Monday, October 1, 2007

Governors straddle fence on several border issues

This looks like it was interesting though little got accomplished. -Dra. Valenzuela

Governors straddle fence on several border issues
Annual U.S.-Mexico conference draws to close
Chris Hawley
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 29, 2007 12:00 AM

PUERTO PEÑASCO, Mexico - The federal government builds the fences. The migrants climb over them. And state politicians, it seems, sit on them.

During two days of mulling border issues, the positions of U.S. governors seemed to shift as steadily as the sand dunes in this beach resort, known as Rocky Point, on the Gulf of California.

In interviews, speeches and news conferences, governors and their representatives criticized fences while insisting on tighter border enforcement. They praised the work ethic of illegal immigrants while attacking the employers who hire them. They decried shootouts in Mexico but refused to rein in sales of the guns that shoot the bullets.

Then, after much talk about border fences, they signed a 28-page manifesto Friday that neither opposed nor supported them. The issue of immigration reform merited only one sentence in the official document reflecting the work of the 25th annual meeting of governors from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.

"There is always a lot of doublespeak at these types of forums, because the governors' actual margin to do anything is very small," said Cecilia Fernández, social-science professor at the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Advanced Studies. "It's kind of a confused vision."

The annual Border Governors Conference is aimed at preparing annual goals for cooperation between the four U.S. states and six Mexican states along the border.

The result is an odd dynamic, as politicians try to look tough to their own voters, play the part of good neighbor, and jockey for position on issues that are not even under state control, Fernández said.

Napolitano's barbs

The meeting saw U.S. officials, especially Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, taking shots at their own federal government.

Napolitano called the U.S. and Mexican federal governments "our missing partner" - even though the meeting was attended by both Mexican President Felipe Calderón and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff. The governors of Texas and New Mexico did not attend. They sent representatives.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday called for air-pollution controls because "From Washington, we don't see much leadership on that issue."

His comments came even as President Bush was holding an international summit on climate change in Washington.

On Friday afternoon, the governors issued a 28-page list of resolutions, many of them aimed at lobbying their federal governments.

Many were heavy on bureaucracy: "To continue developing the Nutritional Task Force as a way to exchange ideas, reach goals and to improve the health of citizens," said one point.

Another resolution, championed by Napolitano, calls for the federal government "to develop and implement strategies that will assist in combating the illegal importation of methamphetamine and its precursor chemicals." Napolitano has complained that the U.S. government does not do enough to track bulk shipments of pseudoephedrine, a main ingredient in methamphetamine.

The only mention of border fences in the list of resolutions said: "Physical obstacles alone are not the solution." The item urged reform of U.S. immigration laws. The group did not say what the reform plan should entail.

The clearest position on the border fence came from Kathy Walt, a deputy chief of staff who represented Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

"This miles-long eyesore would waste millions of dollars, destroy long-term friendships and stifle economic prosperity," she said. She called for a more high-tech approach to border security involving federal, state and local law-enforcement agents.

'Virtual fence' delays

In a joint news conference with the governors, Chertoff apologized for delays in the "virtual fence" along the Arizona-Sonora border, saying problems were to be expected in any high-tech project. The fence is several months behind schedule.

Napolitano, meanwhile, defended Arizona's new employer-sanctions law.

"Underlying a lot of the numbers are real people looking to earn a livelihood for their families," Napolitano said. "But my goal . . . is to be firm in saying the people of Arizona have spoken out, and they have spoken out very clearly, that they want our nation's immigration laws enforced."

The Sonoran government spent heavily on the meeting, chartering jets to fly in participants and building a pavilion on the beach. Hundreds of state workers were housed and fed in hotels, and at least 65 vehicles were brought from Hermosillo to shuttle organizers, participants and reporters, state employees said.

Legendary singer Vicente Fernández was hired to give a free concert on Puerto Peñasco's boardwalk Thursday night.

The governors called the meeting a success.

"It's always invaluable to have this dialogue, to understand the common opportunities that exist to confront the problems of the border and improve the lives of our people," said Baja California Gov. Eugenio Elorduy Walther.

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Course taught by Angela Valenzuela said...

It's interesting to think of this post in light of the previous one. Little gets done in the area of immigration because governors have to respond to different constituencies--those opposed and those for undocumented immigration. But also, there seems to be a lack of leadership that is itself binational (though this was a binational meeting). These are my thoughts. What do others think?

Paul said...

Little can be accomplished until the U.S. federal government gets their act together and passes comprehensive immigration reform. Chertoff can implement stop-gap measures but there needs to be systemic change in U.S. policies aided by wealth creation on the Mexican side (which will take time).

I attended the conference last week in Puerto Penasco as a guest and there certainly was a lot of "pomp and circumstance", picture taking and the like (which is to be expected when politicians are involved). However, while little is publicly accomplished in a short conference like this, it serves a valuable function of uniting a lot of leaders from both sides of the border so they can put a name to a face and coordinate their activities. For instance, the heads of tourism of each of the border states meet and discuss issues from both sides of the border that affect them and possible solutions. A committee made up of government officials from both sides of the border meet to talk about expediting border crossing for legal crossers while figuring out ways to limit illegal crossing.

It is too short of a conference to make any big decisions or headway, but these networking events are valuable in coordinating the efforts of states on both sides of the border. So any criticism of conferences like this is a little short sighted. For a better article by the same newspaper that was quickly taken off the front page of their own website, see My blog at has more information about the Border Governor's Conference.

Course taught by Angela Valenzuela said...

Paul, I really do appreciate you giving us some insight into what happened at the governor's conference. I think it is good and necessary to have a binational committee but this is a far cry from having binational institutions (unless they exist and I'm simply not aware). In any case, I recommend that you read Robert Pastor's research on the kinds of things that it'll take in order to really achieve an integrated system between the U.S., Mexico and Canada. Check out this piece written by him, for example: North America's Second Decade. Might you or anyone know of binational or trinational conversations that may be taking place currently. Pastor maintains that the 1995 Mexican peso crisis and 9-11 derailed attempts at integration. Your thoughts appreciated.