May 15, 2002


By Jerry Kammer
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON -- A week after Mexican President Vicente Fox sharply urged the United States to resume stalled immigration talks, both sides are bracing for a possible confrontation when lawmakers from the two countries meet this weekend in Mexico to discuss the issue.

All eyes will be on Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., who has become one of the most outspoken opponents of an immigration deal and who has angered Mexico in recent weeks with claims that Mexican troops and police are conducting frequent incursions across the U.S. border.

In an interview, Tancredo himself did not shy away from the possibility for a dustup at the annual Mexico-U.S. Inter-parliamentary Meeting, which is set to convene Friday in Fox's home state of Guanajuato.

""I think there is a concern about the potential for some sort of unpleasantness and they are probably right to worry,'' Tancredo said, acknowledging the discomfort of some of his U.S. colleagues about his presence on the U.S. delegation. A confrontation with the Mexican lawmakers, he said, ""certainly would not be surprising.''

""It's not my purpose to go down there and make somebody mad. My purpose is to get some questions answered. And in the diplomatic arena, asking the wrong question -- or what somebody else considers to be the wrong question -- can be unpleasant. I'm willing to be unpleasant to get some answers. I want to ask them: What are you going to do to stop the incursions? And why do you continue to meddle in American politics to the extent that you do (on immigration)?''

Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego, who will be among a dozen House members there, said Tancredo ""will raise issues in a way that I wouldn't. But there are a lot of Americans who see things his way and they (the Mexicans) have to hear him.''

Tancredo has been a passionate critic of legalization proposals as chairman of the House's Immigration Reform Caucus.

Earlier this month, Tancredo provoked an angry Mexican response with his demand that Fox himself explain the border ""incursions'' and with his suggestion that their aim has been ""to protect the traffic of drugs across the border and into the U.S.''

Mexican Ambassador Juan Jose Bremer chided Tancredo for ""the unpolite and inadequate tone'' of Tancredo's letter to Fox. He says the border crossings have been the unintentional result of efforts to pursue drug traffickers in remote and rugged areas where the international boundary is poorly marked.

In an interview, another official in the Mexican embassy expressed concern about Tancredo's participation at this weekend's meetings.

""We hope Mr. Tancredo is not confrontational,'' said the official, who asked not to be identified. ""But if he is, our Congress members will be prepared to respond.''

While acknowledging that immigration is an issue ""of enormous sensitivity,'' Tancredo turned the tables, accusing Mexico of ""meddling in American politics'' by lobbying for large-scale legalization of Mexicans.

Fox has praised illegal Mexican immigrants for their hard work and sacrifice in sending money -- about $9 billion last year -- back to Mexico.

But Tancredo criticized Fox's May 9 statements in New York that an immigration agreement is key to continued warm relations between the two countries.

""Our relationship should never be based on anything that requires the U.S. to reward people who come here illegally,'' he said. ""It is improper for the president of one country to ask the president of another country to essentially ignore his country's laws.''

In the past, U.S. participants at the Inter-parliamentary meetings have complained that the conferences are dull affairs, stifled by excessive formality and a lack of open discussions. Now there is concern that the event could produce fireworks. While the working discussions are not public, there is expected to be at least one press conference.

""These talks have become more real and more frank over time,'' said Rep. Filner, who added that he is attending his sixth or seventh meeting.

Tancredo said he would be participating at the invitation of Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz, chairman of the House delegation.

After Tancredo accepted the invitation, the delegation was expanded to include Rep. Howard Berman, D-Mission Hills, and Utah Republican Rep. Chris Cannon, two of the most outspoken advocates of efforts to legalize Mexican immigrants.