- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2007

GUATEMALA CITY — As President Bush prepares to meet today with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Mr. Calderon and his government are increasingly making it clear the solution to the U.S. illegal immigration problem lies in Mexico.

“I will say this very clearly — comprehensive immigration reform in the United States starts in Mexico,” Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico’s new ambassador to the U.S., said in an interview last week in Washington previewing this week’s meeting.

“Unless Mexico is able to generate the type of economic growth, job creation, well-paid job creation, we will still have a difficult time, even though there’s a comprehensive immigration agreement [in the United States], to dampen the root causes that propel so many Mexicans to seek a better life across the border,” Mr. Sarukhan told The Washington Times.

This two-day visit might be the linchpin of Mr. Bush’s five-country Latin American trip. Mr. Calderon, like Mr. Bush, heads a right-of-center party, and has taken some big steps in his less than four months in office by taking on organized crime and drug-related violence.

As a free-market advocate, he is also in a position to counterbalance Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, whose “21st-century socialism” has spread to other Latin American countries.

In a surprise move, Mr. Calderon sent more than a dozen drug cartel and gang leaders who were being held in Mexican prisons to the U.S. to stand trial. He also has sent federal police and the military to several regions to clamp down on violence between rival drug gangs.

Now, as he prepares to meet Mr. Bush for the first time as president, Mr. Calderon will not press for a U.S. immigration bill but instead make the case for trying to keep Mexicans home in the first place, according to the Associated Press.

“It won’t be easy. It won’t be fast, but yes, it is possible,” Mr. Calderon said.

To do that, he wants to draw more foreign investment into Mexico to create jobs there.

One of his proposals is to retool the North American Development Bank, which was created by Mexico and the U.S. under the North American Free Trade Agreement to try to alleviate any negative consequences of free trade, particularly on the environment, along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Mr. Calderon wants the bank to grow in order to finance infrastructure throughout Mexico, and Mr. Sarukhan said that’s an example of a development idea the Mexican leader could raise with Mr. Bush.

“The basic idea is that instead of having the labor force of Mexico come up to where the investment is in the United States, to make sure foreign direct investment is reaching Mexico where the labor force is,” Mr. Sarukhan said.

Mr. Calderon has even won praise from a fierce critic of the Mexican government — Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican.

“President Calderon has shown through his relatively short tumultuous time in office that he may be the agent of change that region of the world so desperately needs,” said Mr. Tancredo, who is making a bid for his party’s presidential nomination.

“I find it particularly interesting that when Presidents Bush and Calderon meet [this] week, one of them will be pushing for amnesty. Oddly enough, it won’t be the Mexican president,” he said.

Mr. Bush has proposed legalizing most of the estimated 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens now in the United States — more than half of whom are Mexican. He has also proposed a new guest-worker program to handle future workers.

For their part, Mexican officials hope Mr. Bush can do more to crack down on the flow of weapons and ingredients for manufactured drugs such as amphetamines, which go from the United States to Mexico.

“Calderon’s administration is as serious as it can be in starting to take organized crime head on, but for it to be successful at the end of the day, it will need the full-fledged support of the United States,” Mr. Sarukhan said.

He said there has been an interesting shift in relations between the two countries. In the past, while top-level officials had a good relationship, the law-enforcement agencies on the ground along the border “completely distrusted each other.”

But in recent years, he said, trust has been built — starting with specially vetted Mexican units establishing a good relationship — to where “on the ground interagency coordination to Mexico and the United States is where it never has been before.”

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