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Sunday July 9, 2000 3:18 PM ET

Mexico President-Elect Seeks Open Border with U.S.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Mexican President-elect Vicente Fox said on Sunday he backed an open border between his country and the United States within 10 years to "finish" illegal immigration.

One week after an election victory in which he ended the 71-year Institutional Revolutionary Party's (PRI) hold on the presidency and domination of Mexican politics, Fox told ABC television's "This Week" that Mexico should have the same border policy with the United States as Canada.

Asked whether he would like to see a totally open border between the United States and Mexico, Fox said, "Yes, 10 years from now... That's what we should shoot for, and then we finish with migration, with illegal migration."

The 58-year-old former Coca-Cola Co. executive said in an interview conducted in English that he understands his proposal for an open border may seem radical, but he said it is based on success in Europe following the easing of migration and employment policies under the European Union.

"I see some Americans sitting on their couch watching TV and hearing Vicente Fox saying we are going to open up that border to people. 'Wow, that's a shock,"' he said.

"But I think it will have wisdom. If we have a long-term view we can accomplish that. Europe did accomplish that. Migration of Spaniards to Germany 25 years ago was at the level that we have today between Mexico and the United States. Today there is no migration."

Some 9 million Mexicans live in the United States. Many do not have residence permits and enter illegally, crossing the desert and inhospitable mountain ranges along the countries' 2,100-mile (3,000 km) border.

Hundreds of people -- estimates range from 500 to 1,500 -- have died of hypothermia and sunstroke in the attempt.

There have also been recent reports of U.S. ranchers in Arizona and Texas hunting down and arresting illegal Mexican immigrants trespassing on their land, and of violent attacks on migrants along the border.

Many other immigrants, bound for the United States in search of work, get caught up along the way in the thriving but deadly cross-border drug culture.

Fair treatment of its citizens has long been a demand of Mexico City, while critics in the United States argue Mexico alone must carry the blame for citizens who leave in search of jobs and livelihoods.

On Sunday, Fox acknowledged Mexico's share in the problem and reiterated his goal to create more jobs in Mexico to eliminate the need for Mexicans to move north. He said as long as a worker in Mexico earns $5 per day and a worker in the United States earns $60, immigration problems will continue.

"Growing the economy at 7 percent is a need... It is the minimum that we need in Mexico to build up 1,350,000 new jobs that young people claim in Mexico every year. If we don't do that, you will keep receiving in the United more and more immigrants," he said.

Fox will meet with President Clinton in Washington during the second half of August. He takes office in Mexico in December.