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Fox Embraces Mexicans Living in U.S., Moves Toward Improving Ties

December 04, 2000|JAMES F. SMITH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MEXICO CITY — In his first official act at the chief executive's compound, President Vicente Fox met Sunday with Mexicans who live in the United States, signaling his resolve to improve ties with the millions of his fellow citizens driven to emigrate in recent decades.

At a reception for more than 200 Mexican emigrants just two days after his inauguration, Fox said the era is over when Mexicans who left their country are scoffed at back home.

"It seems to me that when a person anywhere in the world leaves home alone, with no more baggage than his mind, his heart and his passion to be better, that person has to be the most admirable there is," Fox declared, "because inside that person we are going to find the best human values that lead to success: determination, courage, valor, passion, love."

Such language reflected a decisive break from past tendencies to ignore or denigrate people who headed north to escape poverty and earn a living in the United States. Instead, Fox repeated his vow to govern "for 118 million Mexicans"--the 100 million here and the 18 million people of Mexican descent in the U.S.

Third and Final Day of Inauguration

Sunday's emotion-filled gathering at Los Pinos, Mexico's White House, was part of the third and final day of Fox's marathon inauguration celebration marking the end of 71 years of rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party. Fox, from the center-right National Action Party, traveled later to meet peasants in Mexico state and then to a rally in Guadalajara, Mexico's second-largest city.

The delegation of Mexican Americans and Mexican citizens living in the U.S. included corporate executives, students, activists and political figures from California, Texas, Illinois and other states. Joining Fox from the Mexican government were a dozen Cabinet members and governors.

"This ceremony should be taken as an unmistakable signal of the commitment that the Fox government makes to you and to the community of Mexicans abroad," said Juan Hernandez, whom Fox has appointed to head a presidential office responsible for attention to migrants.

The new office will also help coordinate initiatives to use the financial resources of the Mexican community in the United States as leverage for economic development in Mexico. For example, Fox said, he will push programs in which the Mexican government would match investment by U.S.-based Mexicans in their native communities.

Hernandez noted that delegates brought a range of proposals to deepen and exploit the links between Mexicans on both sides of the border. Texas Lt. Gov. Rick Perry offered a pilot project in which Mexicans living near the border could be attended by doctors on the U.S. side.

Actor Edward James Olmos marveled at the sense of hope Fox's inauguration has awakened "not just for the Mexican people but for the whole hemisphere."

Carlos Olamendi, an Orange County businessman and a leader among the Mexican American community in Southern California, said, "No previous president has had the political sensitivity to invite Mexicans living abroad in this way."

Olamendi said he planned to press for Fox's support to persuade the U.S. government to regularize the migration status of about 3.5 million Mexicans living in the United States. His other goals include persuading the Mexican government to give absentee voting rights to citizens living in the U.S.

"This visit fills us with a spirit that was absent for many years," Olamendi said. "It fills us with energy to return home and tell our communities that there is a new Mexico."

Fox said he would personally take up one of the perennial complaints of Mexican migrants returning home for holidays: abuse by police and customs officials.

The new president said that beginning Dec. 15, he "personally will be in the customs offices and on the highways to receive with open arms all of the migrants of our country. We are going to make sure no one is blackmailed, no one is shaken down, and that people are received with the honor that each one deserves."

Jorge Castaneda, Fox's foreign secretary, said he will work to make the Mexican government "closer to the Mexican in the United States," including better attention "at the consular windows."

Guillermo Reynosa, chief executive of Mexico Express, a money transfer firm based in California, said Fox's background prepared him well to address migrant issues.

"Growing up on a ranch in Guanajuato, he had a lot of contact with people who have to emigrate, and he knows their needs," Reynosa said. "The cowboy boots he wears are a symbol of the new closeness he brings to migrants living in the States."

Ideas for Cross-Border Projects Offered

In interviews, Mexican Americans from California suggested several ways Fox could foster development through cross-border projects tapping migrants' abilities.

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