrants who succeeded in crossing said they came through San Diego. In fact, overall apprehensions in San Diego — where fences have been in place since 1993 — defied the downward trend, jumping by 20 percent in 2007, Border Patrol figures show.

Meanwhile, groups opposing illegal immigration are also protesting the fence construction — in their case, because of unhappiness with its slow progress. A new group in Tucson called Techno Patriots has set up several thermal imaging cameras at the border to watch for illegal crossers by laptop computer from their homes.

The Cochise County Militia in Naco, one of several civilian patrol groups along the border, is making plans to bring in dozens of volunteers in the coming months to help apprehend illegal immigrants who the group says still manage to get in despite the new fencing.

Bill Davis, the group’s leader, called the barriers “a joke.”

“This is still the worst 90 miles of border,” Mr. Davis said.

Randal C. Archibold reported from Naco, Ariz., and Julia Preston from New York.

Monday, May 19, 2008

NNIRR Condemns ICE Raids, Demands Justice for Postville Community

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May 19, 2008

Catherine Tactaquin, (510) 465-1984 ext. 302,
Arnoldo García, (510) 465-1984 ext. 305,



ICE Raids Are Violating Laws and

Destroying Our Rights

Justice for Postville -- ICE Must:

End Raids, Cease Detentions and Deportations

Stop Breaking Up Families, Devastating Our Communities

And Destabilizing the Economy


Oakland, CA- May 19, 2008 - The National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (NNIRR) condemns the latest Department of Homeland Security immigration raid carried out on Monday, May 12, by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) against immigrant workers at a meat-packing plant in Postville, Iowa. ICE has committed a flagrant injustice under the cover of law and must be held accountable.


ICE's actions have left the people of Postville in a state of shock, as its very social and economic well-being has been called into question, threatening the future of its residents. After the ICE raid, scores of immigrant workers and their family members fled to a local church, seeking sanctuary at St. Bridget Church.


Workers at the Postville plant were reported to be in a labor dispute with employers. Despite policy prohibiting immigration police interference and ignoring union organizers' pleas, ICE amassed a small army and proceeded to carry out a massive operation in the early hours of the day. ICE used two helicopters and brought in over 200 federal, county and local police agents including from ICE, the FBI and other federal and local agencies, and dozens of vehicles and buses to haul off workers.


ICE began unleashing a series of raids in different parts of the country that started right before and continued after the national May 1 mass mobilizations. In mid-April, ICE immigration enforcement raids struck Poultry Pride plants in five different states, another meat processing company, arresting over 300 workers. Then on May 2 in northern California, ICE took action against a small family-own restaurant chain in six cities, arresting over 60 workers. Then during May 5-6, ICE stationed themselves in front of one elementary public school and one high school in Oakland and Berkeley, CA, arresting at least four persons and scaring the hell out students, parents and workers. ICE arrests hundreds of documented and undocumented immigrants every day in border and non-border regions of the country, incarcerating as many 30,000 immigrants on any given week, through raids and other means.


The Biggest Raid to Cover Up Immigrant Jail Abuses?


ICE's timing of the Postville raids is also questionable. In the days leading up to this raid, major newspapers reports were exposing the harsh conditions ICE subjects persons to in immigration detention, including the revelation that dozens of immigrants have died in detention over the last few years from abusive treatment and lack of medical care.


Then ICE delivered a devastating blow to Postville, a small town with 2,273 residents. By calling the Postville the largest raid in history, ICE was drawing attention away from the on-going exposé of the harsh conditions in ICE jails. While ICE has arrested more workers in previous sweeps, in Postville some 390 workers were arrested, out of some 900 workers at the plant.


ICE gave the Postville immigrant community no warning of this monstrous assault. In the weekend before the ICE raid, community members were aghast at the preparations they were witnessing: Department of Homeland Security began amassing police agents and the resources to carry out this crushing blow against workers, including setting up a temporary jail at a nearby "Cattle Congress" facility, where the men were jailed. Women were put in the local jail.


After the raid, ICE stifled the immigrant workers access to legal counsel. And, in the days and weeks leading up to the raid, in a multi-agency collaboration DHS investigations included getting addresses, social security numbers and other private information about the workers' families, youth and students from the local school district.


Stop the ICE Raids, End Detentions and Deportations


ICE wields raids for their multiple political and social impacts, sweeping up more immigrants than are usually named on their warrants. Intimidating and terrifying, work-site and other immigration raids account for about 2% of all immigrants who are detained and deported yearly. Almost 5,000 immigrants were deported through raids, out of over 260,000, in fiscal year 2007.


ICE deliberately uses raids to send shock waves through immigrant communities, to repress rights and suppress organizing efforts, as well as to promote and showcase new enforcement policies and strategies. The results are devastating: families are separated, communities are traumatized and the economic losses caused by immigration enforcement are almost exclusively borne by immigrants and their communities.


ICE's actions against Postville were a deliberate attack on the rights and wellbeing of immigrants everywhere. ICE raids expose workers to further exploitation and undermine labor rights and unions; they help perpetuate abuses and act as a cover-up mechanism for other violations that go unpunished. After an ICE raid, parents stop sending their children to school, they stop going to work, to church and avoid shopping and other public spaces out of fear. ICE makes communities vulnerable to abuse, crime and violence.


Demanding Justice and Human Rights for All


We can stop ICE raids and other ICE abuses by demanding accountability as part of organizing for justice and human rights. Immigration laws and enforcement are destroying the rights of immigrants and workers, and spell a disaster for workers and the economy. ICE immigration raids, detentions and deportations are causing untold hardships on immigrant families and their communities.


ICE claims that its policy of releasing women who may be pregnant or a parent with children with electronic ankle-bracelets is humanitarian. A humanitarian policy would ensure that all immigrants are protected from abuses, are able to work at a job with a living wage and have their labor rights upheld - not be in being held in virtual jail and forbidden to work or live without fear, to provide for their families here and abroad. ICE policies are not humanitarian and inflict great harm on our communities.


NNIRR demands that the all workers be freed and that ICE take true humanitarian actions by:

  • Providing work permits to all these workers so they are not abused or exploited while their cases are pending;
  • Complying with the U.S. Constitution, upholding their due process rights with full access to legal counsel and access to the courts; and,
  • Ending the policy of "No-Match" letters, which ICE uses to criminalize workers and allows employers to abuse immigrants, undermining the civil and labor rights of all.



Express Solidarity with the Postville Immigrant Workers and Families


Show your solidarity with the Postville community. Please consider sending a generous donation to help provide legal services and cover the basic needs of the immigrant workers and their families who were affected by the ICE raid. Many families have sought refuge at their local church and need support to raise their voices and assert their rights.


Make your check or money order payable to "St. Bridget Hispanic Ministry Fund," write "Postville raid" in the memo and mail to:


St Bridget Church

ATTN: Sr. Mary McCauley

PO Box 369

Postville, IA 52162


Tel. (563) 864-3138




Take Action for Justice & Human Rights


Organize a vigil, a community meeting, call and fax your Congressional Delegation and other elected officials, talk to your neighbors and co-workers, to speak out against ICE immigration raids and call for an end to all detentions and deportations! We can prevent abuses from taking place by organizing and demanding justice and human rights for all.


-- 30 --



For more information on the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, visit:


# # #




National Network for Immigrant & Refugee Rights | 310 8th Street, Suite 303 | Oakland | CA | 94607





Friday, May 16, 2008

"A Primer on Plan Mexico," Americas Policy Program Special Report


A Primer on Plan Mexico


The Bush Administration Has Put Its "Merida Initiative" to Militarize Mexico in the Upcoming Iraq Supplemental Bill


Laura Carlsen | May 5, 2008


On Oct. 22, 2007 President Bush announced the $1.4 billion dollar "Merida Initiative," security aid package to Mexico and Central America. The initiative has fatal flaws in its strategy; instead of leading to a stable binational relationship and peaceful border communities, its military approach will escalate drug-related violence and human rights abuses.


Mexico and the United States face a joint challenge in decreasing transnational organized crime and they must cooperate to strengthen the rule of law and stop illegal drug and arms trafficking over the border. This misguided policy will result in an inability to achieve its own goals and will waste taxpayers' money. It will also seriously undermine the U.S.-Mexico relationship and Mexican stability.


Soon the U.S. Congress will vote on the initiative, popularly referred to as "Plan Mexico." The little-known appropriations request has been tagged on to the multi-billion dollar Iraq supplemental bill and has been presented as an unprecedented effort to fight burgeoning drug trafficking and violence related to organized crime in Mexico. But the "Regional Security Cooperation Initiative" goes far beyond cooperation in stopping the flow of illegal drugs. It would fundamentally restructure the U.S.-Mexico binational relationship, recast economic and social problems as security issues, and militarize Mexican society.


Over half of the packet would go to Mexican military and police forces accused of documented and yet legally unresolved human rights violations. At the same time, no money is allotted for drug treatment and harm reduction in either country, and the colossal "cooperation" package completely ignores the serious problems that exist within the United States, including the entry of illegal drugs, widespread sale and consumption, crossborder gun-running, and money laundering.


This aid packet would place the United States' binational relationship with one of its closet and most sensitive allies in the realm of vaguely defined security issues. While mandating a huge increase in aid to Mexico, it includes no funds to finally address the poverty gap and development needs of our southern neighbor. It also locks an incoming administration into the disastrous Bush security strategy in a bordering nation, right at a time when the U.S. public is demanding a change in foreign policy. Members of Congress should insist that the Merida Initiative be separated from the Iraq Supplemental and reviewed closely, with public testimony from supporters and opposition.


To begin a public debate on the dangers inherent in Plan Mexico, first it is important to understand what it is.


What is Plan Mexico?


Plan Mexico, or the Merida Initiative, was presented after months of anticipation and hermetic negotiations as a three-year, $1.4 billion "Regional Security Cooperation Initiative." Members of the U.S. Congress immediately complained that the Bush administration provided no information to congressional committee members until the deal was done.


The request for fiscal year 2008 for $550 million has been attached to the Iraq Supplemental Appropriations Bill, to be voted on in Congress in the coming weeks. Fifty million dollars are earmarked for Central America, while the remaining half-billion goes to Mexico, primarily for military and police equipment and training.


Although the proposal has not been presented to the public in the United States or Mexico, leaked documents(1) reveal the military logic and nature of "Plan Mexico."


Under the rubric of "Counter Narcotics, Counter Terrorism, and Border Security" the initiative would allocate $205.5 million for the Mexican Armed Forces. Over 40% of the entire packet goes to defense companies for the purchase of eight Bell helicopters (at $13 million each, with training, maintenance, and special equipment) for the Mexican Army and two CASA 235 maritime patrol planes (at $50 million each, with maintenance) for the country's navy.


Most of the $132.5 million allocated to Mexican law enforcement agencies also lines the pockets of defense companies for purchase of surveillance, inspection, and security equipment, and training. The Mexican Federal Police Force receives most of this funding, with Customs, Immigration, and Communications receiving the remainder.

The rest of the 2008 appropriations request is comprised of $112 million in the "Rule of Law" category for the Mexican Attorney General's Office and the criminal justice system. This money is earmarked for software and training in case-tracking and centralizing data. The initiative would also give $12.9 million to the infamous Mexican Intelligence Service (CISEN) for investigations, forensics equipment, counterterrorism work, and to other agencies including the Migration Institute for establishment of a database on immigrants. The U.S. government allots $37 million of the packet to itself for administrative costs.


The proposed 2009 budget of a reported $450 million to Mexico is much the same, with a larger share going to the police, assuming that by then the notorious corruption among those agencies will have been at least partially remedied-a dubious assumption at best ($120 million to the armed forces and $252 million to the police and other law enforcement agencies).


All of these programs are directed to the goals of supply interdiction, enforcement, and surveillance-including domestic spying-according to the "war on drugs" model developed in the United States in the early 70s under then-President Richard Nixon.(2)  This military model has proved historically ineffective in achieving the goals of eliminating the illegal drug trade and decreasing organized crime, and closely related to an increase in violence, instability, and authoritarian presidential powers.


The NAFTA Connection


The "Merida Initiative" received its name from a meeting between Presidents Bush and Calderon in Merida, on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, in March 2007. The official story is that President Calderon, already committed to a "war on drugs" that relies heavily on the use of the army in supply interdiction, requested U.S. assistance at the Merida meeting and, after negotiations on the details, the U.S. government acceded.


With the emphasis on counter-narcotics efforts, in the lead-up to the October announcement of the package, both governments marshaled studies and statistics to support the contradictory thesis that drug-trafficking and related violence in Mexico had reached a crisis point, and that Calderon's offensive against the drug cartels was working.

This is not the real story of the plan's origins. The Bush administration's concept of a joint security strategy for North America goes back at least as far as the creation of the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) as an extension of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). (3) When the three North American leaders met in Waco, Texas in March of 2005, they put into motion a secretive process of negotiations between members of the executive branches and representatives of large corporations to facilitate cross-border business and create a shared security perimeter. Subsequent meetings, including the April 2008 trilateral summit in New Orleans, extended these goals amid mounting criticism. (4)


Through the SPP, the Bush administration has sought to push its North American trade partners into a common front that would assume shared responsibility for protecting the United States from terrorist threats, promoting and protecting the free-trade economic model, and bolstering U.S. global control, especially in Latin America where the State Department sees a growing threat due to the election of center-left governments. While international cooperation to confront terrorism is a laudable and necessary aim, the Bush national security strategy (5) entails serious violations of national sovereignty for its partner countries, increased risk of being targeted as U.S. military allies, and threats to civil liberties for citizens in all three countries.


Moreover the counterterrorism model, exemplified by the invasion of Iraq, has by all accounts created a rise in instability and terrorist activity worldwide.


Extending the concept of North American economic integration into national security matters through the closed-door SPP raises grave questions about how security is defined and who does the defining.


Thomas Shannon, sub-secretary of Western Hemisphere affairs for the State Department put it bluntly in a speech on April 8, saying that the SPP

"understands North America as a shared economic space and that as a shared economic space we need to protect it, and that we need to understand that we don't protect this economic space only at our frontiers, that it has to be protected more broadly throughout North America. And as we have worked through the Security and Prosperity Partnership to improve our commercial and trading relationship, we have also worked to improve our security cooperation. To a certain extent, we're armoring NAFTA." 6


The SPP effort seeks to lock in policies that do not have consensus and have not been debated among the public and within Congress. Citizen groups in all three countries have called for a halt to SPP talks due to the lack of labor, environmental, and civilian representation, and transparency to the public. On the security front, the Bush administration's concept of military-based rather than diplomacy- and social policy-based security is strongly questioned in the United States and outright rejected among the vast majority of Mexicans and Canadians.


In this context, instead of reviewing policies and opening them up to public debate, the Bush administration has launched its boldest advance yet within the SPP context-Plan Mexico. Speculation was that the plan would be announced at the Montebello SPP meeting in August of 2007, but perhaps because of the presence of SPP protestors at that meeting President Bush delayed the official unveiling of the "Merida Initiative" several months. However, the last two SPP meetings have included discussions of Plan Mexico and the State Department has been clear about its crucial role within the overall SPP economic and security framework.


It is important to understand the roots of Plan Mexico in the Bush administration's deep integration agenda. The plan implies much more than a temporary aid program for fighting drug cartels. It structurally revamps the basis of the binational relationship in ways meant to permanently emphasize military aspects over much-needed development aid and modifications in trade and investment policy. The scope of the Regional Security Cooperation Initiative demonstrates that it goes far beyond a joint war on drugs and cements into place failed policies on immigration enforcement, militarization of the border, economic integration policies, counterterrorism attacks on civil liberties, and the intromission of security forces into social policy and international diplomacy. To do this, the outgoing Bush administration has relied on the support of two economically dependent allies to try to assure that its policies will be irreversible under a Democratic presidency in the United States. (7)


What's Wrong with Plan Mexico?


Plan Mexico embodies a logic of confrontation that can be criticized on the following eleven points:


1. The "war on drugs" model doesn't work.


Mexico has a serious problem with illegal drug trafficking and drug-related violence. But there is more than one way to go about solving it.


The Merida Initiative departs from the mistaken pretext that interdiction, enforcement, and prosecution will eventually stem illegal crossborder drug-trafficking. Studies have shown that treatment and rehabilitation are 20 times more effective in decreasing the illegal drug trade. (8) Yet the Merida Initiative contains not one penny (9) for treatment or rehabilitation in either country.


Working against the stated goal of decreasing the binational drug trade, the Bush administration recently cut back funds for domestic treatment and prevention programs. This approach moves in the wrong direction.


The supply-side model fails for one obvious reason: where there's a buyer there will be a seller. And since it's a black market, the seller must be a member of organized crime and stands to make an enormous, tax-free profit.


The experience of Plan Colombia reveals the pitfalls of the Plan Mexico now before Congress. Plan Colombia is a similar U.S. military aid package designed to fight the drug war. Since its inception in 2000, it has contributed to entrenched violence and corruption in that South American country while failing to reduce drug flows to the United States.


Over the past seven years of Plan Colombia the United States government has spent some $6 billion dollars supposedly to fight the war on drugs; 76% of that has gone to the Colombian military. The results are well known: Colombia remains the primary source of cocaine on the U.S. market, the price has gone down, and the purity has risen. Despite environmentally devastating fumigation campaigns, numerous studies show that the surface area planted in coca has increased or remained constant.


As a result of crackdowns, drug cartels have adopted more sophisticated equipment and forms of organization-and closer relations with Mexican cartels. In a balloon effect, a new route opens up when an old one is closed off and new drug lords rise up through the ranks when existing leaders are imprisoned or killed.


In addition to its failure to detain drug production, processing, and transit of cocaine, Plan Colombia has spread into aid for the Colombian rightwing government in its war against leftwing guerrilla insurgents. The U.S. government's involvement in counter-insurgency efforts was authorized by Congress in 2003, when it agreed to formally broaden the scope of Plan Colombia to authorize the use of military aid beyond counternarcotics activities and lift previous restrictions. As a result, investigative journalist Frank Smyth wrote that by 2001 Colombia had surpassed El Salvador as the largest counterinsurgency effort of the United States since Vietnam. (10)


With the arrival of arms and money for the Colombian armed forces, the violation of human rights, the displacement of entire communities, and assassination of civilians has become so widespread as to be alarming even to proponents of Plan Colombia. In the recent authorization of new funds for the plan, the House of Representatives approved a version that cuts military aid, reduces fumigation, and conditions aid to more stringent human rights requirements. The total aid to Colombia's government continues to be huge and largely military, but along with the likely rejection of the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia due to human and labor rights concerns, it marks a minimal recognition in Congress that the drug war model in that nation is simply not working as intended.


The upshot today is that a drug user has equal if not greater access to cocaine on the streets of U.S. cities and it's cheaper and more potent than ever. (11) Colombia continues to be the number one source of cocaine to the U.S. market. Over 3.8 million people have been displaced from their communities, paramilitary groups responsible for 80% of human rights violations run rampant, and Colombia is a militarized society trapped in internecine violence.


This experience should be carefully analyzed before replicating a failed model with heavy collateral damage to the social fabric of an allied nation. Although Mexico is a very different country-there is no civil war or widespread guerrilla activity-the lessons of Plan Colombia are worth taking into consideration on the eve of Plan Mexico. The failure of the drug war model in Colombia, and Afghanistan, would seem to warrant at the very least a cautious attitude toward applying it in other countries-especially one as geographically and economically close as Mexico.


2. Funding and equipping Mexican security forces in the current context of corruption and impunity will worsen the problems, reduce civil society's role in reform, and inhibit construction of democratic institutions.


Unfortunately, Mexican security forces are presently often more part of the problem than the solution. The State Department 2007 report on human rights (12) in Mexico notes,

"Corruption continued to be a problem, as many police were involved in kidnapping, extortion, or providing protection for, or acting directly on behalf of organized crime and drug traffickers. Impunity was pervasive to an extent that victims often refused to file complaints."


Ranking members of Mexican security forces on local and national levels maintain close links to drug traffickers, working for them directly in many parts of the country. The army has traditionally been more independent of this dynamic, but its deployment within the country in the drug war is increasing its involvement and leading to human rights violations. Many armed forces deserters, that totaled 17,000 last year alone, receive counternarcotics training and then pass it along in service to high-paying drug cartels. The infamous Zetas (a drug trafficking network comprised of former law enforcement and military agents) illustrate the lethal capacity of military-trained groups that operate with drug cartels.


Military equipment also ends up in the hands of the cartels. The U.S. Office of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms reports that 90% of arms decommissioned from organized crime in Mexico came from the United States, many registered to the U.S. Army. (13) Senator Alfonso Sanchez Anaya reported to the Mexican Congress that 15 million arms circulate illegally in Mexico. (14)  In Iraq an investigation revealed the existence of thousands of "missing" arms thought to be in the hands of insurgents and delinquents. The black market in arms is booming. Given this situation, the likelihood that U.S. military equipment ends up in the wrong hands is more like an inevitability.


By excluding community prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation programs, neighborhood watch initiatives, and other measures that create a more active role for civil society, the initiative tends to convert the citizenry into a protectorate of the armed forces. The redefinition of crime as a national security threat also removes it from the community realm.


The point is not to vilify the Mexican armed forces, police, and government. Many honest and brave individuals can be found among their ranks and some have given their lives fighting corruption. Extreme statements like that of Tom Tancredo on Nov. 8, 2007 who said, "The degree of corruption inside the government and the military is so great that it's hard to see where the government ends and where the cartels begin," respond more to a Mexico-bashing mentality than a serious concern for the real challenges Mexico faces.


But this is the reality of the situation and the challenge for U.S. binational policy is to support effective measures to clean up the corruption and end the impunity while developing mechanisms of cooperation in combating transnational crime.


Some organizations have called for passing the Merida Initiative with a human rights certification process attached. These are contradictory aims since the plan itself will worsen human rights violations. Giving arms, military equipment, spy and surveillance capacity, and training to security forces with a history of abuses that the justice system is unable or unwilling to check is like pouring gas on a fire. Ignoring root causes of criminal activity and market demand makes it very likely that military aid will empower delinquency and feed corruption.


Human rights certification, while well-intentioned, has not worked in Colombia. The benchmarks of the evaluation have been movable and often politically defined. Also, many nations regard them as a form of intervention.


3. Plan Mexico promotes the militarization of Mexican society with few legal or social controls.


The model of confronting the trafficking, sale, and consumption of drugs with military means increases violence and weakens democratic institutions. In countries where these are already weak it can create serious obstacles to a transition to democracy.


Former UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Louise Arbour warned of using the army in the streets on her last visit to Mexico. "I understand there are those who say that at times you have to turn to a more powerful force such as the army, but it seems to me that in the long term it is frankly dangerous," Arbour told television network Televisa. "The army should not be doing the job of the police." (15)


General José Francisco Gallardo, the major proponent of human rights guarantees within the Mexican Army and a constitutional scholar who was imprisoned for his efforts states,

"Here what should be done is to form a national police force that carries out these functions and is not under the military ... The presence of the army in matters that are not under their jurisdiction displaces the constitutional faculties of the civil, federal, state, and municipal authority and goes against Art. 21 of the constitution." (16)


When asked if the Calderon strategy of militarizing the drug war could lead to a return to the "Dirty War" of the 70s, Gallardo-as a young soldier, one of the few members of the armed forces to protest the torture and assassination that marked that period-told the author, "We are already experiencing a return to the Dirty War." (17)  He cited the widespread practice of torture and arbitrary detentions as proof of systematic human rights violations in contemporary Mexico.


The 2007 report of the Mexican National Commission on Human Rights (18) recommended the gradual withdrawal of the army from the internal drug war. Militarizing society by involving the army in internal functions beyond its constitutional mandate constitutes a threat to democracy. As is well known in Latin America, the Cold War militarization of society and ideology paved the way for military dictatorships that murdered civilians and set back progress toward democracy by decades. Human rights violations are expected to rise.


The corollary to increased military support in internal matters is the rise of uncontrolled paramilitary forces as has happened in Colombia. In Mexico, the use of paramilitaries has been largely confined to attacks on Zapatista communities in the southern state of Chiapas. (19)  Since 2006, paramilitary organizations have been used in the state of Oaxaca to repress social and indigenous movements there. It is likely that an increase in militarization of Mexican society will lead to an increase in the scope and activity of these groups.


Both governments have been quick to defend the plan stating that no U.S. troops will be deployed on Mexican soil. An important difference between the domestic version of the war on drugs and that which the U.S. government has applied in other countries is the use of the Army. When the war on drugs model began, military over-extension in Vietnam, an unpopular draft system, and drug addiction among soldiers, as well as constitutional prohibitions, ruled out use of the Army. The version for export has included both U.S. and home country armies. Plan Colombia dispatched U.S. troops to Colombia but Congress has maintained a troop cap. Today a similar situation of military over-extension, now due to the war in Iraq, places practical restrictions on the use of U.S. troops.


However, the deployment of U.S. troops cannot be the sole measure of militarization to evaluate the Regional Security Cooperation Initiative. The war on drugs in Latin America is fought more by private-sector mercenaries and national armies trained by the U.S. military. Plan Mexico follows this strategy, for the above reasons and particularly to avoid riling Mexican sensitivities regarding national sovereignty. Militarization through building up national armies to fight within their own borders and sending in private companies such as Blackwater can be even more dangerous for Mexico than U.S. troop presence. Accountability mechanisms are weak or non-existent.


Unless checks and balances appear that have so far not been revealed, Plan Mexico could contribute to the creation of a police state in Mexico. This poses a particular threat to women. Already in addition to what happened in San Salvador Atenco (May 2006), security forces have been involved in rapes and sexual torture in cases in Oaxaca, Zongolica, and Coahuila.


4. Plan Mexico broadens Mexico's presidential powers, skewing a weak balance of powers.


The war on drugs model has always had this as an unspoken objective: to strengthen the executive power without effective counterbalances or transparency, subtracting powers from other levels of government and restricting citizen rights. (20)  In Mexico, barely emerging from decades of presidential authoritarianism, moving in this direction could erase years of building a more effective balance of powers.


Since his hotly contested election by half a percentage point in 2006 and accusations of irregularities upheld in part by the electoral institutions, President Calderon faces a challenge to consolidate his rule. U.S. policies should encourage a process of political reconciliation, not reliance on the armed forces to bolster presidential powers.


After taking office Calderon rapidly built an image of strength in arms. He dispatched over 24,000 army troops to Mexican cities and villages, and created an elite corps of special forces under his direct supervision.


The message of a weak presidency bolstered by a strong alliance with the military has not been lost on Mexican citizens. While some believe this is the only way to attack public insecurity, others have criticized (21) the repressive undertones, the danger of returning to presidentialism, increasing human rights violations, constitutional questions, and threats to civil democratic institutions.


For the Bush administration the war on drugs model serves to lock in pro-corporate economic policies and U.S. military influence in the region. When the United States exports its "war on drugs" it becomes a powerful tool for intervention and pressuring other nations to assume U.S. national security interests as their own. This global policeman role creates dependency on the U.S. military and intelligence services and militarizes diplomacy. The Pentagon takes the lead in international policy, while relegating international law and diplomacy to a distant second place.


5. The war on drugs model invariably extends into repression of political opposition in countries where it has been applied, blurring the lines between the war on drugs, against terrorism, and against political opposition.


A 2004 report documents the impact of increased U.S. military aid in Latin America and concludes that

"Too often in Latin America, when armies have focused on an internal enemy, the definition of enemies has included political opponents of the regime in power, even those working within the political system such as activists, independent journalists, labor organizers, or opposition political-party leaders." 22


Persecution of dissidents has been well-documented for many periods of Mexican history including present day. The International Civil Commission on Human Rights writes in its preliminary conclusions from a fact-finding tour in February 2008:

"There have been widespread arbitrary arrests of members of social movements and, on occasion, of members of their families merely for being related to them. It is normal for those who are arrested to be subjected to torture and physical abuse. To justify the arrests false evidence is used ..." 23


Journalists who report on state or drug-cartel related violence also become victims of selective silencing. The Committee to Protect Journalists lists Mexico 10th in the world on its "Impunity Index." Colombia, after nearly a decade of Plan Colombia's prescriptions for increasing rule of law, ranks fourth in the index for the unpunished assassination of journalists. 24


6. Plan Mexico indiscriminately replicates the Bush counter-terrorism model, placing at risk democratic institutions and civil and human rights in Mexico where the threat of international terrorism is practically non-existent.



Counter-terrorism measures included in Plan Mexico ignore the fact that the threat to the United States and the threat to Mexico are not equivalent in size or nature, nor are the political contexts. Mexico is emerging from authoritarian rule, with many non-democratic institutions and practices still intact and increasing signs of a return to impunity and rule by political bosses.


Obliging Mexico to adopt emergency counter-terrorism measures including domestic surveillance, phone tapping, warrantless searches-the "Gestapo law" (which is how the Mexican news media refers to it) proposed by the Calderon government that was defeated by popular outcry-and definitions of social protest as a criminal activity could damage fragile civil liberties protections and democratic institutions. The Merida Initiative includes funding for espionage systems directed at national citizenry, and surveillance equipment. Reforms dictated under the SPP have authorized house arrest and other measures considered a violation of rights but common in the United States now under the Patriot Act.


Since the U.S. government's definition of "terrorism" is so broad and ambiguous, the counterterrorism model has led to mission creep and attacks on internal dissidence. The Regional Security Cooperation Initiative provides a dangerous stepping stone in that process.


7. Plan Mexico intensifies border conflict by viewing immigration through the same military lens as terrorism and organized crime.


By including "border security" and explicitly targeting "flows of illicit goods and persons," the initiative equates migrant workers with illegal contraband and terrorist threats. This ignores both the root causes of Mexican out-migration and the real demand for immigrant labor in the United States. 25


The Merida Initiative Joint Statement (26) reads, "Our shared goal is to maximize the effectiveness of our efforts to fight criminal organizations-so as to disrupt drug-trafficking (including precursor chemicals), weapons trafficking, illicit financial activities and currency smuggling, and human trafficking."


The millions of dollars allocated to the immigration institute are focused on tightening Mexico's southern border through monitoring, bio-data collection, and a Guatemalan guest-worker program and border control. Mexico has a history of offering refuge to Central Americans and accepting them into its society. That has been changing as the U.S. government has pressured Mexico to intercept Central American migrants before they make it to the northern border.


Plan Mexico advances that process and increases Mexican participation in stopping its own migrants at the northern border too. Putting immigration in the same basket as terrorist threats has already served to promote the U.S. government strategy of militarizing the northern border. The U.S.-Mexico border provides a case study in how U.S. counter-terrorism programs lead to militarization, loss of national sovereignty, and violations of human rights and even death of migrants. For Mexican workers thrown out of a job by the U.S.-Mexico trade agreement, being snagged as criminals by their own government at the border is a cruel irony.


Illegal immigration is not a problem that can be solved by draconian security measures. Our experience with militarized border security measures to date shows that they are extremely expensive, and the criminalization of immigrants leads to increased hostility and violence that erodes communities. The loss of labor also harms local businesses.


A better policy would recognize immigration as a result of economic integration and adjust trade, investment, and community development programs accordingly in both countries. Job generation, local infrastructure development, programs aimed at regulating migratory flows and preventing conflict would go much farther to enhance border security in the short and long term.


8. Reforming the Mexican justice and prison systems requires political will in Mexico, not U.S. taxpayers' money.


The $112 million allocated for 2008 in the "rule of law" portion of the Merida Initiative to the Attorney General's Office and other criminal justice agencies includes mostly information technology systems for centralizing data collection, forensics labs, and training for the court system and law enforcement personnel. Although viewed by some as the "soft" part of the initiative, these programs raise serious questions as to their efficacy and appropriateness.


First, to increase the "rule of law" what Mexico really needs is the political will-not additional resources-for reform to work. To give an example: the murder of hundreds of women in Ciudad Juarez has become an internationally known case and received millions of dollars from the Mexican government and international agencies to resolve the crimes. Numerous commissions have been formed and faded away without delivering results. (27) A state-of-the-art forensics team called in to analyze the evidence that hadn't already been destroyed wrote up a report. Although they concluded their investigation, the report has not been released. Human rights activists close to the cases believe that they could implicate economically and politically powerful individuals.


Second, the Mexican laws and legal system are not the same as the U.S. system. While police departments and other agencies have long-standing agreements for training and cooperation, a grand plan for the U.S. government to train and reform the Mexican legal system is viewed as negative intervention by many Mexican jurists. Mexican judges from the Supreme Court and lower courts have publicly stated objections to U.S. funds for the court system. For years, members of the judicial system have resisted attempts by international financial institutions to impose governance programs mandating reforms in the Mexican judicial system, not because the country doesn't need to improve in this area (the justice system is notoriously bad) but because only Mexico can revamp its judicial system. Plan Mexico would break through that resistance and mandate U.S. plans and training in both the judicial and prison systems.


The U.S. government would do better to improve its own legal system in the joint effort to control the illegal drug trade and organized crime. The fact that the United States is the largest market for illegal drugs indicates a dismal record in control of illegal drug retailing, distribution, and consumption. Moreover, measures such as mandatory drug sentencing have been proven to discriminate racially and economically; consider that African-Americans make up 13% of drug users and 59% of those convicted. (28) Drug convictions, usually for users rather than dealers and leaders of organized crime, have led to over-crowding in U.S. prisons. Although this method has not proven to be the most effective in dealing with the problem, the privatized U.S. prison system creates market incentives for imprisoning casual drug users and migrants-both of which form part of the Merida Initiative. This diverts resources and attention from going after leaders of organized crime and, given Mexico's already dangerously over-crowded prisons, could lead to violent riots.


9. Plan Mexico does not represent real binational cooperation.


Several members of Congress have heralded the Merida Initiative as an unprecedented step toward binational cooperation. They argue that the United States government implicitly recognizes U.S. responsibility for the transnational drug trade by offering the aid packet to Mexico to combat organized crime.


In fact, the plan places the onus of the drug war on Mexico and includes no counterpart measures to reduce the U.S. market, improve customs control on the northern side of the border, reduce retailing and distribution, eliminate illegal arms traffic, and prosecute money-laundering-all problems located firmly within the United States.


Moreover, although President Calderon has heralded the measure as an example that the U.S. government is willing to assume its part in fighting the illegal drug trade and rise in organized crime, the bulk of the budget for the initiative will never make it to Mexico. In addition to the 40% that would be spent on the military helicopters and surveillance planes, most of the rest of the budget goes to defense contractors and information technology (IT) firms in the form of outlays for intelligence equipment, software and hardware, and training. A huge part of this budget goes directly to U.S. private sector defense and IT companies and the U.S. government, not to Mexican security and government agencies.


As some attack the plan for the resources destined to an "undeserving" Mexico, Plan Mexico could well end up being another defense company pork barrel.


10. Plan Mexico violates Mexican sovereignty.


Plan Mexico includes training of Mexican police and armed forces using U.S. techniques, technology, and priorities. Few nations would accept this arrangement in the vital area of national security. As the network of U.S. anti-narcotics and customs agents and training units in Mexico grows, the ability of the country to apply policies based on its own national needs and priorities decreases proportionally.

      Mexicans have always been protective of Mexican sovereignty. U.S. government officials often regard Mexico's reticence to engage in joint military and police actions with the United States as if it were a hyper-nationalist flashback, but Mexico has guarded its neutrality in foreign affairs and public opinion views with skepticism of U.S. foreign policy, especially since the invasion of Iraq, with the majority preferring a degree of autonomy from U.S. security interests.


The U.S. public would reject Plan Mexico if the roles were reversed. Imagine the following news story in the morning paper:

"Plan United States, completely funded by the Mexican government, will place Mexican drug enforcement agents in border customs offices and key points in the interior, including Laredo, Kansas City, Miami, and New York. A new wiretapping system, produced by SPY-MEX and supervised by Mexican intelligence officers, will monitor private communications of U.S. citizens suspected of involvement with organized crime, while Mexican-made planes overfly communities thought to be located along drug trafficking routes. The U.S. army, recently deployed to cities across the nation to fight the drug war, will receive arms and training from Mexico."


Newspapers and blogs would explode with cries of a Mexican re-conquest and the sacrifice of U.S. sovereignty. Yet there is virtually nothing in this scenario that is not already on the table for Mexico.


When in her testimony before Mexican Senate committees, Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa mentioned the counter-terrorism activities "to detect terrorists (29) who might try to attack our neighbor," her comments drew fire from legislators as proof that the U.S. seeks to impose its own counterterrorism agenda.


Although U.S. troop presence in Mexico has been ruled out, Mexican civil society has begun to react to what they see as excessive U.S. intromission. U.S. military training under Plan Mexico has raised concerns on both sides of the border.


The role of private contractors in implementing the package remains unclear and a source of dismay. One security source says Blackwater will likely be the major beneficiary, despite its tarnished reputation following its shooting of Iraqi civilians. Corruption in contracts related to both training and equipment purchase seems a certainty given recent experience in Iraq. (30)


It also doesn't help that it was tacked on to the Iraq supplementary funding request. Any linkage between Plan Mexico and the Bush U.S. security doctrine as applied in Iraq increases suspicions among Mexican politicians and public.


11. Plan Mexico Divides Latin America


For the Bush administration, Plan Mexico has an explicit role to play in its overall geopolitical strategy in the hemisphere. Mexico is one of only two far-right governments among the major countries in the hemisphere. The other, Colombia, has received billons of dollars of U.S. military aid, also originally as part of a "war on drugs" that soon broadened into an overall military alliance. President Bush's insistence on pressuring the Democrats to pass the Colombia Free Trade Agreement in the context of the New Orleans North American Trilateral Summit unveils the administration's underlying geopolitical aims in Latin America. Under the Bush National Security Doctrine, this kind of alliance requires adhering to the premises of that doctrine including pre-emptive attacks, unilateral action, and disdain for international law.


The Bush administration has developed a with-us-or-against-us policy toward U.S. neighbors in Latin America. To varying degrees, it views the wave of center-left governments (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Paraguay) as a threat to its strategic interests. Moves to modify international market economies, increase state involvement in redistribution of wealth and public control of natural resources and basic services, and constitutional reforms to recognize rights of indigenous peoples are generally considered counter to U.S. interests.


The administration and the rightwing think tanks that have developed the strategy explicitly formulate hemispheric security policy in terms of U.S. hegemony. The American Enterprise Institute's Thomas Donnelly calls the Western Hemisphere "America's third border" (31) and argues that "American hegemony in the hemisphere is crucial to U.S. national security."


Stephen Johnson,(32) deputy assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs in the Defense Department, recently made the connection between Plan Mexico and Washington's bid to recover its influence in a slipping geopolitical context.

"While a groundswell seems to exist for greater engagement with the United States, there are challenge states such as Venezuela, Cuba, and to some extent Bolivia and Ecuador. For now, Venezuela and Cuba are clearly hostile to the United States, western-style democracy, markets, and are actively trying to counter our influence. Our challenge is not to confront them directly, but instead do a better job working with our democratic allies and friendly neighbors."


Plan Mexico is seen as an historic opportunity for the United States to gain military influence in Mexico and use it as a platform in the ideological battle with Venezuela and Cuba et al. This is a dangerous and wrong-headed strategy for international relations in the hemisphere, where mutual respect and self-determination should be the guiding principles for lasting peace. It also compromises Mexico's relations with its southern neighbors.


Strong international relations should be based on mechanisms of cooperation between nations that have each established national security policies based on their own needs. What has legislators and civil society worried on both sides of the border is the reach of Plan Mexico in recasting the binational relationship, to create what the Bush administration calls "a new paradigm for security cooperation."


Opposition to Plan Mexico


Despite a lack of public information, many organizations have come out against the Merida Initiative. In addition to doubts about the efficacy of the war on drugs model for eliminating traffic in illegal drugs, one of the strongest and most frequent criticisms relates to the poor human rights record and corruption of the Mexican security forces that would directly receive the aid. Numerous human rights organizations on both sides of the border base their opposition to the plan on cases of blatant violations that have never been investigated or prosecuted in Mexico. A few examples suffice to illustrate their concerns.


1. In an April 30, 2008 letter to William Delahunt of the International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight Sub-Committee of the House of Representatives, the AFL-CIO stated its opposition to the Merida Initiative, citing "systematic and often violent violations of core labor rights" and specifically naming two cases. The first is the assassination of the leader of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee in Mexico, Santiago Rafael Cruz, with no follow-up on the part of authorities on evidence indicating a link between his union activities and his murder. The second involves "a full-scale attack on the National Union of Mine and Metal Workers" by the Calderon administration and the mining company Grupo Mexico, in which three union members have been murdered with no investigations or prosecutions, and the lack of follow-up on the company's responsibility in the death of 65 miners in an explosion at the Pasta de Conchos mine in February 2006. (33)


The letter states, "Without significant and concrete improvements in institutional mechanisms to weed out criminals, provide training in human rights, and establish effective civilian oversight, additional funding to these security forces is likely to worsen corruption and violence."


2. In 2006 protests by citizens of the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca-including unionized teachers, students, indigenous peoples, and city-dwellers-were forcibly put down by state and federal security forces. Paramilitary groups and snipers for hire also participated in an orchestrated effort to defeat the movement to remove the state governor accused of fraud and violence, and improve working conditions for teachers and living conditions in the communities in which they work. Human rights organizations documented the murder of 23 persons, as well as numerous cases of abuse, torture, arbitrary detention, and wrongful imprisonment. The murder of movement leaders has continued to date and brought the death toll to 62, according to the International Civil Commission on Human Rights. (34) Among the dead was U.S. journalist Brad Will whose assassins were caught on film. Despite evidence, the state has refused to seriously investigate or prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes and the Federal Attorney General's office closed the case. U.S. groups oppose appropriations to Mexican security forces on the basis of this unresolved case and others like it.


Other high-profile cases include the Ciudad Juarez murders; the murders, and torture and rape of protestors in police custody in the farming community of San Salvador Atenco (35) in 2006; and journalist Lydia Cacho, who was arrested and threatened after writing a book that revealed the involvement of major industrialists and politicians in a pedophile ring.


Since being dispatched to wage the war on drugs, the Mexican Army has accumulated an alarming number of complaints of violations of human rights, including several incidents of fatal shootings at checkpoints, rapes, and brutality. The 2007 Mexico Human rights Report of the U.S. State Department (36) notes reports of security forces involvement in "unlawful killings by security forces; kidnappings, including by police; physical abuse; poor and overcrowded prison conditions; arbitrary arrests and detention; corruption, inefficiency, and lack of transparency in the judicial system; confessions coerced through physical abuse permitted as evidence in trials; ... corruption at all levels of government; ... violence, including killings, against women ...".


In February and March of 2008 the International Civil Commission on Human Rights investigated the status of human rights violations in the southern states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Atenco. The commission carried out over 650 interviews with victims of abuses. It concluded:

"The CCIODH holds that the cases of Atenco, Oaxaca, and Chiapas exemplify a more widespread situation characterized by a pattern of continued and commonplace behavior on the part of different federal, state, and, in some cases, local authorities. This model of behavior can clearly be understood as the politics of the state."


The argument of groups opposing Plan Mexico is not that, given the deplorable state of its judicial and law enforcement systems, Mexico does not deserve the U.S. aid package, as if this were a type of reward for good behavior. This is a presumptuous position-the Mexican people need and deserve U.S. support for development programs. The problem is the type of aid envisioned in Plan Mexico. Empowering (and enriching) corrupt and abusive institutions before reforming them empowers abusers, and potentially deepens and consolidates corruption.


One of Mexico's foremost human rights groups, the Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center states,

"The Merida Initiative is characterized by a lack of a human rights perspective, a human security approach that mistakes the security of states for the security of human beings ... It is time for the international community to stop supporting short-sighted policies such as this one."


The Need for a Better Plan


Mexico is at a critical juncture. Its weak democratic institutions have been shaken and discredited by their inadequate response to electoral polarization and to vast social inequality that destines millions to poverty or out-migration. Human rights abuses still characterize much of law enforcement agencies. The justice system remains bound to powerful interests, and lacks independence from the federal government and state and local governments.


Mexico can either take up the challenge to strengthen democratic institutions, or it can fall back into rule by force and authoritarianism.


At this critical juncture, the Merida Initiative would be a potentially devastating step backwards.


Despite the gravity of Mexico's condition it still lacks a careful diagnosis.


Faced with a real problem-the strength of drug cartels in Mexico and the United States-Plan Mexico proposes solutions that replicate the logic of force and patriarchal control that the drug cartels rely on. Then it applies these solutions not only to a bloody frontal battle with drug traffickers, but to a multitude of complex security threats with roots deep in Mexican society.


Before putting the army in the streets-with all the legal, political, and practical risks that entails-the dramatic increase in drug use in Mexico should be treated as a health epidemic and addressed at once through education, options for young people, and rehabilitation. Calderon's war on drugs includes construction of treatment centers but focuses on supply and enforcement, and Plan Mexico proposes exclusively enforcement actions. The main result so far has been to unleash violence in most regions of the country. The death, arrest, or extradition of ringleaders has set off battles for succession and renewed turf wars. Meanwhile, it's not clear that the price and availability of illegal drugs have been affected on U.S. or Mexican markets.


Both the United States and Mexico should reject appropriations that place the emphasis on a military solution to their shared drug dependency. Ironically, the one part of Nixon's drug policy that actually worked-expansion of treatment services-is the one part that has been the least emulated. The military-police arm of the "war on drugs" has proved to be not only a failure but a threat to the same social values it claims to defend.


The priority should be to develop national plans and mechanisms of binational coordination that work, and whose side effects-like militarization, human rights abuses, and the sophistication of criminal elements-do not cancel out the benefits. If anything is known about arming conflict, it's that no matter which side you arm-and the guns invariably end up on both sides-it escalates violence.


The sheer scope of the Merida Initiative reflects the Bush administration's military/police focus in international security issues, just when those strategies have hit a low point in popularity within the United States. Any incoming administration should have the freedom to develop new and more effective policies with one of its closest neighbors, instead of being locked into failed and unpopular policies by the outgoing administration.


Major human rights organizations in Mexico and the United States have already come out against the Merida Initiative. It will soon be voted on in the U.S. Congress. To avoid the pitfalls of this policy, a more effective binational plan should address root causes, develop mechanisms of binational coordination, and assume U.S. responsibilities and obligations.


End Notes


1. Available at


2. See Carlsen, Laura "Plan Mexico," FPIF,


3. See Laura Carlsen, "Deep Integration: The Anti-Democratic Expansion of NAFTA,"


4. See for an analysis of this meeting.


5. "National Security Strategy Sept. 2002,"


6. Thomas Shannon, Speech to the Council on the Americas, April 3, 2008.


7. Shannon stated this explicitly in the above speech: "Both Canada and Mexico have gone through political transitions and maintained a commitment to the Security and Prosperity Partnership. We are the only country that has not gone through a political transition yet, but we will shortly. The hope of President Bush is that with this meeting in New Orleans, which will be the fourth meeting of the SPP at a leaders' level, that this will effectively institutionalize a U.S. commitment."


8. Rydell & Evering, "Controlling Cocaine, Prepared for the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the United States Army," (Santa Monica, Rand Corporation Study 1994, summary available online at


9. The initiative includes $30 million dollars to the Secretary of Health to establish a central intelligence computer system for national drug treatment centers. None of this money goes to patients or to expand services.


10. Smyth, Frank, "Drug War Blues," 2001: $1.3 billion in military aid that the United States is now providing to Colombia. This latest package has led the Andean nation to surpass El Salvador as the site of the largest U.S.-backed counter-insurgency effort since the Vietnam War.


11. CIP Colombia Program.


12. On-line at


13. Cited in James Verini.


14. "Detalla la PGR lista de armas decomisadas," Andrea Becerril, La Jornada, Mar. 19, 2008.


15. As reported by Reuters, Feb.5, 2008.


16. Interview with Blanche Petrich, La Jornada, July 30, 2007,


17. Author's interview with General José Francisco Gallardo, April 9. 2008.


18. Cited in a similar position of the Miguel Pro Human Rights Center,


19. See the recent report by the International Civil Commission on Human Rights at


20. Laura Carlsen, "Militarizing Mexico: The New War on Drugs," (Washington, DC: Foreign Policy In Focus, July 12, 2007),


21. Andrea Becerril and Víctor Ballinas, "Inconstitucional, cuerpo de elite para tareas policiacas: González Garza," La Jornada, October 5, 2007,


22. See the excellent 2004 report by the Latin American Working Group, the Center for International Policy, and the Washington Office on Latin America, "Blurring the Lines: Trends in U.S. Military Programs in Latin America,"


23. The author Laura Carlsen formed part of the Sixth Visit of the International Civil Commission on Human rights in Mexico. The preliminary conclusions in English are available online at


24. CPJ, online at


25. Note the following clauses (italics by author): Group 1:1: "These aircraft [2 Cessna Citation, cost: $2,800,000 with training, upgrades, and monitoring] are mission-critical to Mexico's interception of aerial trafficking and to reducing the flows of drugs, arms or other illicit cargo across our shared border" (immigrants are clearly identified as illicit cargo in the initiative); * $104,000,000 for 8 Bell helicopters, with training, maintenance, parts, and night vision equipment, "will improve SEDENA's ability to quickly deploy rapid reaction forces, which is essential for the successful interdiction of drugs arms and persons." * $91,757,0000 to Mexican Migration Institute (INAMI) for IT equipment "to track all persons entering and exiting Mexico as well as internal INAMI checkpoints ... It will also be used to track the entries and exits of repatriated Central Americans." It also provides for biometrically-based temporary working documents for Guatemalans in Southern Mexico; * $20,200,000 for Army Mobile Gamma Ray Non-Intrusive Inspection Equipment "to detect and intercept flows of illicit goods and persons."


26. Joint Statement on the Merida Initiative: A New Paradigm for Security Cooperation, Oct. 22, 2007,


27. See Kent Paterson, "Juarez Mothers Demand Justice for their Murdered Daughters,"


28. See Drug Policy Alliance,


29. Andrea Becerril and José Antonio Román, "Proteger del terrorismo" a EU, otro fin de la Iniciativa Mérida," La Jornada, Oct. 25, 2007,


30. Eric Schmitt and David Rohde, "Reports Assail State Department on Iraq Security," New York Times, Oct. 23, 2007,


31. Thomas Donnelley, "Homeland Defense and the U.S. Military," Nov. 1, 2004,


32. Stephen Johnson, "New Security Challenges in the Western Hemisphere," Oct. 16, 2007.


33. At


34. CCIODH report


35. Two youth were killed and dozens beaten by state and federal police. Women rounded up in paddy wagons were abused, raped, and tortured en route to prison. Their horror stories are documented and corroborated by medical examiners and human rights organizations including Amnesty International. Instead of prosecuting the security forces responsible for the acts, the government sentenced two leaders and the lawyer of the grassroots movement to 67 years in prison.


36. On-line at


Laura Carlsen (lcarlsen(@) is director of the Americas Policy Program in Mexico City.



Recommended citation:


Laura Carlsen, "A Primer on Plan Mexico," Americas Policy Program Special Report (Washington, DC: Center for International Policy, May 5, 2008).


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