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October 2001, Volume 8, Number 10

Fox Visits Bush

Presidents Bush and Fox met in Washington DC on September 5, 2001, and then traveled together to Toledo, Ohio to promote free trade. Immigration was the major topic of the visit, but instead of announcing a new guest worker program or a legalization program, the two presidents issued a set of principles and a framework for guiding the development of proposals to regulate the flow of Mexico-US migrants.

In welcoming Fox to Washington, Bush said that the US "has no more important relationship in the world than the one we have with Mexico." After Fox left, the Bush administration announced its "immigration principles" that stressed that unauthorized migrants in the US should "not gain advantage over those who play by the rules in any new program…Our most important obligation is to those who follow the rules and abide by the law."

The statement continued, "the huge majority of Mexicans among us are hard-working people who contribute to our communities and economy, and simply want the best for their families… Mexico wants to make migration a positive contributor to its development, a source of prosperity for Mexican families, new skills and fresh entrepreneurial spirit. We want Mexico to succeed. It is in our national interest for Mexico to succeed."

The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks pushed US-Mexico issues into the background. The Mexican newspaper Reforma expressed the conventional wisdom: "It's difficult to imagine that, at this point, President Bush would support a program to legalize millions of immigrants."

Both sides had dampened expectations before the meeting. Bush said: "Immigration reform is a very complex subject. This is going to take a while to bring all the different interests to the table…our desire is to make it easier for an employer looking for somebody who wants to work and somebody who wants to work to come together, but that in itself is a complex process." US Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said: "We've made a great deal of progress with respect to principles. We are now getting ready to move from principles into specifics and programs, and how would one design such programs."

Many commentators asserted that Bush was open to legalization because he needs Hispanic votes to be re-elected in 2004. There were 35.3 million Hispanics in the US in 2000, including 21 million or 58 percent born in Mexico or with Mexican heritage- the number of Mexican-Americans rose by seven million in the 1990s. The other major Hispanic groups in 2000 were Puerto Ricans,10 percent; Cubans, four percent; and Dominicans, two percent.

Political analysts said that, to win re-election, Bush must raise his share of the Hispanic vote from 35 percent in 2000 to 40 percent in 2004. Relatively few voting-age Hispanic adults cast ballots- only 25 percent of the 23 million Latinos of voting age voted in 2000, compared to 51 percent of all US adults (many of the Latinos are not US citizens).

Fox said it would take four to six years to complete a comprehensive U.S.-Mexico immigration reform, including legalization for some undocumented Mexican workers in the United States. He said: "Mexico is doing its part working on migration, working to generate opportunities to reduce migration." Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda in June 2001 said that Mexico's four-pronged immigration agenda included legalization, a guest-worker program, ending border violence and exempting Mexico from visa quotas, and added, "It's the whole enchilada or nothing." In September 2001, he said: "It's not an all-or-nothing deal."

Fox surprised Bush in September 2001 when he said: "The time has come to give migrants and their communities their proper place in the history of our bilateral relations…we must, and we can, reach an agreement on migration before the end of this very year...[so that] there are no Mexicans who have not entered this country legally in the United States, and that those Mexicans who come into the country do so with proper documents." Fox continued: "Regularization does not mean rewarding those who break the law. Regularization means that we give legal rights to people who are already contributing to this great nation."

Reactions. Most US experts said that President Fox acted the equal of President Bush during his visit to Washington DC. One said: "In the past it has been the United States that made all the specific proposals, and the Mexicans who said 'yes,' but never said when. This time, President Fox made all the proposals, and it was his good friend President Bush who had to say 'yes,' but couldn't say when."

Most commentators highlighted the new trust in the Mexico-US relationship, and noted that the Mexican and US governments pledged closer cooperation to fight against the drug trade. Many predicted that the US would end the annual process of examining whether Mexico was cooperating to end the drug trade.

On immigration, most commentators agreed that Mexico won a commitment from Bush to push for the entry of workers with more than guest worker status. One US official said: "There has to be a nexus between temporary workers and a route to a green card. The temporary worker program [alone] is a dead letter." Bush said he was "willing to consider ways for a guest worker to earn green-card status."

However, Representative Tom Tancredo (R-CO), who heads the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, opposes amnesty and earned legalization. The Bush administration may try to win over opponents such as Tancredo by requiring illegal immigrants moving toward legal status to pay a fine, maintain sustained employment, learn English or even place some of their wages in an escrow account that would be available only if they move back to their home country.

There was also no announcement of a new "Marshall Plan" of US aid for Mexico to promote stay-at-home development. A Mexican negotiator said that US aid and investment in migrant-sending regions "has to be part of the overall solution… we [Mexico] want the migrant flow to decrease dramatically in the next decade." Fox has called for expansion of the North American Development Bank, and a new development assistance program modeled on the regional development funds the European Union set up to bolster the economies of new members, such as Spain and Portugal, and those in Eastern Europe.

In advance of the Bush-Fox meetings, researchers at UCLA's North American Integration and Development Center released a report urging legalization. It concluded that legalizing unauthorized workers in the US would raise their wages by 15 percent. Since the demand for unskilled labor is elastic (-1.67), a 15 percent wage increase would reduce the demand for unskilled labor by nine percent, they assert, so legalization would be a win-win proposition- benefiting workers and deterring future illegal immigration because there would be fewer jobs for unskilled workers at higher wages.

Interviews with unauthorized Mexicans in the US found that most wanted to be legalized, but many did not want more Mexicans admitted as guest workers for fear that new guest workers would depress wages. Many unauthorized workers worried that, if the Mexican government were involved in selecting guest workers, the recruitment system would be corrupt and bribes would be needed to get US jobs.

Most of the unauthorized Mexicans interviewed said that they were not returning to Mexico, reinforcing the opinion of Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers, that the unauthorized Mexicans in the US are "not interested in becoming guest workers" and not interested in returning to Mexico. Legalization is the UFW's "number one priority."

Mark Stevenson, "Attacks put US-Mexico issues on hold," Associated Press, September 19, 2001. Serio Bustos, "Fox's popularity won't guarantee quick action on immigrations," El Paso Times, September 8, 2001. "Conservatives support easing immigration restrictions," Agencia EFE, September 11, 2001. Ronald Brownstein, "Political Realities Intrude on Promise of Change," Los Angeles Times, September 7, 2001. Eric Schmitt and Ginger Thompson, "Mexico Takes Small Steps to Improving Its U.S. Ties," New York Times, September 5, 2001. William Booth, "Migrants Wary of Guest Worker Plan," Washington Post, September 2, 2001.