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February 3, 2001

Mexican leader will push Bush to give amnesty to illegal immigrants

MEXICO CITY (AP) -- Mexican President Vicente Fox said Saturday he plans to press President Geirge W. Bush to grant amnesty to Mexicans living and working illegally in the United States, the latest sign of a growing debate on immigration between the two countries.

Bush and Fox are scheduled to meet Feb. 16 in Mexico during what will be Bush's first foreign visit since taking office last month. During his weekly radio address Saturday, Fox said he will ask Bush to work toward better treatment of Mexican immigrants in the United States.

If they were granted amnesty by the U.S. government, Mexicans could receive education and health benefits they deserve, Fox said.

For those who still want to leave Mexico, Fox said he will talk with Bush about finding a "documented way, so they can work, return and see their family, then go back again." Since he took office Dec. 1, ending more than 70 years of rule by the Institutional Revolutionary party, Fox has come up with several proposals to ease the plight of Mexicans fleeing to the United States.

U.S. leaders have been lukewarm to his idea of expanding the North American Free Trade Agreement into a common market that would eventually allow the free movement of workers -- an idea that would have to take place after Mexican wages became more competitive, Fox said.

Still, the Bush administration and several members of Congress appear willing take part in a debate on improving the lives of illegal Mexican immigrants.

Texas Republican Senator Phil Gramm, often a foe of legislation designed to ease U.S. immigration laws, has said he will push to create a guest-worker program for illegal immigrant labourers from Mexico.

And U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has expressed concern about the large number of undocumented Mexican immigrants who die from exposure and other causes while trying to enter the United States.

Fox said other topics he wants to discuss with Bush include the U.S. economic slowdown and the fight against drug-smuggling.

Mexico sends more than 80 per cent of its exports to the United States and has enjoyed several years of economic growth, fuelled in part by the U.S. economy's success.

However, Fox has tried to protect his country's economy from being hit hard by U.S. economic troubles.

During his recent trip to Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum and during meetings in Germany with leaders there, he sought to boost Mexico's newly signed trade agreement with the European Union.

"It would be bad to sit here, crying and lamenting that the U.S. economy isn't going to grow," he said.

"That's for them over there. We are going to fight on other fronts."

He also repeated pleas for all Mexicans to help fight organized crime and drug-smugglers. "We are not going to accept it," he said.

"Throw them out of our community."


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