President Bush’s nephew, campaigning for overseas votes in Mexico on Saturday, said the federal policy of arming U.S. Border Patrol agents with plastic pellet guns was “reprehensible.”
Speaking a mix of English and Spanish, George P. Bush said his uncle was not to blame for the gun policy. He instead blamed it on “some local INS [Immigration and Naturalization Service] guy who’s trying to be tough, act macho.”
The pellet guns, which were approved at the federal level, have been used on a trial basis since 2001 in California and Arizona. Border Patrol agents fired the pepper balls in 81 instances from 2002 to 2003 and reported no deaths or severe injuries.
“If there has been American approval for this policy, that is reprehensible,” Bush said of the pellets, essentially paintball projectiles filled with chile powder. “It’s kind of barbarous.”
Mexican and U.S. diplomats held high-level meetings on Aug. 13 over the use of such guns after apparent linguistic confusion over the projectiles fueled tensions with Mexico. Reports there have referred to them as “balas de goma,” or rubber bullets.
The Mexican government has faced criticism from local media and rights groups for not strongly opposing the use of the pellet guns against undocumented migrants.
President Bush’s nephew, whose mother is from Mexico and whose grandfather was a migrant worker, is in the country for a week to drum up support for his uncle among an estimated 1 million Americans there.
The younger Bush, whose father is Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, acknowledged at a news conference that the war in Iraq was not popular in Mexico but defended the military action, saying, “We’re almost done with it.”
Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic presidential nominee, also has enlisted family members to woo voters in Mexico. His sister, Diana Kerry, chairwoman of Americans Overseas for Kerry, visited Mexico City in July.