MEXICALI, Mexico - When
U.S. customs officials discovered the latest tunnel under the border
last month, they were stunned. Complete with concrete floor and an
intercom system, the passage ran nearly 200 yards from a house on one
side of a rusty metal fence, under two streets and an apartment
complex, to emerge in an unassuming tract home in California.
Though more elaborate, the tunnel is not unlike the 15 others found
during the 1990s, built by drug cartels. But everything in the world
after Sept. 11, 2001, has taken on a different hue. U.S. officials fear
that the tunnels could be used just as easily to smuggle terrorists and
explosives as cocaine or illegal immigrants.
That confluence of worries forms the backdrop for a meeting today in
Texas between President Bush, Mexico's President Vicente Fox and
Canada's Prime Minister Paul Martin. But where issues converge, the
interests of the United States and its neighbors may not.
For Bush and the Republican-led Congress he must work with, security
is on top of the agenda. For Mexico, it is immigration changes that
would open the border to a freer flow of migrant workers. For liberal
Canada, it is the imperative of foreign and domestic policies that
increasingly diverge from Washington's conservative consensus.
Senior Bush administration officials said Tuesday that the three
leaders were not expected to announce any concrete agreements after the
one-day meeting at Baylor University in Waco, which will be followed by
a lunch at the Bush ranch in Crawford.
Instead, the three men will announce a new framework and timetable
for resolving a host of sticky trade and security issues, among them
letting more workers cross borders legally for jobs and improving
cooperation against terrorists.
A year ago, Bush proposed greatly expanding a guest-worker program
for Mexican laborers. But to Fox's great dismay, the idea has faded. In
the past two weeks, U.S. diplomats have made it clear that Congress is
unlikely to act unless Mexico does more to tighten up the border and
reduce the crime on its side.
``What Mexico needs to understand is that migration is viewed
largely as a security issue in the United States, and they appear to
think that that is not as important as we do,'' said Sen. John Cornyn,
R-Texas, who has taken a lead in the debate on expanding a guest-worker
Perhaps nowhere is the inexorable nature of the northward migration
of Mexicans -- and the vulnerability of the United States to
infiltration, whether by migrants or by terrorists -- more apparent
than in Mexicali and in its sister California city, Calexico.
Investigators say they doubt that the builders of the elaborate
tunnel would have spent an estimated $1 million just to smuggle migrant
workers headed for jobs picking grapes or working at convenience
stores. It is more likely, they said, that the tunnel was built to
smuggle lucrative drugs like cocaine and heroin, but another line of
investigation is that its builders might have intended to sell passage
to terrorists or other criminals.
Meanwhile, the alarms have been sounding in Washington about the
post-Sept. 11 dangers of a porous, 2,000-mile-long border. James Loy,
the deputy secretary of homeland security, said last month that
intelligence reports showed that Al-Qaida terrorists are likely to try
to enter the country from Mexico, across whose border at least 300,000
people flow every year virtually undetected and with impunity.
Porter Goss, the director of central intelligence, told the Senate
Armed Services Committee last week that the United States is vulnerable
to terrorists infiltrating through ``its back patio.''
But for Fox, a tighter border that keeps Mexicans from desperately
needed jobs in the United States is not necessarily in his interest.
Last week, in a sharp divergence from Washington, he publicly decried a
measure passed in the House of Representatives that would mandate the
completion of a long-stalled security wall between Tijuana and San
Far from being completed, he said, the wall should be knocked down.
``No country that is proud of itself should construct walls,'' he told
reporters in Mexico City on March 15. ``No one can isolate oneself
these days with a wall.''
He and other proponents of immigration reform and the guest-worker
program argue that higher walls and tighter controls will do more harm
than good, by forcing more migrants to take illegal routes, and thus
making it easier for terrorists to cross illegally as well.