- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Immigration jumped to the fore almost immediately after President Bush arrived in Mexico, and his appearances with Mexican President Felipe Calderon proved as inauspicious as expected. During the arrival ceremony, held Tuesday morning, Mr. Calderon denounced the border fence, reiterating a criticism he and his predecessor Vicente Fox had voiced before, but nonetheless leaving White House aides “surprised,” according to a report in The Washington Post. Mr. Calderon also dismissed legislation as a way to halt immigration.

For the final question at the press conference yesterday, Stephen Dinan of The Washington Times asked Mr. Calderon about his relatives working in the United States: “What have you learned from their experiences? Do they want to become citizens? And do you know, are they there legally?” The Mexican president dodged the question, answering simply that, “yes, I do have family in the United States, and what I can tell you is that these are people who work and respect that country.”

The Mexican president’s criticism of the border fence echoes his proposed solution for the influx of Mexico’s labor force into the United States: strengthening the Mexican economy in order for Mexicans to find good jobs at home. “We do consider in a respectful way that we may truly stop the migration by building a kilometer of highway in Michoacan or Zacatecas than 10 kilometers of walls in the border,” said Mr. Calderon.

Mr. Calderon, however, then encouraged Mr. Bush to work for “comprehensive migratory reform.” He would like Washington to enact some form of guest-worker program, which means he and Mr. Bush are on roughly the same page. While Mr. Calderon may lament the loss of migrant workers, he still wants to see them offered citizenship in the United States.

Securing the southern border would not hamstring Mr. Calderon’s plan to bring more jobs to Mexico, just as passing “comprehensive immigration reform” would not advance it. But stopping the influx of illegals would, as Mr. Bush mentioned during his visit and Mr. Calderon well knows, cut down on the substantial remittances — some $20 billion according to Mr. Bush — from illegal Mexican workers to their families in Mexico.

Washington should support Mr. Calderon’s efforts to raise his country’s citizens out of poverty by promoting job growth. Success would not only boost the political capital of a free-trader supporter in Latin America’s second-largest economy, marginalizing more radical politicians, but it could also cut down on the number of job-seekers crossing the border illegally. Yet its effects are felt only in the long-term, if at all, and have no bearing on security concerns or stopping other criminal activity on the border. Washington could expect little help from Mr. Fox on immigration issues; similarly little assistance can be expected from Mr. Calderon.

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