SAN DIEGO — Mexico's point man for migrants living abroad ended a three-day visit to California on Thursday, decrying deaths at the border and urging successful emigrants to invest in impoverished pockets of Mexico as a way to stem the exodus of job-seekers.
Juan Hernandez, named by Mexican President Vicente Fox to head the cabinet-level Office for Mexicans Abroad, said investment in 90 migrant-sending zones that have been targeted for special economic help could reverse the shortage of decent jobs that drives many to make their way illegally into the United States in search of work.
The locations, though impoverished, are "also great opportunities for investment," he said. "I'm looking for padrinos," or godfathers.
Hernandez made similar pitches during stops in San Jose, Oakland, Los Angeles and Irvine as part of a tour organized by the U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce.
Hernandez told a lunch gathering of business leaders from San Diego and Tijuana that the Fox government is open to "any crazy idea" that could result in healthy development in needy areas.
Under a new program, the Fox government is recruiting as investors Mexicans who have achieved success in the United States.
Hernandez said he had no ready solution to end the fatalities among migrants trying to cross the border.
"One or two people are dying on average a day," he said. "That is a fact, and it's not right. . . . These are good people."
The United States and Mexico have sought to reduce fatalities through public-service announcements, increased patrols and more rescue training on both sides of the 2,000-mile border.
Hernandez spoke as top officials from the two countries were meeting in Washington, D.C., to discuss immigration. U.S. employers have pushed to allow more Mexican workers to enter to meet labor shortages.
Hernandez's office, which represents 23 million Mexicans and their children living north of the border, legally and otherwise, reflects a big change in Mexico's approach to emigrants since Fox was elected last year. Under the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, emigrants often were scorned for leaving, although the money they send home--now more than $6 billion yearly--has long been a critical source of income for Mexico.
Hernandez said he has lobbied California state officials to allow undocumented immigrants to get driver's licenses and to pay in-state tuition at state universities. California is home to about 1.2 million undocumented Mexicans.
Last year, Gov. Gray Davis vetoed separate bills to allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition under certain conditions, and to make it easier for illegal immigrants to get driver's licenses.
Before his speech, Hernandez ducked out of the banquet room to introduce himself--and his new duties--to immigrants working in the hotel's kitchen.
One employee, clearing away plates afterward, said the idea of a Mexican emigrants' office seemed worthy. "We need help," said Carmen Topete, who emigrated from Mexico 20 years ago. "We always need somebody who can help us."