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Groups concerned over militarization of U.S.-Mexican border

By Patricia Giovine
Agencia EFE, February 5, 2002

EL PASO, Texas (EFE) -- Human rights groups and legislators have accused the federal government of being insensitive to the situation in the U.S.-Mexico border area with the plan to send military troops into the region, which of course is not at war.

In addition, this militarization of the border could generate even more mistreatment of the residents on both sides of the boundary, according to the activists. Organizations such as the Houston-based Friends of America and a San Antonio civil rights commission are concerned over the Pentagon's plan to send military troops into the border region to assist the U.S. Border Patrol.

Congressman Silvestre Reyes (Dem.-TX) has publicly rejected the militarization of the border saying he is "surprised over the plan." He accused the Bush administration of not thoroughly thinking through the plan and of simply making such statements to see what the reactions would be.

Reyes, a member of the House Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, complained because the Pentagon had not informed him, or his colleagues, about the plan.

He said that they need a well-designed plan to define exactly what the military intends to do along the border, and then legislators must thoroughly discuss the matter.

It is dangerous to send military troops to the border region without first resolving a series of human rights violations committed by U.S. federal officials, Javier Maldonado, an attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), told EFE.

Sending soldiers who are unfamiliar with the border region is very worrisome because "they arrive with the idea that anyone who looks Mexican is an illegal immigrant or a drug trafficker," Maldonado said.

The director of the El Paso Friends of America organization, Fernando Garcia, says the proposition is a violation of the U.S. penal code and the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits military intervention in civil matters.

"Soldiers are prepared to go to war, to fight and to kill, and this mental programming could be very dangerous for the border community," Garcia said.

Further, deploying troops to the border could generate dangerous situations for immigrants and U.S. residents along the border," he said.

"Before, illegal immigrants were treated as criminals, now they're being treated as terrorists," according to Garcia.

The activists said that using military troops in the past along the border resulted in the death of a young shepherd in Marfa, Texas.

This incident occurred in 1997 when military troops guarding the border mistook Ezequiel Hernandez, 16, for a drug trafficker and shot him to death.

Protests over his death resulted in the U.S. Border Patrol suspending its operations with military troops.


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