- The Washington Times - Friday, September 7, 2001

When President George W. Bush met this week with Mexican President Vicente Fox, the ceremony may have been majestic, but the context was undeniably ominous. An economic slowdown is having a significant effect on the Mexican economy. And, while Mexico's diminished prospects for growth this year are scarcely comparable to the traumatic crises of years past, it represents a political cost for Mr. Fox all the same.
So it is with this backdrop in mind that Mr. Fox's surprising statement about his ambitions for his U.S. trip should be considered. Mr. Fox challenged Mr. Bush to work out a bilateral migration agreement before the end of the year. "We can and must reach an agreement," Mr. Fox said. This comment apparently caught the White House completely off-guard, especially since Mr. Fox said on Monday that he expected it would take four to six years to complete comprehensive U.S.-Mexican immigration reform.
Still, in remarks to a joint meeting of the U.S. House and Senate yesterday, Mr. Fox repeated his request, going so far as to invoke the word "trust" several times. Mr. Fox urged Congress to advance the North American Free Trade Agreement by granting legal status to millions of Mexicans and suspending the annual U.S. test of Mexico's anti-drug worthiness. He also urged Congress not to ban Mexican trucks from U.S. roads. "We need your trust," Mr. Fox said. "Trust will allow both countries to comply responsibly and maturely with their obligations to one another."
Mr. Bush, who is keen to appeal to the ever-growing Hispanic electorate through his friendship with the Mexican president, would very much like to give Mr. Fox something to brandish back home. Consequently, he did threaten to veto legislation that would be contrary to NAFTA by banning Mexican trucks. However, as Mr. Bush himself had to inform Mr. Fox, an amnesty for Mexicans illegally residing in the United States is pretty much out of the question. Even temporary worker visas face a good deal of congressional opposition. So, Mr. Bush's promises had to be a good deal more vague. "We're going to sign a document, there'll be a statement, there will be all kinds of different subjects that will be covered," he said, pledging to build a unique relationship between Mexico and the United States.
Now, Mr. Bush's decision to assign the U.S.-Mexican relationship such a high priority will likely prove to be prescient. Mr. Fox has committed himself to becoming a cooperative and proactive partner with the United States in a number of key areas, such as immigration, counternarcotics and more general foreign policy concerns. And Mr. Fox has proven to be a sincere, effective and democratically-minded leader. It is no wonder Mr. Bush wanted to reward Mr. Fox.
Mr. Bush should refrain from making any agreement in haste, however. The pressure Mr. Fox is under is unfortunate, but it won't last indefinitely. Despite the dashed hopes for heady growth, Mr. Fox will certainly figure larger in Mexican history than the current economic downturn.

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