Monday, January 12, 2004

Mexican President Vicente Fox yesterday said he favors open borders across North America, not amnesty for his countrymen illegally residing in the United States.

The alien work program announced last week by President Bush would not encourage aliens to remain in the United States, because they love their home country, the Mexican president told the “Fox News Sunday” program.

“We are not looking for an amnesty [for] Mexico. It’s not that we’re looking for these Mexicans working productively in the United States to become U.S. citizens. They like tacos, they like their families, they like their community, they like Mexico. Unfortunately, they don’t have the opportunities that they would like to have as persons, so that’s why they move,” Mr. Fox said.

Mr. Fox said all immigration barriers should be removed to allow people to live and work in the country of their choosing, whether it be Mexico, the United States or Canada.

“On the long term, this North American bloc can be the leading bloc on the world and be the most competitive bloc on the world by working together and, through that, be able to keep increasing the quality and the level of life of our citizens,” Mr. Fox said.

Mr. Bush heads to northern Mexico today to participate in the Summit of the Americas talks in Monterrey. A key subject will be his proposal allowing millions of Mexicans in this country illegally to remain for three years if they have jobs that citizens don’t want.

Mr. Bush began lobbying Congress to pass a new alien work program in 2001, but the issue was sidelined after the September 11 terrorist attacks and renewed concerns over border security.

Critics say the program amounts to amnesty for illegal aliens because they can reapply for a second permit and stay in the United States an additional three years.

Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans said there will be no guarantees for alien workers in this program.

“No guarantee they’ll be able to stay permanently, and no guarantee they won’t be able to stay permanently,” Mr. Evans told CNN’s “Late Edition.”

“And what the president has said is that we’ve got to get a system in place that only allows legal immigrants to take jobs that may otherwise go to an American. It also will make our borders a lot safer.”

Critics say the timing is suspect and that the proposal is an election-year ploy to garner Hispanic votes. Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut called it “an election-year conversion by George Bush.”

The proposal is “a little step forward, but not enough,” Mr. Lieberman told CNN. “We’ve got to find a way to make them legal, have them contribute to the system, become part of the American family, and then start again at trying to make the flow of immigration in here legal and not illegal.”

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said the program will give Mexican workers “dignity.”

“I can’t think of anything better for a worker who has worked under these circumstances, kind of in the shadows in the United States, to finally have a way to come out of the shadows, to have certain protections that are not there now because they’re having to live in the shadows, to have recognized that they are an important part of a strong American economy, and to get that kind of status,” she said in a press briefing on Friday.

The Mexican government also will be expected to do a better job policing its border to protect its citizens, she said.

“The Mexican government doesn’t like to see people trying to cross the border illegally, particularly because, just in even humanitarian terms, the harshness of what faces these people when they try to walk across the Rio Grande is really, really awful,” Miss Rice said.

In addition to migration, world leaders at the summit will discuss the implications of international terrorism and poverty.

Mr. Bush meets today with Mr. Fox, Chilean President Ricardo Lagos and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Tomorrow, Mr. Bush will have his first private meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, and later meet with President Nestor Kirchner of Argentina and Bolivian President Carlos Mesa.

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