The issue of illegal immigrants entering the US came to a head recently when George Bush, the American president, introduced a package of sweeping reforms to increase security, curb smuggling, tighten immigration policies and facilitate the building of a security fence along the border.

His plan has been met with protests by many immigrants in the US, including an estimated 11 million illegal ones, many from Mexico as well as Central and South America.

Illegal passage from the Mexican towns of La Liberta, Tecate, Mexicale, Forilleales and Polleros into California now costs up to $1,600 a person. And despite increased border controls and US National Guard troops, business appears to be thriving.

As a result, US authorities intend to build nearly 600km of new fencing along the US-Mexican border from California to Texas.

They also plan to deploy guards to patrol an additional 800km that the fence will not cover.

A volunteer force - known as the Minutemen, named after a highly-mobile elite force of volunteer fighters assembled during the American War of Independence in the 1770s - has also been patrolling the border and helping to erect the fence.
 
Aljazeera.net spoke to Mexicans and Americans about the stepped up border security, and whether these measures were helping or hindering the security of Mexicans and Americans on either side of the 3,162-km border.
 
Pedro Fernando, Puerto Rican immigrant to Tijuana, Mexico, 25 

I don't see much of a difference; people are still getting into the US illegally. I came to Tijuana for my wife. She was living in the United States illegally, selling drugs and smuggling drugs from here. She was found out, put in detention and later deported.

Pedro Fernando: People are still
getting into the US illegally

I haven't been back to the States in a few months just because of the shakedowns and hassle. My wife also can't go at all. Even though we are married and I have a passport from the US, she can't get one because of her convictions there.

It is a shame because there is no work here in Tijuana and with these new restrictions we can't look for any new work in the States because we would have to do it illegally.

Connie Hair, national spokesperson for the Minutemen, 21 

The US is proposing 6,000 unarmed National Guard along the border. But that won't do anything for the border. It is freeing up desk people to go out into the field.

Reports are coming out that there has been a 21% decrease of people crossing - but it is only a little more smoke and mirrors coming out of the White House, as during this time of year, due to the heat, the border traffic always decreases.

Minutemen volunteers are building
fences and patrolling the borders
We have two different categories of people who volunteer for us nationally. With 17,200 donors, the people who actually end up patrolling the border all require a background check.

Our border patrol volunteers are 7,000, compared to 10,500 [official] border patrol personnel nationwide. We are expanding our patrol to the borders of the five states in the north, and all four southern border states.  

We are currently active in building fences along all private property. We secure the border force and bring the issue of the border to the national stage. It is international criminal cartels that are in control of the border. People down there live in fear for their lives.  

Raymundo Aguilar, senior communications officer, Tijuana general hospital, 29 

The intensifying security is a problem for the locals trying to migrate to the US. Because of the circumstances of these new border restrictions, people are forced into more dangerous situations to cross, like in the desert or having to travel at night by foot, etcetera. 

The US policies have increased
bottlenecks at the border

If they are injured trying to cross, they usually don't want to come to the hospital because they have been involved in illegal activities.

We accept them of course, and the numbers within the past three years have increased. But we try not to ask too many questions because it may bring harm to them.

But that lack of information can be vital - that is why I don't understand all of these new restrictions. 

Norma Reyes, ambulance driver for the Red Cross, Tijuana, Mexico, 31 

I have noticed a sort of bottlenecking of traffic along the border as a result of the new restrictions and border guard presence.

There has been an increase in physical violence as well at the border, along with occasional casualties. I have certainly noticed an increase since I have been working with the Red Cross over the past five years as an ambulance driver.

Norma Reyes says the new moves
have brought more violence

But a lot of times the actual numbers are buried as the deaths happen in very remote regions and the bodies, if recovered, are often unrecognisable and decomposed.

I have heard of people not going with enough water, not going with anything but their feet and when that happens they are often as good as dead. So I don't think the restrictions will do much more than increase the complications for Mexicans.
 
Julio Caesar, taxi driver, Tijuana, Mexico, 40 

The United States is using too much force. It is driving the corruption here in Mexico along the borders to an extreme with all of the new immigration restrictions and the doubling of the border patrol officers.

In the smaller towns money continues to drive the illegal immigration scheme. But it is becoming very expensive. Whoever has the most money can bribe their way over the border, which often causes violence, it has always been this way. 

It used to be that when you could bribe your way over the border, you would end up in the USA and be able to collect benefits like welfare and social security once you had an address, as opposed to working the plantations.

Now with all of the restrictions and shake downs, the poverty levels are on the rise [in Tijuana] and innocent people are being shot while they are in pursuit of a better living.

Luz Camancho, chief operations officer for Casa Familiar (Community agency for Spanish-speaking clients in south San Diego, California), 50 

I don't think any of these new measures are going to help anything. Border security is never something that is done in a humane way.

Tens of thousands of immigrants
have attacked the new policies

People will always find new ways to cross the border. What's happening with the increase in security is offensive to the Mexican community in many ways. You see a new vocabulary surfacing, using words like invasion, and the perception of these communities then is distorted to the American public.  

We hear about violence on the news and in the media against those trying to enter the country. As a community, we are fearing for our lives. Overall the security has intensified over the past year, and all of these Minutemen aren't helping anything. 

We are also feeling a rise in racism. Maybe it's paranoia with all of these new measures arising, but I have noticed it in the stores, restaurants and places where you expect service. It is a recent phenomenon and is getting worse.

Todd Fraser, border patrol agent, 35

We are not going to seal off the border 100%. That is not our goal. We want to gain operational control of the border. That way we can respond more effectively along the border and ensure the security of American citizens at home.

Our department decides what the best allocation of technology is, for example the IAFIS (integrated automated finger print identification systems) which digitally scans 10 fingerprints which are then checked against the master criminal database, linked to the FBI files.

US patrols use different
technologies to watch the border

This technology was fully implemented by the end of fiscal year 2005. The programme was started in 2001. Now it is along the entirety of the border. Currently we are imposing UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles.) Additional UAVs are planned to facilitate our effective operation along the border. 

RVS (remote video surveillance) cameras are deployed in remote regions to see exactly what's going on and the degree of the response [needed], whether it be a threat of 12 people or an animal. We are also planning to implement more.

I speak of infrastructure - roads, fencing, lighting and technology which helps us do our job better and more efficiently. One of these elements alone is not going to be effective.
 
Monica Hernandez, technical associate and communications specialist, California, 30 

We are witnessing things escalate from patrols, more policemen, national guardsmen, to a militarised zone. People within the community are growing ever more infuriated with these policies and see this as a very personal and racist attack.
 

Monica Hernandez: People see
these policies as racist

There have been numerous examples and incidents over the past year where the National Guard, Minutemen or the border patrols shot first and asked questions later.

We as a community feel like we are constantly under attack already. Once these numbers are put into place, like the doubling of the National Guard along the border and the increase of patrols, it raises the potential for many more negative things to be unleashed and happen. 

We have been witness to various degrees of violence. We have called the police, we have complained to the local authorities and they never want to have anything to do with it. There is no accountability in response to these instances of escalating violence.
 
Pedro Rios, spokesperson for the American Friends Services Committee, California, 33 

The militarisation of the border is a process that has been occurring for about 12 years now in a gradually intensifying way. The impact has been that we have seen an increase in violations of people's civil and human rights. This year is going to be a record-breaking year in terms of the number of people that have died trying to come into the US over the border.  

Pedro Rios: The government
sees all outsiders as terrorists

What is happening with the wall is that the immigration is channelled through more treacherous terrains, and people are forced into harsher, and often life threatening environments.

There also tends to be a culture within the government, the institution, the immigration bodies that have the viewpoint since 9/11 that all people from outside are potential terrorists, and it is interesting to see how immigration has shifted in focus since 9/11 and the border is now becoming doubly militarised and is treated within the scope of the "war on terror".

There is evidence that border patrol agents have used their weapons more this fiscal year than in the past. This increase in militarisation is feeding a cycle of violence and racism that is dangerous overall for the immigrant communities within the US.