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Bush, Fox disagree on a more open border

By Gary Susswein
American-Statesman Capitol Staff
Saturday, August 26, 2000

DALLAS -- Mexican President-elect Vicente Fox spent the day in Texas on Friday, preaching to his northern neighbors about closing the wage gap and opening the border between Mexico and the United States.

But the Texan whose opinion may matter most -- Gov. George W. Bush -- appeared unconverted to Fox's vision.

After an hourlong meeting at the University of Texas at Dallas, Bush praised Fox's leadership and agreed the two nations should strive to raise wages in Mexico. But he stopped well short of embracing some of Fox's other ideas.

"I made it very clear to Vicente Fox that we will enforce the borders so long as I am the governor and if I am the president," said Bush, who plans to meet again with Fox soon after the November election if he is elected president.

"His vision -- I don't know if it will work or not -- but what I appreciate is it's an optimistic vision, a vision that says . . . when the wage differential narrows, then perhaps it's a strategy we can explore jointly," he said.

Fox met earlier this week with Canadian officials as well as President Clinton and Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore.

Fox's first visit to Texas since his July 2 victory allowed him to meet with Mexican American leaders who had supported him during his campaign and with Texas businessmen he now hopes will support his country.

Along the way, he laid out his goals for the coming term, starting with making the North American Free Trade Agreement an equitable trade partnership among Canada, Mexico and the United States and creating more jobs in his country.

In the short term, Fox supports allowing more Mexican workers in the United States and giving amnesty to undocumented Mexicans already here, which Bush has opposed.

In the long term, he wants the United States and Mexico to create a joint vision of North America for the first decades of the 21st century, develop an integrated policy to regulate immigration and control drug trafficking and then open the borders to allow more free trade and access to jobs.

"Someday, when we have narrowed the differences in development, narrowed the differences in income, narrowed the differences in per-capita gross product, then we can think of opening the borders to the free flow of people," Fox, who will take office Dec. 1, said at a joint news conference with Bush. "We need to comply with many objectives from here to there."

Many of the Mexican Americans who met with -- or tried to catch a glimpse of -- Fox on Friday welcomed his long-term vision but said it may be too soon to talk about some of those ideas, especially given the resistance among American leaders.

"It looks like a long, long-term thing to do. I don't think people are willing to do that just yet," said Antonio Camacho, 38, of Dallas, a computer consultant who showed up at the Dallas Museum of Art, where Fox met with community leaders.

Camacho and other Mexican Americans hailed Fox as a voice of change for a country many say has long had too much corruption, crime and poverty. They praised his recent electoral victory over the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which had held power in Mexico for seven decades.

"To see the first leader not from the PRI is remarkable. It's history," said Ruben Cardenas, 48, who moved from Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, to Dallas 27 years ago and also showed up at the art museum to catch a glimpse of Fox. "Right now, it's good history. Hopefully, it will remain the same."

After Fox's meeting with Mexican Americans at the museum, supporters gave the president-elect a rousing ovation, sprinkled with chants of "Viva Fox."

They were especially enthusiastic about his promise to be president of all Mexicans around the world. He said he would establish an office to serve as a liaison between his government and the 18 million Mexicans living in the United States.

"He said he will be the president of 118 million Mexicans," said Dallas Deputy Mayor Steve Salazar. "There's only 100 million people in Mexico, meaning he will look beyond the borders to make sure Mexicans in America are represented."