- The Washington Times - Friday, September 7, 2001

Mexican President Vicente Fox yesterday asked a rare joint meeting of Congress to trust its neighbor in matters of drug interdiction, immigration and trade.

"I am aware that for many Americans, and for many Mexicans, the idea of trusting their neighbor may seem risky and perhaps unwise," Mr. Fox told the standing-room-only crowd in the House chamber.

"I am sure that many on both sides of the border would rather stick to the old saying that good fences make good neighbors. But circumstances have changed."

Mr. Fox is lobbying Congress and the White House this week to grant amnesty to 3 million illegal immigrants from Mexico in the next four months.

Members of Congress and President Bush say it is doubtful such a plan could be formalized before year's end. Mr. Bush said the issue is complicated because it penalizes legal immigrants who are legally applying for citizenship.

However, Mr. Bush said illegal immigration is a problem that must be addressed.

"We have heard his call," Mr. Bush said as Mr. Fox looked on during a joint news conference.

Since Mr. Fox took office on July 2, 2000, Mexico has enhanced cooperation with U.S. federal authorities to arrest key drug kingpins and extradite drug traffickers to the United States.

Mr. Fox said Mexico is committed to helping the United States stem the flow of drugs over the border, and asked Congress to suspend its annual drug certification for three years, which requires Mexico to demonstrate full compliance in the war on drugs.

Mr. Bush and Republican leaders say they are willing to revisit the drug certification requirement. Decertification can lead to economic or trade sanctions.

"That whole certification process is flawed," said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert. The Illinois Republican also suggested a worker-permit program to allow Mexican workers access between countries.

Trust was the dominant theme of the 30-minute speech delivered by Mr. Fox in both Spanish and English. It was received warmly by Democrats and Republicans, despite their passage last month of legislation tightening safety restrictions on Mexican trucks that critics say violated the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"Simple trust, that is what 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 and weeks and years to come," Mr. Fox said.

"Only trust will allow us to constructively tackle the challenges our two nations face as we undertake to build a new partnership in North America," Mr. Fox said.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, praised Mr. Fox's speech for tackling controversial issues in a nonconfrontational manner.

"Mexico will become our number one trade partner later this year. It is in both our interests to make it work. We have finally woken up to the reality we are neighbors," Mr. Lieberman said.

Mr. Fox said he is committed to reforming "the crippling disease of corruption" in Mexico. "Both our nations now fully share, without qualification, the fundamental values of freedom and democracy."

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said Mr. Fox touched on every point that needed to be addressed and was deserving of congressional trust.

Mr. Lott said he realizes there is a lot of pressure to move forward on immigration reform and a guest worker program, but that it is more important to "get it right and accepted by Congress."

Mr. Fox said unresolved issues must be dealt with before the two countries can work together to achieve common goals.

"And for this, we need trust," Mr. Fox said.

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