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Fox's Open Border Vision Clashes

8-23-00

WASHINGTON (AP) -- To some, the political winds that swept underdog Vincente Fox into Mexico's presidency last month are a fresh breeze wafting across the Rio Grande, carrying promises of better days for Mexico and its relationship with the United States.

But, analysts say, the good will could blow away just as suddenly if Fox, who takes office Dec. 1, insists on a freer flow of Mexican workers into the United States. Fox is expected to bring up the issue later this week in separate meetings with President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore in Washington and with Gov. George W. Bush in Dallas.

Clinton said Wednesday he wants to hear what Fox proposes on opening borders.

''The devil is always in the details here, so I want to talk to him about it and see what he has in mind,'' Clinton said, adding, however, ''I would imagine most of this work would have to be done by the next administration.''

Fox defeated the seemingly invincible PRI party -- which ruled Mexico for more than 70 years -- in elections on July 2. In his campaign he talked of Mexico and the United States becoming ''partners,'' and he is an unabashed globalist. He vows to create conditions for a doubling of American investment in Mexico and to wage an all-out war on corruption in his country.

He also pledges to allow the extradition of Mexican drug traffickers to the United States, something Mexico traditionally has been reluctant to do. All of this delights American officials, who say they expect the gains in cross-border ties of recent years to continue under Fox.

But there are some U.S. reservations about Fox, especially his fierce opposition to the U.S. policy of spending billions of dollars each year to keep undocumented Mexicans off U.S. soil.

Fox wants eventually to do away with border controls. He envisions the transformation of the three countries of North America into a kind of European Union, where the citizens of one can work in any other member nation.

He points out that open borders among EU countries have brought Portugal and Greece much closer to economy parity with other EU members.

But critics argue the two situations are not comparable, noting that Portugal and Greece have populations much smaller than Mexico and that their migrant workers were dispersed throughout EU countries.

In contrast, the number of poor Mexicans is large, an estimated 40 million, and the great majority who are inclined to migrate look to the United States -- and no other country -- for their economic salvation.

Fox is not looking to the United States to solve Mexico's population surplus. Rather, he would offer incentives for Mexicans to stay at home, including an economic program that would create jobs on a scale far greater than what is being done today.

He is adamant about doing away with the status quo.

''By building up walls, by putting up armies, by dedicating billions of dollars like every border state is doing to avoid migration, is not the way to go,'' Fox says.

Many Americans obviously disagree and believe existing barriers are inadequate. Six weeks before Fox's election, the House approved a bill sponsored by Rep. James Traficant, D-Ohio, to allow deployment of U.S. troops along the border to protect a variety of U.S. interests, including the curbing of drug trafficking and of weapons smuggling. The vote was 243-183. The sentiment reflected in the vote was diametrically opposed to Fox's vision.

A similar bill has been approved by the House on two previous occasions but died in negotiations with the Senate both times.

David Smith, director of public policy for the AFL-CIO, says open borders are impractical with two countries at such different stages of development.

A guest worker program favored by Fox would pit arriving Mexican workers against American workers, resulting in a ''race to the bottom'' between the two groups.

George Grayson, a Mexico expert at the College of William and Mary, agrees. ''The chances of an American floor sweeper in a Houston high-rise to get a raise are greatly diminished when there is a squadron of immigrant job seekers waiting outside,'' he says.

Willard Workman, a vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, says he believes the issue is worthy of official discussions but in the meantime, ''We're going to keep the border policed.

''Just as we don't want goods dumped, we don't want labor dumped,'' he says.