WASHINGTON – Shortly
after his first meeting with President Bush, Mexican
President-elect Felipe Calderón declared yesterday that
his administration will not pursue the single-minded
course on immigration that dogged the presidency of
Vicente Fox, whom he will replace Dec. 1.
“I'm not saying it was a mistake to make immigration
not just the central but almost the only topic” of the
relationship with the United States, Calderón said at a
White House news conference near the end of a two-day
But without mentioning Fox, Calderón distanced himself
from Fox's long and highly publicized insistence that the
United States adopt sweeping reforms to benefit millions
of Mexicans living in this country illegally and millions
more who want to come.
“I have no interest in predicting or assuring that
there will be powerful steps or great accomplishments,”
said Calderón, who briefly served under Fox as secretary
of energy. “I don't discard the possibility that they will
happen. But I prefer to announce them after they have been
While Fox's impassioned crusade drew praise in a
country whose immigrants had grown accustomed to
governmental indifference, it ultimately led to
frustration and disillusionment when Mexican hopes crashed
against the realities of U.S. immigration politics.
Calderón's dance card for the whirlwind visit included
meetings with Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice,
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and World
Bank President Paul Wolfowitz. Calderón had informal chats
with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former
Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan.
Calderón appeared relaxed and confident and seemed to
have no illusions about the challenges awaiting him as he
prepares for his six-year presidential term.
During his meeting with Bush, Calderón said he spoke of
Mexico's frustration with a U.S. law authorizing the
construction of 700 miles of fencing along the border.
Bush's signing of the legislation last month dominated the
news in Mexico, with critics saying he had betrayed his
commitments to Fox and the spirit of the North American
Free Trade Agreement. Many Mexicans believe NAFTA's
openness to the free movement of goods and capital must be
matched by an equally free movement of workers.
“I expressed our point of view that (the fencing) is
not and cannot be a solution to the problem,” Calderón
He added that Bush said the fences were part of a
strategy to address security concerns while setting the
stage for comprehensive legislation that would legalize
millions of illegal immigrants and allow more guest
workers to enter the United States. Bush has said he hopes
Congress, which the Democrats captured in Tuesday's
midterm election, will work with him on the legislation.
“I assured the president-elect that the words I said
. . . about a comprehensive immigration vision are words I
still believe strongly,” Bush said while posing for
pictures with Calderón in the Oval Office.
At his news conference, Calderón repeated a call for
investment in Mexico that he had made a day earlier in a
speech to leaders of Latino organizations. He said
Mexicans' flight from their homeland can be contained only
if they can find good-paying work south of the U.S.
“One kilometer of highway in Michoacan or Zacatecas can
do more to solve the immigration problem than 10
kilometers of wall in Texas or Arizona,” Calderón said.
Jeffrey Davidow, former U.S. ambassador to Mexico, said
Calderón is highly regarded in diplomatic circles for his
ability to size up problems and fashion solutions. “I
think he understands the United States,” Davidow said,
noting that Calderón studied at Harvard and worked with
U.S. lawmakers when he was a member of the Mexican
He said Calderón wants to ensure that Mexican-U.S.
relations, which require cooperation on fronts from trade
to combating organized crime, are not stalled by one
party's frustration with the other.
“The U.S. and Mexico . . . fell into the habit of
reducing their complex relationship to one issue at a
time,” said Davidow, president of the Institute of the
Americas in La Jolla. “In the 1990s, the U.S. reduced it
to narcotics. Then Fox reduced it to migration. Both of
those issues are too complex for easy fixes, and they
ended up souring the rest of the relationship.”
Calderón also faces a list of domestic challenges. He
declared that he is committed to fighting the brutal
economic inequalities that animated his leftist rival's
presidential campaign ahead of July's elections, which
Calderón won with a margin so slight that it fueled cries
of fraud and months of protests.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador has refused to recognize
the victory and has announced that he will conduct his own
inauguration ceremony Nov. 20 to take control of a
parallel Mexican government he is forming.
Calderón also faces a growing threat from drug
traffickers whose turf fights have thrown entire states
and large portions of the border into turmoil.
Many Mexicans, as well as officials in the U.S. State
Department, fear the creeping “Colombianization” of the
country, in which drug bosses have become so powerful,
bold and violent that they are corrupting entire police
forces and judicial systems, destroying public confidence
and stifling potential investment in legitimate business.
“He knows it is imperative that Mexican citizens feel
that they are safe in their own streets,” said George
Grayson, a Mexico expert at The College of William & Mary
in Virginia, who was one of those invited to meet with
“I am optimistic about Calderón,” Grayson said. “He's
very bright and perceptive and pragmatic. I think he's a
breath of fresh air.”