LL along the US side of the Mexican border and into America's
heartland, the mood toward illegal aliens has turned distinctly
Politicians from Pete Wilson to Pat Buchanan to Bill Clinton
have picked up on the shift in public opinion. They are offering
tough measures to protect American jobs and businesses.
Rarely before has the 2,000-mile border been so vigorously
defended. Steel fences run through deserts and up over hillsides.
United States Border Patrol agents are equipped with high-tech
On both sides of the border, tensions are growing over NAFTA,
water, schools, drugs, and other bilateral issues.
Yet the new, tougher American mood clashes with official US
goals of free trade, Mexican development, and greater harmony
between two neighbors starkly different in wealth and outlook.
In an eight-part series starting today (Page 9), the Monitor
explores how the new border tensions affect life for residents on
both sides, and why US-Mexican relations are now on the borderline
of a new and chilly era.
WHERE the Pacific Ocean meets the border between the United
States and Mexico, a plaque mounted on a chiseled rock dedicates
the surrounding seaside park "to the friendship" of the American
and Mexican people.
The Border Field Park was opened in 1974 for the enjoyment of
people from two neighboring countries. Today, it is divided by a
high fence designed to keep the people and contraband of the south
from coming north.
"This used to be a nice place where people from here and over
there could actually get together," says a US Border Patrol agent,
standing vigil on a recent foggy morning over the traditionally
busy San Diego section of the border. "Then all the illegal aliens
and the drug runners ruined it."
The San Diego fence, along with others like it in El Paso,
Texas; Nogales, Ariz.; and elsewhere, symbolizes the widening and
hardening of a 2,000-mile-long border that until recently was
thought by many local residents and border specialists to be fading
as a divide.
Examples of cooperation between the two sides were growing, from
city halls and private environmental and economic development
organizations, to board rooms and family-run businesses. Life
magazine hailed the area in 1969 as an unguarded border where the
best of both cultures mixed. By 1985, however, the National
Geographic called it "the eroding border."
The promise of Mexico's strengthening economic ties, encouraged
by the landmark North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), only
bolstered a sense of optimism and excitement about the border
region in the late 1980s and early '90s.
That was before immigration became a more potent political issue
in the US than at any time since the 1920s, before Mexico became
the No. 1 entry point for illegal drugs into the US, and before
middle-class malaise in the US coupled with Mexico's economic crash
in 1995 convinced a growing number of Americans that the border was
going to be more a problem than an opportunity for some time.
Reflecting that thinking, the border is a controversial issue in
this year's presidential campaign. Republican candidate Pat
Buchanan has set the tone, blasting Mexico as a socialist sinkhole
into which the US should pour no more money, and calling for both
cancellation of NAFTA and construction of a border wall.
He said in a New Hampshire fund-raiser in January, "I believe
there's a direct correlation between the declining standard of
living of American workers and these unfair trade deals we've been
negotiating with China, Japan, and Mexico."
President Clinton, feeling vulnerable over his support of NAFTA
and the $50 billion Mexico bailout he orchestrated last year, is
moving to look tough on Mexico as well. Last month, the
administration announced that as part of the continuing battle
against illegal immigration, use of the military along the border
would increase. …