MEXICO CITY – After months of criticism that it has meddled in the U.S. debate over immigration, Mexico is trying to distance itself from Monday’s planned economic boycott by immigrants across the United States.

President Vicente Fox’s government flew more than 30 immigrant activists from the U.S. to Mexico City on Tuesday to tell them it neither supported nor opposed the boycott. But the message interpreted by many activists was that Mexico fears the boycott could be counterproductive.

Proponents have dubbed the proposed work and school boycott the “Day Without Immigrants.”

Despite a history of sensitivity about U.S. interference in their affairs, Mexican officials have in recent weeks criticized the harshest U.S. proposals to restrict illegal immigration, lobbied Congress for pro-immigrant reforms and defended activists’ right to protest in Los Angeles, Chicago and other cities.

Fox’s government says the campaign is part of its duty to protect its citizens abroad. But the more cautious approach last week indicates it is heeding warnings that going too far – such as backing a boycott that proved harmful – could hurt efforts to get Congress to pass reforms.

The boycott “is a strategy that is being defined by them (U.S. activists), not us,” said Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez. “They should take care to make it positive, that there are no incorrect protests and that there are no chaotic situations.”

While some in the U.S. have criticized Mexico for its active role, a few of the immigrant activists invited to last week’s “emergency” meeting expressed frustration that Mexico hasn’t taken an even more forceful stand.

“They’ve always been very careful,” said Cuauhtemoc Morfin, a pro-boycott activist from Chicago. “They just said, “We’ll support you in what you do,’ but there was never a clear answer as to, “Yes, we will support the boycott.”‘

Other activists said they already opposed the boycott and didn’t need advice from Mexico. Some said their bigger frustration was that Mexico isn’t doing enough back home to keep people from immigrating.

The 30 activists were members of an advisory board to Mexico’s Institute for Mexicans Abroad, an agency Fox established in 2002.

Enthusiasm for the May 1 boycott has spread beyond the U.S. In solidarity, some in Mexico plan to buy “nothing gringo” Monday, and activists in Nicaragua and El Salvador said they would join in. Some border state governors in Mexico and some members of Mexico’s Congress have publicly endorsed the boycott.


Fox has been pushing for immigration changes in the U.S. since the day he took office in 2000. Calling for an immigration “agreement” between the two countries, he wanted to help craft reforms to make them sensitive to the realities of the hundreds of thousands of Mexicans crossing the border every year.

A deputy foreign minister, Geronimo Gutierrez, has been shuttling between Mexico City and Washington to lobby for changes in immigration law. He has told the Mexican media that he is in frequent contact with members of the U.S. Congress.

Before a meeting with Bush administration officials in Washington in December, Derbez tried to rally other Latin American countries to form a united front against tough immigration measures in the U.S. Congress.

While the government instructed its consulates in the U.S. not to participate in massive pro-immigrant marches that began in March, Fox and other officials have frequently defended the “right” of immigrants to protest as a “democratic exercise.”

Tensions over Mexico’s role came to a head in December and January when Fox and Derbez used words such as “stupid” to describe proposed legislation in the U.S. House that would increase anti-immigration enforcement and extend a border fence.

Antonio Garza, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, sent out several sharply worded memos criticizing the Mexican complaints. U.S. officials said they believe the harsh Mexican language was partly for domestic political considerations but stressed to their Mexican counterparts that it was having a negative effect on immigration proposals in Washington.

In an interview with a Mexico City newspaper in January, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., sponsor of the toughest enforcement bill, complained that Derbez was “violating the sovereignty of our country” when he tried to lobby Congress.

(c) 2006, Chicago Tribune.

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-04-29-06 1607EDT

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