What would Americans think if Mexican officials routinely fired pepper spray and tear gas into California neighborhoods as a way to root out, say, smugglers who were operating from the U.S. side of the border?
How would we, as Americans, feel if our houses were damaged, our neighborhoods evacuated and our children endangered because of the aggressive tactics of the Mexican police or military?
Most Americans would be outraged. U.S. officials would likely demand that Mexico cease and desist. The anger would be perfectly justified.
Mexican officials are not attacking the United States, but U.S. Border Patrol agents are attacking a neighborhood in Tijuana. Mexicans have every right to be as angry as we would be if the roles were reversed.
In response to smugglers who are pelting Border Patrol agents in order to create a diversion, the Americans are stepping up their efforts. “Agents have used pepper spray in the past, but usually aimed directly at the smugglers,” the Los Angeles Times reported Dec. 14. “The new tactics, which saturate large areas, have forced dozens of temporary evacuations and sent some residents to hospitals.” One woman captured the frustration succinctly as she told a border agent: “Put yourself in my place. I have two children.” She told the newspaper that the agent replied: “I’m the policeman of the world. No one can touch me.”
Well, Mexico is a sovereign nation. The Mexican Consulate has complained, and rightly so. The Bush administration should rescind this policy. The United States is not at war with Mexico, and it behooves our national interests to maintain friendly relations with our southern neighbor.
Border Patrol officials argued that the agents need to protect themselves, and that the smugglers should be blamed for hiding behind innocent people. Well, there are better ways to protect against criminals than to saturate entire neighborhoods with tear-gas canisters. For starters, the Border Patrol could engage in cooperative efforts with the Tijuana police or the Mexican federal authorities.
We understand that the issue of illegal immigration is extremely contentious, but even those advocating tougher U.S. enforcement measures should agree that there need to be limits. It’s hard to make the argument that Mexicans are trampling on our sovereignty while we so eagerly trample on theirs.