Union Tribune

January 22, 2003 

Promise made for 'solidarity' at border
Ridge, Mexican meet on security

By JERRY KAMMER 
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE 

WASHINGTON Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge and his
Mexican counterpart pledged yesterday to work together to
secure the border against terrorism while speeding the $650
million in daily trade between the two countries.

Meeting Ridge at the White House, Mexican Interior Minister
Santiago Creel promised "solidarity" at the border and noted that
establishment of the Department of Homeland Security means
that for the first time his office has a direct counterpart in the
U.S. government.

"This will permit us without a doubt to work with much more
efficiency," said Creel, standing at Ridge's side during a brief
news conference outside the West Wing. 

Ridge and Creel later brought their staffs together to discuss
implementation of a "smart border" agreement that President
Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox signed last year in an
effort to coordinate efforts along the world's busiest border.

Every year more than 300 million people, 90 million cars and
4.3 million trucks cross through ports of entry along the
1,950-mile border. 

The smart border agreement is in large part a joint effort to
block terrorists from launching a cross-border attack that could
be devastating to both countries.

Ridge said he had suggested the meeting to ensure Creel, who is
considered to be a likely contender in Mexico's 2006
presidential election, that the new U.S. Cabinet-level agency will
be committed to working with Mexico.

Creel, meanwhile, hinted that he hoped Ridge would revive the
talks Mexico initiated two years ago in an effort to reach an
agreement to benefit the estimated 4.5 million Mexicans living
illegally in the United States. 

He promised Ridge that Mexico would work "with much
solidarity on the issues of security and migration."

The effort at border cooperati on received mixed reviews from a
businessman who is active in cross-border commerce.

"It's going in the right direction, but they have a long way to go,"
said Sam Vale, who owns the port of entry at Rio Grande City,
Texas.

Vale, who is also a member of the Border Trade Alliance, a
Phoenix-based organization that promotes trade, said mutual
suspicions at the border make cooperation there less efficient
than what the United States and Canada have achieved in the
aftermath of the 2001 terror attacks.

In a telephone interview, Vale said that while U.S. officials worry
that their agents will succumb to corruption in Mexico, Mexican
officials want to avoid being portrayed at home as being
subordinate to the United States.

"There is trust at the higher levels of the two governments, but at
the grass roots it's just beginning to develop," he said.

Copyright 2003 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.