The San Diego Union-Tribune
September 7, 2001
Trust us, Fox urges Congress
Mexican president calls for agreements on
immigration, trucks, drug certification
By DANA WILKIE and JOE CANTLUPE
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON -- With a candor that surprised observers, Mexican
President Vicente Fox yesterday appealed to Congress to help strengthen his
country's new democracy by easing disputes over the drug war, trucking and
Speaking to a joint meeting of Congress, Fox called for a three-year
suspension of Congress' drug-certification vote, for opening U.S. highways to
Mexican trucks and for allowing more Mexicans to work in this country on
permanent and temporary visas.
Fox punctuated every one of his proposals -- all of them controversial in this
country -- with a call for trust between the neighboring nations.
"Simple trust . . . has been sorely absent in our relationship in the past, and
that is what is required for us to propel and strengthen our relationship in the
days, weeks and years to come," Fox told House and Senate members, the
president's Cabinet and diplomats who assembled in the House chamber to
hear his remarks. "Only trust will allow us to constructively tackle the
challenges our two nations face."
President Bush's reaction to Fox's specific requests was guarded but open:
He said he is considering a program in which some undocumented workers
could be eligible for certain visas that would allow them to stay in this country
legally, though temporarily.
"If somebody is willing to do work -- jobs others in America aren't willing to
do -- we ought to welcome that person to the country and we ought to make
that a legal part of our economy," Bush said.
Such a plan would offer hope to as many as 3 million Mexicans who are in
this country illegally and who live under the threat of deportation. But Bush
did not address how he would justify giving legal status to undocumented
workers while millions of Mexicans and other foreigners wait for legal entry.
Fox, who has been working with Bush on a plan for a temporary
guest-worker program, surprised the White House on Wednesday by calling
for an immigration agreement by the end of the year. Bush said yesterday he
would "put 100 percent effort into" meeting that goal, though he added the
complexities of the issue could hold things up in Congress, which is divided on
how to handle undocumented workers.
Speaking in Spanish and English -- and often with a bluntness that surprised
observers -- Fox said he did not believe that "good fences make good
He asked Congress to pass a Senate bill that would suspend for three years a program requiring Mexico to get annual certification that it is cooperating in
the war against drugs.
"Trust requires that one partner not be judged unilaterally by the other," said
Fox, who used the word "trust" at least 25 times in his half-hour speech. "We
ask that you demonstrate your trust in us by passing this legislation as a
gesture of your faith and confidence in this new country."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who supports drug certification, said she is
willing to suspend the annual vote because she has seen improvements in the
drug problem since Fox's election. She noted there have been at least 14
extraditions of key drug traffickers, which would have been unheard of under
the old regime.
"I would do so because he asks, and in the new spirit of cooperation between our two nations," Feinstein said.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, said he and other congressional
conservatives would consider Fox's request, provided U.S. law enforcers
believe it is practical.
Fox asked Congress to increase the number of permanent and temporary
visas awarded to Mexicans. At the same time, he called for more safety
measures along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border, for cracking down on
drug smuggling and for Mexicans working here to eventually return to their
"We need you to come home one day and play a part in building a strong
Mexico," Fox said, to applause.
Fox's remarks capped a two-day state visit -- the first of the Bush
presidency. Following his speech, both presidents traveled to Toledo, Ohio,
an industrial and Democratic city with a growing Latino population. Part of
Bush's strategy for winning coming elections is to strengthen Republican ties
with Latino voters.
For Fox -- elected last year after 71 years of rule by Mexico's Institutional
Revolutionary Party -- this week's visit was an attempt to push his political
agenda in the United States and at home, where his party does not have a
majority in the Mexican Congress.
"Fox is a bold politician," said Frank Sharry, head of the National Immigration
Forum, which supports legalizing undocumented workers. "He's got a lot of
political capital invested in this. He's got a lot of people back home wondering
if he's going to deliver."
As with Bush, lawmakers in Congress seemed open to some of Fox's
appeals, if cautious.
"Just as Ronald Reagan said, 'Trust, but verify,' " said Rep. Darrell Issa,
R-Vista, who said Congress needs to ensure that Mexicans stay in this
country only temporarily. "If we're going to have a guest-worker program,
that's not a nice name for immigration until you retire (to) Mexico."
Bush vowed yesterday he will veto any attempt by Congress to continue
restricting Mexican trucks from traveling deep into the United States.
Fox has made clear his determination to open the United States to Mexican
"I think there's a strong desire to help (Fox)," Hunter said. "Tempering that is
the understanding that it's a long way between Mexico City and the border.
The realities of the border areas make it difficult for one man to change things
dramatically in a short period of time."
Democrats such as Rep. Bob Filner of San Diego won't support a
guest-worker program unless Mexicans are guaranteed good treatment and
decent wages. But pro-immigration groups were encouraged by Bush's
response to Fox's speech.
"We think the door is very clearly open, and that the president himself has left
that door open," said Cecilia Muņoz, vice president for policy of the National
Council of La Raza, whose top priority is a legalization program for
Sharry, however, warned that "the Bush administration will clearly have to
stand up to the vocal right wing of the party," which opposes such a plan.
In San Diego, labor, religious and immigration rights activists said they were
frustrated by the failure of Fox and Bush to reach an agreement on the
"They have a responsibility after raising the hopes of so many," said local
labor leader Mary Grillo during an afternoon rally at Chicano Park yesterday.
Today, Fox planned to have breakfast with congressional leaders and address a Miami forum on hemispheric issues before returning to Mexico.
Bush announced yesterday that he and Fox had settled a dispute over
Mexican avocado imports. Currently, Mexico can ship avocados to 19 states
from November through February. The agreement would permit Mexico to
expand its avocado shipments to an additional 12 states, and to extend the
shipping season by two months.
California avocado growers oppose the plan, arguing it would increase the
threat of fruit fly infestations.
Staff writer Leonel Sanchez contributed to this report.