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Mexican Officials Say They Thought Proposed Ditch Was For Drainage

January 27, 1989

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ Government officials said the United States informed them that a proposed four-mile border ditch would be built to carry drainage, not to deter drug smugglers and illegal immigrants.

In a statement Thursday, Foreign Ministry officials acknowledged they knew about plans for the 5-foot-deep, 14-foot-wide ditch along the San Diego- Tijuana border. But they said they had been told it was to solve rainwater drainage problems on the flat Otay Mesa, along the international border.

″The Mexican government was not told the purpose of this construction could be to control migration, or anything else of that nature,″ the statement said.

Several Mexican congressmen reacted angrily to the proposal, calling it ″unfriendly″ and saying it would not stop the flow of illegal immigrants.

In the United States, immigrant rights activists called it ″repressive″ and ″ill-conceived.″

The $2 million ditch, which Associate Attorney General Francis A. Keating II likened to a ″buried Berlin Wall,″ will traverse an area east of San Ysidro, Calif., that is a major route for drug smuggling and border crossing.

Keating said the primary purpose of the ditch would be to discourage drug smugglers from driving cars and trucks across the border.

Although the Mexican government expressed no opinion on the proposal, President Carlos Salinas de Gortari is among those who say the U.S. policy of exclusion fails to recognize that emigrants from Mexico are filling a need by taking jobs that most Americans don’t want.

Immigration experts say the isolated Otay Mesa is the most popular crossing point for illegal immigrants along the 1,950-mile U.S.-Mexico border.

About one third of the 1.2 million illegal immigrants captured along the border last year were apprehended at Otay Mesa. Officials say up to 400 vehicles are believed to cross the border illegally into San Diego each month.

The Foreign Ministry said the ditch had been discussed by the International Boundary and Water Commission as a remedy for area flooding problems. But it said the commission, which includes members from both countries, never talked about the project as a barrier to drug traffickers or illegal immigrants.

″Both governments, through their respective commissioners, have been consulted about ways of resolving the problem of drainage of rain waters,″ the statement said.

″The construction of this ditch is only one of many proposals that have come before the commission and in no moment was it approved by the two governments,″ it said.

The Excelsior news service on Thursday quoted Deputy Guadalupe Gomez Maganda, president of the foreign relations committee, as saying the proposal was ″unfriendly.″ Gomez Maganda reportedly said he would bring the matter up at the next interparliamentary meeting on U.S.-Mexico relations.

Deputy Alberto Ling Altamirano of the conservative National Action Party said the proposal ″isn’t so much aggressive as it is silly.″

″They aren’t going to stop anyone while there are hungry people in Mexico and there is a clandestine labor market in the United States,″ he said.

The government news service Notimex also criticized the proposal in an editorial, calling it ″a violent call to the attention of the Mexican government and to all political and social groups interested in the defense of sovereignty and national dignity.″

In Washington on Thursday, a private group lobbying to stem the flow of illegal immigrants proposed charging a $2 fee to enter the country and using the money to tighten border security.

The non-profit group, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said the estimated $500-$600 million a year in revenue from the fees should go toward intensified patrols of the U.S.-Mexico border and replacement of 28 miles of metal fence.

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