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Fox extends welcome to U.S. migrant leaders

Tessie Borden
Arizona Republic Mexico City Bureau
Dec. 4, 2000

MEXICO CITY - Mexican President Vicente Fox reserved the first official presidential mansion reception for the countrymen who live the farthest away from it.

Fox, who last week became the country's first president from an opposition party, on Sunday met in Los Pinos, the Mexican White House, with leaders of migrant and Mexican-American groups from the United States. It was a symbolic step to include in the civic life of the country the more than 18 million Mexicans living beyond its borders.

"It seems to me that when someone anywhere in the world decides to leave his home with only his mind, his heart and his passion for improvement as preparation, he has to be the most admirable person alive," Fox said. "If we want to see what's behind such a person, we will find, for the most part, the values that lead to success: determination, courage, bravery, passion and love."

Fox later met with peasant groups in the suburb of Metepec near the town of Toluca, about an hour west of Mexico City. He was scheduled to appear in the main square in Guadalajara in the evening to wind up a weekend-long tour after his inauguration party in Mexico City.

At the Los Pinos gathering, which was attended by Gov. Jane Hull, Fox compared the will that propels migrants to that of leaders like Mikhail Gorbachev, Pope John Paul II, and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and said all Mexicans should "become infected" with that spirit.

"We see in the future a dream," he said. "That dream is that each kid, each young person, each of our children will be able to stay beside his family, will be able to stay here in Mexico, will be able to grow, will reach his dreams and his realization in his own homeland."

As listeners munched canapés and fruit in the salon, Fox said the time when Mexico looked with jealousy on those who emigrated to the United States and their children is long past, and that attitude had been based on wrong assumptions. He said thousands of U.S. "changarros," or enterprises, have benefited from migrant labor and attributed the United States' low inflation and high growth to them.

In his speech, Fox also reiterated his faith in an open border with the United States.

"Over the long term, we shall convince the United States and its government that that border which is now open to products, merchandise, services and capital, in the future, and I hope it's soon, should be open to the traffic of people," he said.

In the meantime, Fox pledged to go to border stations and northern highways beginning Dec. 15, when Mexicans living abroad return home to face long customs lines at the border and corrupt officials looking for bribes.

The new president was flanked by several Cabinet members, including Foreign Secretary Jorge Castañeda, Northern Border Commissioner Ernesto Ruffo Appel, and Migrant Affairs Secretary Juan Hernandez, in a newly created post.

Hernandez and Castañeda promised more attention to Mexicans abroad, fair treatment to those who return to Mexico to visit their families, and more consulates in the United States to watch over the rights of transplanted Mexicans. Migrant groups in the United States have long requested the right to vote in Mexican elections.

Also present were actor Edward James Olmos and Monica Lozano, publisher of the Spanish-language La Opinión newspaper.

"I've been impressed with the shirtsleeves," Hull said, referring to the dressed-down way Fox showed up to some events, talking informally with residents. "He has a real ability to reach out to people."

Hull said she has talked with Hernandez about a possible guest worker program and about the treatment of migrants, though nothing concrete has emerged. But Hull, who traveled with Fox to Oaxaca on Saturday, said she hopes to lure Fox to a meeting in Nogales during his pre-Christmas trip north.

As for Fox's hope for open borders, Hull said she doesn't see it happening soon.

"We all have to start with visions and dreams, but politicians and legislators move very slowly," Hull said.