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Thursday, Aug. 17, 2000 - 23:03 CDT

Fox asks U.S. to open border with Mexico

By Star-Telegram

MEXICO CITY -- President- elect Vicente Fox outlined an ambitious agenda yesterday, calling for a more open border and an amnesty program for undocumented migrants as he prepares for a trip that includes a Dallas visit next week with Gov. George W. Bush.

 Vicente Fox

"My position is certainly favorable toward the amnesty," Fox told U.S. journalists in Mexico City. "I think it would be a great gesture by the United States. Let's hope it happens."

A Democratic bill to grant amnesty to undocumented workers could become a wedge issue in the U.S. presidential race.

Fox, a conservative and a former Coca-Cola executive, captured the presidency after 71 years of rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party. His victory toppled the world's longest-ruling political party and surprised political experts and citizens alike.

Texas has a strong stake in how Fox views the border. Through 2020, the state comptroller's office projects, the Texas border region will add jobs at an average of 2.4 percent a year. The projected statewide increase for the same period is 2 percent annually. Projected population growth for the region is about 1.8 percent a year, also greater than the state rate, meaning more workers seeking more jobs in a growing economy.

The growth could lead to lower wages and high unemployment in the region.

Fox's visit will be his first to the United States since his July 2 victory. It comes as U.S. politics are heating up and as candidates' appeals to specific voting blocs are stronger than ever.

Fox, 58, will meet with Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Canadian business leaders Tuesday and Wednesday in Toronto. On Thursday, he will meet with Vice President Al Gore, the Democrats' presidential candidate, and later with President Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Washington.

Fox will fly to Dallas late Thursday and meet Friday with Bush, the Republican presidential nominee.

Fox's plan calls for gradually opening the U.S.-Mexico border within five to 10 years, beginning with free transit within a designated border zone, or with more temporary visas for Mexican workers.

Fox, who will take office Dec. 1, also plans to name a "northern border czar" for Mexico to deal with pollution, crime, migration and other key problems.

Immigration is a volatile issue, particularly along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border. Mexico, a nation of 100 million, is steeped in poverty. The United States, a nation of 275 million, is experiencing its brightest economy in decades.

Fox said Mexico is willing to make concessions to achieve a common market, including working to reduce illegal immigration -- something Mexico has long said is largely the United States' responsibility -- and bringing Mexican environmental standards up to U.S. levels.

But Marc Campos, a Houston political consultant, said U.S. politicians will probably be skeptical of the proposals until Mexico proves it has a more stable economy and makes a stronger commitment in the fight against drugs.

"He's saying a lot of good things, things that are courageous for a Mexican president to say, but before elected officials here weigh in on this, they will need to be convinced," Campos said yesterday from Los Angeles, where he is attending the Democratic National Convention.

Fox said the United States and Canada should help Mexico develop in ways that will benefit all three nations. He cited the European Union, in which wealthier countries bolstered the weaker economies of Spain and Greece.

"The best thing that could happen to the United States is to have a successful Mexico, a Mexico without poverty, a Mexico without violence, a Mexico without drug smuggling, a Mexico with employment opportunities for all, where people don't have to migrate to the United States," he said.

Efforts to reach Gore at the Democratic convention were unsuccessful yesterday.

Bush campaign spokesman Ray Sullivan said Bush supports legal immigration but remains tough on undocumented immigrants.

Bush has pledged $500 million in additional spending over five years to cut the average time for processing immigration applications and wants to split the Immigration and Naturalization Service into two agencies: a welcoming arm for legal immigrants and an enforcement arm to deal with undocumented migrants.

Bush also proposes increasing the visas for highly skilled technical workers and allowing relatives of permanent residents to visit the United States while their immigration papers are being processed. But Bush also supports strong enforcement along U.S. borders, Sullivan said.

Since 1993, the INS has doubled its Border Patrol division, which has more than 8,000 agents working along the borders, according to INS figures.