Mexico’s Fox visits California

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – Mexican President Vicente Fox on Thursday called the U.S. Senate’s vote on immigration policy a “monumental step forward” that marks a historic moment in the relationship between his country and the United States.

“It is a moment that millions of families have been hoping for. This is the moment that millions of people have been working for,” he told a joint session of the California Legislature. “Today’s historic vote is a monumental step forward, but we recognize that there is more debate ahead.”

Fox addressed the Legislature hours after the Senate approved sweeping reforms that include tighter border security and a path to citizenship for many of the estimated 11 million to 12 million immigrants in the country illegally.

Fox was scheduled to meet privately afterward with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, their first meeting since the movie star became governor. Schwarzenegger said he would stress Mexico’s responsibility for illegal immigration, while also touching on environmental and other issues of common interest.

California is the last stop on Fox’s three-state visit to the western U.S., following appearances in Utah and Washington. In Seattle, Fox said Mexico does not support illegal migration and must expand economic growth so its citizens do not feel leaving the country is a financial necessity.

“Managing migration can be done, and can be done with a purpose and can be done to the betterment of the people involved in it,” Fox said in a speech to the private Rainier Club in downtown Seattle.

The timing of the visit – as the Senate approved far-reaching immigration reforms – is awkward for the Mexican president, who has urged Congress to take a softer approach.

The bill passed Thursday would build a triple-layer border fence along 370 miles and add U.S. Border Patrol agents, while giving millions of illegal immigrants a means of earning citizenship. A bill previously passed in the House has no citizenship provision and makes it a felony to be in the U.S. illegally.

Fox opposes President Bush’s recent decision to call on governors to send 6,000 National Guard troops to the southern border to back up the Border Patrol.

“Mexico believes that it will take more than just enforcement or building walls to truly solve the challenges caused by the immigration phenomenon,” Fox said in his California speech.

Schwarzenegger has raised questions about Bush’s plan to send National Guard troops to the border, although on Wednesday he said he was prepared to go along with it as long as the deployment is temporary.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson pledged his support for Bush’s National Guard plan Thursday, after expressing concerns earlier about the cost, the duration of the mission and whether troops would spread too thinly.

“We must protect our borders, and New Mexico is a team player,” Richardson said.

By late summer 200 of the state’s National Guard troops will be helping the Border Patrol, in addition to the 68 guardsmen already stationed along the border, Richardson said.

Fox told California lawmakers that the destinies of Mexico and the U.S. are linked despite the challenges posed by illegal immigration.

“Let us work together as neighbors, as friends, as family,” he said.

Several California GOP lawmakers were critical of the Mexican president’s visit. About half a dozen Republicans said they would boycott his speech; others circulated yellow buttons with the words “No Mas” – no more – to wear to Fox’s address.

A spokesman for Assembly Republican leader George Plescia said several members were unhappy that Fox had declined an invitation to meet with them. Fox met with Democratic Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez before his speech.

The illegal immigration issue has been a political land mine in California for a decade.

California has more illegal immigrants than any other state – 2.4 million according to a 2004 study by the Pew Hispanic Center. They work predominantly on farms, in construction and in the service industry, from hotels to restaurants.

Immigrants also are a major source of income to Mexico. Mexicans living in the United States sent home about $20 billion last year. And Latin American immigrants in California, the majority of whom are Mexican, send more money home than from any other state, more than $9.6 billion in 2004.

In addition, Mexico is the state’s No. 1 trading partner, bringing in almost $18 billion in California exports last year. California’s exports to Mexico directly or indirectly support 177,000 jobs, according to Schwarzenegger’s office.



Associated Press Writers Mike Blood in Los Alamitos, Calif., Curt Woodward in Seattle and Tim Korte in Albuquerque, N.M., contributed to this report.

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