TEMOZON SUR, Mexico - Mexican President Felipe Calderon yesterday criticized the 850 miles of border fence that President Bush and Congress approved last year, saying there are better ways to stop illegal immigration.
“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,” Mr. Calderon said during a welcome ceremony here, according to the official translation.
Mr. Calderon, who was sworn in as president in December, said it is time for Mr. Bush to re-establish the working relationship he had promised in early 2001, before the September 11 terrorist attacks reordered Washington’s priorities.
“In a very understandable way, the priorities changed,” Mr. Calderon said. “Nevertheless, I believe that it is now time to retake the spirit of those words and to direct our relationship toward a path of mutual prosperity.”
Mr. Bush said the United States will enforce its immigration laws but reassured Mr. Calderon that Mexico and the U.S. are bound together including through U.S. companies that rely on Mexican labor, and Mexican families and the government that rely on the $20 billion in remittances sent home by those workers, many of them illegal aliens.
“Today, the most important ties between the United States and Mexico are not government to government, they are people to people,” he said.
“These ties include the families, who send an estimated $20 billion in remittances each year to their relatives here in Mexico, one of the largest private economic initiatives in the world,” he said.
Mr. Calderon welcomed Mr. Bush at a hotel here, Hacienda Temozon, which was first built as a farm in 1655. After two rounds of meetings and a social lunch with Mr. Calderon, Mr. Bush flew by helicopter to tour Uxmal, one of the best-preserved Mayan ruins, with first lady Laura Bush.
Tight security dampened the rowdy demonstrations that have greeted him in the rest of Latin America.
A tiny group of protesters gathered near Uxmal, with a banner along the highway reading “Bush, oil drinker, international terrorist, get out of Mexico.” Mr. Bush and Mr. Calderon gazed out from a stone staircase at a temple as an archeologist explained the history to them.
Mr. Calderon, who has said in the past he has relatives who live in the United States, though he has never said whether they are legal, said yesterday he has seen the effects of emigration from Mexico up close in his home state of Michoacan.
“I know the pain of the families when they split and also of all those towns where the elderly are remaining alone. I also know that Mexicans lose in each migrant the best of our people, young people, working people and audacious people, strong people people that leave Mexico because they don’t find the opportunities here in order to pull through with their lives,” he said.
Mr. Calderon said the U.S. has the right to determine its own laws and security, but he has said that neither enforcement nor a future worker program will stop huge flows of Mexicans northward.
“Migration might not be stopped and certainly not by decree,” he said, adding that the solution is to bring better jobs to Mexico to remove the incentive to leave.
“We are intensively working, so instead that our labor will be moving to where the capital is located,” he said. “It will, rather, receive in Mexico the investment where the labor is located, and our families will not continue splitting themselves nor our population.”