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LOS ANGELES — Thousands of armed guards, helicopters and infrared detectors are all used by U.S. officials in their efforts to control illegal immigration over the Mexican-U.S. border.
But now the Mexican government may get involved – not to stop illegal immigrants, but to help them sneak into America.
Mexico is proposing what it calls "survival kits" for illegal immigrants that would contain medicine, bandages, dehydration powder, food and water.
"If they are heroes – and I believe they are – if they are helping fuel the economy of the U.S., then I think their health needs should be met," said Mexican Government Minister Juan Hernandez.
The kits would also contain 25 condoms for men and birth control pills for women.
"AIDS is something that we import to Mexico," Hernandez said. "Our migrants go to the United States, get infected, come back and pass it on to their family members."
While Mexican officials say the kits exist only to improve survival rates among illegal immigrants, critics say the plan ignores the real problem: a country plagued by poverty and unemployment sharing a border with the world richest nation.
"The Mexican government should not be in a position to encourage people No. 1, to risk their lives and No. 2, to violate U.S. immigration policies," said Ira Mehlman, of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
The proposal is not just drawing fire in the U.S., but in Mexico as well.
The Mexican newspaper Milenio sarcastically compared the kits to the immigration version of McDonald’s "Happy Meals" – writing they would contain sunblock and a ball to throw the border dogs instead of McDonald’s figurines.
"It’s really stupid and idiotic to think there could be a survival kit that would be distributed like this," said Milenio Editor Carlos Marin.
Still, Mexican President Vicente Fox is taking immigration seriously, setting up a cabinet-level office for Mexicans abroad. That way, said Hernandez, the government "can have the moral authority to demand outside Mexico that our paisanos be treated right."
But the proposal’s opponents say the concept only paves the way for more dangerous behavior among immigrants trying to cross into the United States illegally.
"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 and rescue people," Mehlman said.
Fourteen immigrants died recently trying to cross the Arizona desert, and a total of almost 400 perished in their journey over the border last year.