San Diego Union-Tribune

April 5, 2001

Immigration kicks off U.S.-Mexico talks


WASHINGTON -- A new era of cooperation promised in February by President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox got under way yesterday as top U.S. and Mexican officials began negotiating issues that have long strained relations between their countries.

Secretary of State Colin Powell and Attorney General John Ashcroft met for about an hour yesterday morning with Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda and Mexican Interior Minister Santiago Creel. Also attending were Mexican Ambassado  Juan José Bremer Martino and U.S. Border Patrol chief Gus de la Vina.

The meeting at the State Department was an attempt to build on momentum generated by February's summit between Bush and Fox. At that meeting in Fox's hometown of San Cristóbal, both leaders promised new thinking and action on such divisive issues as illegal immigration, drug trafficking and cross-border trucking.

Fox ended 71 years of the Institutional Revolutionary Party's control of the presidency when he took office Dec. 1, and he has vowed to transform the relationship between the two countries into one resembling a friendly partnership.

Yesterday's meeting focused on what to do about the large numbers of
Mexicans working illegally in the United States. One solution supported by the Mexican government is a guest-worker program.

Proponents of a guest-worker program say it could reduce violence at the border and exploitation in the workplace. U.S. farmers say they need a program to expand their pool of workers.

But farm-worker advocates and groups seeking reduced immigration argue that a guest-worker program would undermine wages and working conditions for farm workers and exacerbate illegal immigration.

Castañeda and Creel said the two sides agreed to three meetings to work on this and other issues. The first will be later this month when Bush and Fox attend the third Summit of the Americas in Quebec. A second will be this summer and a third in autumn.

Castañeda said he "found an extraordinarily receptive attitude on the part of Secretary Powell and . . . Ashcroft."

State Department officials did not comment.

A group of U.S. lawmakers immediately criticized the meeting, saying that more Mexican workers in the United States "will hurt American workers by openly inviting more illegal aliens to wrongfully cross our border."

The House members, who have organized a group called the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, fear that Mexican workers will be a burden to government programs and take jobs from legal workers at a time when the economy is slowing and unemployment rates are rising, especially among low-skilled workers.