Thursday, February 9, 2006

The Mexican government has hired a Dallas-based public relations firm to polish its image amid rising concerns in the United States over illegal immigration and a growing sentiment in Congress to better secure the border with Mexico.

Allyn & Co., whose founder, Rob Allyn, has ties to both the Bush administration and Mexican President Vicente Fox, is being paid $720,000 to stop what Mexican Embassy officials in Washington have described as “Mexico bashing.”

“I can’t think of a worse time of Mexico bashing in recent history than now,” embassy spokesman Rafael Laveaga told The Washington Times. “Unfortunately, we don’t find any positive viewpoints.”

The Fox administration has criticized efforts in Congress to upgrade the government’s control of the U.S.-Mexico border, including pending legislation that would authorize the construction of nearly 700 miles of high-security fencing and designate illegal entry as a felony.

“What is not resolved by intelligent policies and by leaders is resolved by citizens. That is how the Berlin Wall fell, and that is how this wall will fall,” Mr. Fox recently told reporters in Mexico City.

Mr. Fox has pushed for immigration reform in favor of millions of Mexicans now living and working illegally in the United States, while President Bush is backing a guest-worker program to match migrants in this country with jobs for a set period. The guest-worker plan faces stiff opposition inside the Republican Party.

Mr. Allyn was traveling yesterday and was not available for comment, but he told reporters in Dallas that he hoped to focus on public opinion “which influences policy outcomes in Congress.”

Citing what he called a “huge misperception” among Americans about Mexico, Mr. Allyn said the program would, among other things, address trade ties and the importance of Mexican labor to the U.S. economy.

Mexican nationals working in the United States are a huge source of revenue for that country, sending home an estimated $16 billion a year — Mexico’s second largest source of foreign currency after oil exports. Mexico has vigorously lobbied U.S. lawmakers and civic leaders for guest-worker status for the 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens living in the United States, working through a coalition of U.S.-based immigration rights groups.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a candidate from the Party of the Democratic Revolution who is leading in the polls to succeed Mr. Fox in elections this year, also has ruled out “walls or repressive measures” as solutions to the problem of illegal entry.

“If there is no growth in the Mexican economy and no jobs, then even if they build walls and maintain hardball threats and severe laws, people will still, because of necessity, try to go and work in the United States,” he said at a press conference.

Although plans are still tentative on how Allyn & Co. specifically will market its pro-Mexico campaign, part of that effort will include public relations initiatives in the U.S. by Mr. Allyn, who has helped both Mr. Bush and Mr. Fox win political office.

“If the public had a fuller appreciation of what Mexico is really like and the very positive role it plays in this country’s economy, it would look at immigration and border security in a different light,” said Jennifer Ring, senior vice president at the company.

“Our job is to educate the American public and help contribute to a better understanding between the two nations.”

In 1994, Mr. Allyn was a key player in Mr. Bush’s defeat of Ann Richards to become governor of Texas and played a major role in his 2000 presidential campaign, helping discredit his chief rival, Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, through a series of television ads attacking Mr. McCain’s environmental record.

In 2000, he signed on to help Mr. Fox, who was governor of Guanajuato state at the time, in his successful presidential campaign as a member of the National Action Party, which defeated the Institutional Revolutionary Party candidate for the first time in 71 years. Mr. Allyn’s involvement with Mr. Fox’s campaign was kept secret until after the election.

Ms. Ring said yesterday that the program was still in the planning and research stage but will emphasize the progress Mexico has made in the past five years and the positive role it plays in the U.S. economy.

She said it will focus, in part, on Mexico as the United States’ second largest trading partner, after Canada, and Mexico’s effort to upgrade its war on crime, promote democracy and improve the economic conditions of its citizens.

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