Nat'l Guard troops on border duty. Credit: US Military

Only a couple of days ago, I wrote that “U.S.-Mexican relations might look at little different in the age of Obama, but the Bush-era priorities remain the same.” Today, I think this statement was reinforced.

Only a few days after Mexico’s President Calderon went back to Mexico from the U.S. after being praised for his military efforts in combating the narco (notwithstanding the spiral of violence it has caused) Obama decided to step it up at home, sending 1,200 troops to the border states. Just as when Bush sent 6,000 National Guard troops to the border in 2006, the purpose is to appease Republicans in their calls to secure the border, and to try to gain support for the pending migration reform.

However, this decision is deeply contradictory. Although the stated goal is to secure the border from criminal drug gangs — and the illicit traffic of drugs, money and arms — the victims of this military escalation might well be the millions of undocumented immigrants to whom the reform is supposed to eventually benefit. The calls from Republicans and border state governors to seal the “porous” border are aimed at curbing “illegal immigration” as well. Hence, the differences between criminals and undocumented workers are becoming muddled, even when both issues — drug trafficking (and the violence it conveys) and migration — have quite distinct causes and consequences.

This generalization comes from the Bush-led Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America that Obama supposedly (but never officially) wrote off. One of the SPP’s stated goals was secure borders and combat “transnational threats to the United States, Canada, and Mexico, including terrorism, organized crime, illegal drugs, migrant and contraband smuggling and trafficking” and to promote the “legitimate flow of people and goods”. Implicitly, illegal migration became equated to a security threat.

Today, when states like Arizona are criminalizing “illegal migration,” Obama’s decision to send the National Guard to the border might end up reinforcing persecution of those that are in this country without papers. People that came to this country looking for work — mainly because of joblessness at home, due to failed economic policies like NAFTA and privatization — are ending up being as illegal as drugs, arms or dirty money.

That’s a shame. Obama should rapidly distinguish the issues and act accordingly. The “war on drugs” has already proven fatal for millions of innocent Mexicans. Will the same start happening here?

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