Fox credits ‘paisanos’ on immigration reform

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Mexican President Vicente Fox on Friday lauded President Bush and U.S. senators for passing a comprehensive immigration bill that offers employment and citizenship opportunities, but said most of the credit should go to Mexican immigrants.

“Nobody deserved more credit than the … paisanos here,” he said, using the Spanish colloquial word for “countrymen” during a speech to the California Chamber of Commerce and Sacramento Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “They have fought for it.”

He offered his “most caring salute to all Mexicans here in the United States,” whom he praised for their work ethic and loyalty not only to their new, adopted country, but to their families back home.

“We really love them, appreciate them and respect them,” he said. “We know about their dignity and pride … and contributions to this country.”

Fox spent the rest of his 15-minute speech touting his administration’s economic achievements and attempting to entice the assembled business people to invest in Mexico.

In particular, he cited the success of the maquiladora – foreign factories that set up shop in Mexico along the border to take advantage of the cheap labor pool. They’ll create as many one million jobs this year, he predicted, at least 150,000 more than there are qualified applicants. That deficit must be addressed by beefing up education spending in Mexico, he added.

But in his often rosy portrayal of his country’s economic prosperity, Fox didn’t address why hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants continue to enter the United States each year, nor the growing gap between Mexico’s rich and poor.

Fox agreed to take questions from the audience, but reporters were hurriedly ushered out before the exchange began.

The Chamber members at Friday’s breakfast were much more receptive to Fox than the Legislature was a day earlier, with the business people offering a standing ovation before and after his speech.

By comparison, at least 11 Republican lawmakers boycotted his speech at the state Capitol, citing frustration over illegal immigration and criticizing Fox for not doing enough to stop people from crossing the Mexican border into the United States without permission. Several Democratic senators also missed the speech – not to make a political statement, but to return to their districts in advance of the holiday weekend.

But the trip was a big win for Fox, nonetheless, says Barbara O’Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and the Media at Cal State Sacramento. Fox and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger released a joint statement Thursday recognizing the “urgency of border security” and the need for lawful immigration. The governor also announced he would go to Mexico on a trade mission.

“It’s creating a better image for (Fox) in Mexico where he is facing election,” O’Connor said. “He gets a friend, and a friend in California – your No. 1 trading partner – is a good thing,” she said. “He also gets a glitterati relationship with a movie star, which doesn’t hurt him at home where (Schwarzenegger’s) movies play a lot.”



(c) 2006, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.).

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AP-NY-05-26-06 1814EDT

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