The recent deaths of 10 Mexicans found in the California desert have drawn attention to Mexico's longstanding position of not discouraging its citizens from undertaking the illegal - and increasingly dangerous - journey across the border.

Fernando Solis Camara, who heads Mexico's migration service, surprised officials on both sides of the border with the answer he gave a Mexican reporter who asked what the government was doing to protect those who try to emigrate in the savage heat of summer.

"At no time will we take any action that could discourage Mexicans from emigrating to the United States," said Solis. "That is because these are people who leave their families and their homes with the legitimate goal of bettering their lives."

More than 90 Mexicans trying to emigrate illegally have been found dead in the California desert near the border so far this year, according to Mexican officials.

Solis' unusually blunt statements reopened one of the country's most sensitive diplomatic quandaries. Millions of illegal border crossings are virtually unimpeded on the Mexican side while the U.S. Border Patrol continues to put more money and personnel into securing the border.

Solis was not available to explain his statements, made last week, but at a recent bill-signing ceremony in Mexico City, his superior, Francisco Labastida Ochoa, minister of the powerful Interior Department, found himself having to explain what Solis really meant.

"When he says that immigration is not going to be impeded, it simply means that no one is going to limit the freedom of those who seek to improve their lives by migrating to another country," Labastida said. "This doesn't mean that we are not bothered by what is happening or that we are not undertaking efforts to avoid and reduce the human cost of this migration."

Mexico's consul general in Los Angeles, Jose Angel Pescador, has been put in the difficult spot of having to explain Mexico's position to the relatives of those who died, as well as to U.S. officials and California residents.

In a telephone interview from his office, Pescador said that Article 11 of the Mexican constitution guarantees all Mexicans freedom of movement and the right to go where they want, which the government interprets as including the right to illegally cross the U.S. border without being stopped by Mexican officials.

But he said the constitution, in Article 4, also guarantees every Mexican's right to safety and good health.

"And besides," Pescador said, "here in the U.S., there also are laws that give the Border Patrol the responsibility to prevent people without documents from entering the country."

The families of two of the Mexicans who were found dead under a cedar tree on the U.S. side of the border early this month have asked the consul to investigate the increasing dangers on the border and to identify the smugglers responsible for leaving the illegal migrants to die.

"The death of even one Mexican crossing the border should weigh on the conscience of both countries," Pescador said.

Recently, the United States and Mexico agreed to cooperate in a campaign to warn Mexicans, and their families in the United States, about the dangers of crossing the border.