Border agents should follow golden rule
Published: Wednesday, December 19th, 2007
What would Americans think if Mexican officials routinely fired pepper spray and tear gas into California neighborhoods as a way to root out, say, smugglers who were operating from the U.S. side of the border? How would we, as Americans, feel if our houses were damaged, our neighborhoods evacuated and our children endangered because of the aggressive tactics of the Mexican police or military? Most Americans would no doubt be outraged. American officials would likely demand that Mexico cease and desist from such behavior. The anger would be perfectly justified. Mexican officials are not attacking the United States, but U.S. Border Patrol agents are attacking the Colonia Libertad neighborhood of Tijuana. Mexicans have every right to be as angry as we would be if the roles were reversed. In response to smugglers who are pelting Border Patrol agents in order to create a diversion, the Americans are stepping up their efforts. “Agents have used pepper spray in the past, but usually aimed directly at the smugglers,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “The new tactics, which saturate large areas, have forced dozens of temporary evacuations and sent some residents to hospitals.” One woman captured the frustration succinctly as she told a border agent: “Put yourself in my place. I have two children.” She told the newspaper that the agent replied: “I’m the policeman of the world. No one can touch me.” Well, Mexico is a sovereign nation. The Mexican Consulate has complained, and rightly so. The Bush administration should rescind this policy. The United States is not at war with Mexico, and it behooves our national interests to maintain friendly relations with our southern neighbor. Border Patrol officials argued that the agents need to protect themselves, and that the smugglers should be blamed for hiding behind innocent people. Well, there are better ways to protect against criminals than to saturate entire neighborhoods with tear-gas canisters. For starters, the Border Patrol could engage in cooperative efforts with the Tijuana police or the Mexican federal authorities to go after the rock-throwing smugglers. Certainly, criminals do hide behind innocents, but the authorities cannot just say, “Oh, well, it’s their fault for hiding among residents.” At what point is it OK to damage entire neighborhoods for the actions of a handful of people within them? We understand that the issue of illegal immigration is extremely contentious, but even those advocating tougher U.S. enforcement measures should agree there need to be limits to the policy. It’s hard to make the argument that Mexicans are trampling on our sovereignty while we so eagerly trample on theirs.
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