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Mexico will issue survival kits to border crossers

From Harris Whitbeck
CNN Mexico City Bureau Chief

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Mexican government plan to help immigrants who are trying to cross into the United States has rapidly become a diplomatic issue.

Last year, 369 people died struggling across the swirling rivers and scorching deserts that constitute the U.S.-Mexico border. Just Wednesday, 12 men died near Yuma, Arizona, as they were being smuggled north.

Correspondent Eric Phillips reports on a group of illegal immigrants abandoned by a smuggler in the Arizona desert (May 24)

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CNN's Harris Whitbeck has more on the kits and why they are becoming a diplomatic issue (May 24)

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The new plan is to issue survival kits to would-be migrants. The kits, put together by the Mexican Social Security administration, include antidotes for snake bites, rehydration tablets, first-aid materials and dried foods to use on protracted crossings.

"We know their health needs, we know their education issues. We understand," said Juan Hernandez, of the Mexican Presidential Office for Mexicans Abroad.

Beginning June 18, some 200,000 kits will be distributed by health workers along the border.

Encouraging people to break the law?

The plan has officials from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service less than happy.

"It gives the perception to our U.S. public that the Mexican government is encouraging people to break U.S. laws by entering the country illegally," said Hipolito Scosta, the INS district director.

Mexican officials insist that is not the case.

"It is in no way designed specifically to help Mexicans get into the United States illegally," Hernandez said. From his perspective, Mexico needs to do more for the tens of thousands who attempt the dangerous crossing each year because they contribute to the economies on both sides of the border.

"They are the new pioneers of America," he said. "These are individuals who are not second-class citizens, and they are working very hard."

But the United States is hoping for a different approach. Diplomats say they would prefer to see Mexico do more to warn would-be illegal migrants of the dangers involved, and to increase crackdowns on migrant smugglers.

Mexico says it is doing what is right -- taking care of its own.

• Interview with Juan Hernandez
• Immigration and Naturalization Service
• The National Immigration Forum

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