LOS ANGELES – The Mexican government has proposed distributing "survival kits" containing medicine and food to Mexicans illegally crossing the border into America.
Though thousands of armed guards patrol the border, illegal immigration remains a problem in cities from Texas to California. The idea that the Mexican government would step in — not to help the U.S. in controlling the border — but to help illegals on their way, has met with considerable opposition.
"The Mexican government should not be in a position to encourage people, number one, to risk their lives and number two, to violate U.S. immigration policies," said Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
Opponents also argue that, in addition to being dangerous, illegal immigration places an unfair burden on taxpayers through drainage of social services.
"These are the sorts of things that encourage people to go out there to risk their lives and then either the American government or the Mexican government is forced to go out there and rescue people," Mehlman said.
The proposal is drawing fire not only in the U.S., but in Mexico. So much fire, in fact, that the Mexican government is reconsidering the proposal, even though a U.S. foundation has already been lined up to help pay for the kits.
"It's really stupid and idiotic to think there could be a survival kit that would be distributed like this," said Carlos Marin, editor of Mexico's Milenio newspaper.
Another Mexican newspaper sarcastically compared the kits to Happy Meals containing sun block and a ball to throw to border dogs.
But Mexican Pres. Vicente Fox isn't laughing. He's taking the immigration problem seriously, and has set up a cabinet level office for Mexicans abroad.
"If they [illegal immigrants] are helping to fuel the economy of the U.S., then I think their health needs should be met," said Juan Hernandez, Mexico's minister of external affairs. "So we can have the moral authority to demand outside Mexico that our paisanos be treated right."
In addition to medicine, bandages, dehydration powder, food and water, the "survival kits" would contain 25 condoms for men and birth control for women.
"AIDS is something that we import to Mexico. Our migrants go to the United States get infected, come back and pass it on to their family members," said Hernandez.
The Mexican government says the kits exist only to improve the survival rates of those who attempt a border cross. Last year, nearly 400 Mexicans died trying to make it into the U.S.