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President pledges to travel to U.S. border to greet returning immigrants, offers more consular services

Cox News Service
The News - Mexico City

Hoping to energize a powerful group of allies to bolster his new government, President Vicente Fox invited more than 200 Mexican immigrants to the United States to his private residence Sunday.

It was Fox's first public event at Los Pinos, Mexico's White House, since he took office last Friday to end seven decades of single-party control of Mexico's presidency. Although previous governments have reached out to Mexican immigrants before, they have never before been invited as a group into the president's residency with such a warm and swift welcome.

''It is no accident that you, Mexican migrants, are my first guests at Los Pinos, which is now the home of the Mexican people. I have always admired the courage and vigor of young people who have to leave their homes ... to go north on a journey filled with risk and uncertainty,'' Fox told the crowd.

Fox also hailed an announcement Saturday by Mexico's Zapatista Indian rebels that they are willing to begin dormant negotiations again to settle an armed conflict in southern Chiapas state. The immigrants from the United States applauded when Fox added that attending to the plight of Mexico's Indians was one of his top priorities.

Mexican-American actor Edward James Olmos attended the event at Los Pinos, along with dozens of Mexicans who have lived for many years in Texas, California, Illinois and other U.S. states.

''Mr. President, we believe in you,'' Olmos told Fox in Spanish.

Jorge Castaneda, the new foreign secretary, and Juan Hernandez, the director of Fox's new office on Mexicans abroad, were also on hand.

Hernandez is a former University of Texas at Dallas professor who is binational and bilingual. He said Fox has already started talks with Lt. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas about how Mexicans working there could receive better health care.

''This president is going to challenge the United States the way the United States likes to be challenged, '' Hernandez told reporters. ''I know the United States people. They are a people who like big challenges. ... Vicente Fox thinks that way also.''

Fox praised the immigrants for their contributions to the U.S.economy and their courage to decide to seek opportunities outside their own country.

But he asked them to continue to help with Mexico's development by investing in projects that will create jobs so others won't have to migrate.

''We see a dream in our future, and that dream is that every child, every young person, all of our children, will be able to stay with their families, stay in Mexico and grow up to realize their dreams and potential in their own country,'' Fox said.

Fox said he plans to expand existing programs in some Mexican states where the government matches, dollar for dollar, funds that immigrants are willing to invest in community-development projects.

Mexicans send between $6 billion and $10 billion in U.S.earnings home to families and communities every year, about the same amount of revenue generated by tourism here.

Fox promised to develop alternatives for migrants to send their money home. Currently, as much as 30 percent of the money they send is skimmed off by high commissions or poor exchange rates.

Money orders are also habitually stolen. Migrants who carry cash and goods when they head south for Christmas often face shakedowns by corrupt customs officials and police.

''I want to tell you that as of Dec. 15, the president will personally be at customs offices and on the highways to receive migrants with open arms,'' Fox said.

Hernandez said it's not clear where Fox will go to greet migrants as they stream into Mexico for the holidays. Members of the cabinet will meet Wednesday to plan the trips.

''He is going to the border in a historic way to welcome the paisanos as they come home. These are individuals who are creating wealth in the United States, they are creating wealth in Mexico, and they should be treated with honor,'' Hernandez said.