The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

July 21, 2010

ZACHARY HUBBARD | On Mexico, Obama between rock and hard place

Zachary Hubbard

— “Many Mexicans chose to flee north to escape the violence and poverty in the troubled nation.” Sound like a headline on CNN?

 Some may be surprised to learn it is a quote from a teaching guide prepared for the Colorado public schools.  

The guide’s topic is the impact on the United States of the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920.  

America’s border problems with Mexico go back more than 165 years. The first occurred after the U.S. Congress voted in 1845 to annex the Republic of Texas, laying the groundwork for Texas to become the 28th state.       

Mexico’s government considered the annexation tantamount to a war declaration and deployed federal troops along the Rio Grande River in response. Mexico claimed the Nueces River, north of Corpus Christi, as the Mexico-Texas border. The United States insisted it was the Rio Grande River, nearly 100 miles south of the Nueces.

On Jan. 1, 1846, President Polk ordered troops to deploy along the disputed border.

Mexico deemed this an occupation. During the ensuing Mexican-American War of 1846-1848, the United States invaded Mexico, routed the Mexican forces, and annexed California and New Mexico. It left an indelible mark on the politics and cultures of both nations.

Next came the Mexican Revolution. The government of Mexican President Gen. Parfirio Diaz, which favored wealthy landowners and big business, fought against a loose coalition of opposition forces, including those of the legendary Poncho Villa. The opposition represented an oppressed citizenry suffering from government policies that had resulted in huge foreign debt and a declining middle class. The 1 million-plus Mexican refugees who entered the United States during the protracted war changed this country forever.

This brings us to today’s situation. Even though national attention is focused on the legal actions of the Obama administration versus Arizona’s new immigration law, the problem is much larger.

Fighting in Afghanistan is distracting the American media’s attention while drug-related violence just across the U.S.-Mexican border has left more Mexicans dead in the past five years than American war deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. 

Reuters reported last month that “some 25,500 people, mainly traffickers and police, have been killed since late 2006.” That’s when President Felipe Calderon deployed thousands of troops and police to fight Mexico’s drug cartels. The UK Mail Online reported July 2 that more than 5,000 have died in drug-related violence in Mexico in 2010.

Popular military columnist Ralph Peters describes the situation in Mexico as civil war.

It is indeed a war and it has clearly spread across the U.S.-Mexico border. 

The website of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicates approximately 3,500 acres of the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge contiguous to Mexico have been closed for nearly five years because of public safety concerns related to human and drug trafficking.

The El Paso Times recently reported that bullets from a gunfight in the neighboring Mexican city of Juarez crossed the border and hit El Paso’s city hall. 

In Arizona, kidnappings tied to Mexican drug and human smuggling have made Phoenix the world’s No. 2 kidnapping capital, with more than 300 reported each year from 2007 to 2009. Police estimate the number of unreported kidnappings at least equals the number reported.

The Arizona Republic reported in January that most of the city’s extortion-related kidnappings are tied to drugs and human smuggling.

In a notable change from previous patterns, where only Americans involved in the drug trade were victims, the Mexican war has begun to take the lives of innocent Americans. In March, three Americans were killed in Mexico in acts described as the deliberate targeting of American citizens.

The situation is becoming increasingly challenging for the Obama administration. 

On one hand, with mid-term elections on the horizon, the Democrats must court the Hispanic vote – thus the administration’s lawsuit challenging Arizona’s new immigration law. On the other hand, as The New York Times reported on July 11, Democratic governors who recently met privately with Obama were concerned the Arizona lawsuit could make Demo-crats vulnerable in the November elections. 

The only certainty for President Obama is that drug-related violence in Mexico is rising and spilling across the border into the United States. 

Despite the opinions of Peters and others, Obama cannot call the situation a civil war, because every real war has a price. If it is truly a civil war, then many in America and abroad would argue the U.S. has legal and moral obligation to open its border to war refugees.  

In a column published in February, former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., explained that refugees granted temporary protected status (TPS) by the United States for humanitarian purposes rarely ever leave. Tancredo said, “The ‘emergency’ never passes and the lobby for new amnesties never rests.” He notes that 190,000 Salvadoran refugees who were granted TPS in 2000 have had that status extended five times.

War in Mexico is a bigger threat to America than war in Afghanistan. Obama cannot afford to allow a massive number of Mexican refugees to enter the country. His foreign policy must therefore include extensive measures to help the Mexican government strengthen internal security.

The cost will be high. 

Obama should take a lesson from Polk’s playbook and deploy military forces along our most vulnerable border to preclude further violence into this country. He should then drop the politically motivated lawsuit against Arizona and start enforcing existing federal immigration laws.

Democrats must put America first or suffer the consequences in November.

Zachary Hubbard is a freelance writer residing in Upper Yoder Township. He is a member of The Tribune-Democrat Reader Advisory Committee.