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Baja governor inherits controversial ‘high-risk zones' for emigrants

November 25, 2001|By ARTURO BOJORQUEZ, Staff Writer

MEXICALI — Besides handing over government command of the state government, former Baja California Gov. Alejandro Gonzalez Alcocer delivered to new Gov. Eugenio Elorduy Walther a controversy — "the high-risk zones."

The areas, one in the Mesa de Andrade (west Mexicali County) and the other in La Rumorosa (in the mountains between the Tecate and Mexicali municipalities), would be established to keep emigrants from crossing the border into the United States illegally.

But not everyone thinks the setup is legal.

In August, Gonzalez declared the zones would be established to protect emigrants.

Raul Ramírez Bahena, Baja California's ombudsman for human rights, said the zones would only make "polleros," or alien smugglers, find new routes to bring emigrants to the United States.

"It will eventually increase the price to cross emigrants and corruption among public safety agents," said Ramirez on Thursday.

The civil protection unit, the equivalent of the Office of Emergency Services in California, is the government agency that would coordinate enforcement of the new program.


Ramirez, though, said a civil agency cannot legally conduct public-safety programs such as the enforcement of the high-risk zones.

"This is only a measure to push the migratory accord between Mexico and the United States," he said.

The Mexican congress' border commission is analyzing the high-risk zones proclamation. There are at least four constitutional articles violated by the proclamation, according to the ombudsman's office.

The first and most important question regards Article 11 of the Mexican constitution, which states every citizen has the right to travel in Mexican territory. Only the president could propose changing that article.

The second is Article 1, which states all individuals have constitutional guarantees.

Third is Article 29, which states that such rules are a federal matter and changes have to be voted by congress. That hasn't been done.

Jose Antonio Figueroa Valenzuela, deputy state ombudsman in Mexicali, said the proclamation goes far beyond what is permitted of a governor in the federal constitution.

Figueroa said a new code is needed to make clear the rules on restricting emigrants.

He trusts Elorduy will not enforce this rule because of the controversy surrounding the issue.

"How are they going to distinguish between somebody who has been lost, a hunter or someone in an emergency in those zones?" he asked.

Figueroa said emigrants don't ignore the risks of crossing the border illegally.

One of the examples is the high emigration levels through the Arizona border, mainly caused by increased border security in California.

"With all respect, the ones who have to worry about deaths is the United States, and with these governmental actions we look as if we were the U.S. policemen," Figueroa said.

Only a couple emigrant deaths occur in Mexicali each year.

He said a better method to prevent deaths and emigration would be a binational accord, such as the one both governments are trying to implement.

The long-term solution is not temporary jobs but negotiating treaties related to labor issues.

Figueroa said Mexicali police extort money from emigrants when the emigrants try to cross the border, but victims don't make official complaints because they only want to cross the border undetected.

Still, far from planning to kill the proclamation, the state government is looking for ways to apply it.

Elorduy said his office is reviewing the inherited proclamation with the Mexican department of the interior.

"We want to keep very active the Beta groups, which had a good performance. Everything is perfectible and improvable," Elorduy said.

The Beta groups try to protect border-crossers from border bandits and other perils.

He said his office is trying to make sure the state government is enforcing emigrants' security.

"We hadn't made a decision if the proclamation has to continue or not, but we will decide with the federal government," he said.

In regard to the constitutional issues regarding the zones, Elorduy said he has met with the ombudsman's office, specifically with ombudsman Ramirez Baena.

"We told him our position against the project," Ramirez said.

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