Mexico Pushes for Immigrant Rights at Cancun Summit

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President Bush is in Cancun, meeting with leaders from Canada and Mexico to discuss trade, security and immigration issues. Mexican President Vicente Fox is pushing for the legalization of illegal immigrants in the U.S.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

President Bush and the leaders of Mexico and Canada are meeting in Cancun, Mexico today. On the agenda are talks on trade, trilateral security cooperation, and immigration. Although no deals are expected to be signed, the meeting is an important one for Mexico. Mexicans hope that Congress will overhaul key immigration laws that will allow millions of undocumented workers to legalize their status in the United States.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia Navarro reports.

LOURDES GARCIA NAVARRO reporting:

When Mexican President Vicente Fox was elected in 2000, one of the main goals of his administration was an immigration accord. For years, his hopes were repeatedly dashed by an American government that seemed focused on worries in other parts of the world. Now, he's nearing the end of his term with his legacy at stake. Speaking before traveling to Cancun, he says he's hoping Congress will finally see things his way.

President VINCENTE FOX (Mexico): (Through Translator) All of us individuals are born with equal rights. Above all, we deserve to be treated with justice, respect, and dignity. In regards to migration, we have one voice, one single position, one political platform. In all international forums, our country has been a firm promoter of immigration that is legal, safe, orderly, and above all, respectful of human rights.

NAVARRO: Fox has said that any favorable outcome will be the result of his work for the past five years. What he wants, legalization for illegal immigrants and temporary work permits. But really, the decisions that are being taken now in Washington are unilateral. While Fox has made his wishes clear, it seems for now the United States is going it alone. Even so, to help matters along, Mexico is promising to do more to address border and immigration problems.

Silvia Hernandez is the head of the Mexican Senate Foreign Relations Committee for North America.

Ms. SILVIA HERNANDEZ (Chairwoman, Mexican Senate Foreign Relations Committee for North America): We fully and clearly understood that the migration issue has to do with not only the countries where our migrants go, but also and very importantly, with ourselves in Mexico.

NAVARRO: Pledges of economic incentives for migrants and closer cooperation with the United States have all been tendered. But critics within and without Mexico say that this is too little too late. Almost 50 percent of Mexicans live in poverty, and little has seen to have been done by critics to alleviate that. Mexico also benefits from migration. Remittances are the single, biggest income for the country, more than oil.

Rafael Fernández de Castro is the head of International Studies for the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico.

Mr. RAFAEL FERNÁNDEZ DE CASTRO (Director, International Studies for the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico): Mexico has a big challenge, and Mexico should really treat migration as one of the single most important social phenomenon that has happened to Mexico. Mexico should reinforce its institutions dealing with immigration. And we have to modernize and improve our migration law.

NAVARRO: Fernandez de Castro says that this summit is important.

Mr. DE CASTRO: We know the USA is now considering a very positive measure. So I believe that this is a big chance for President Fox that to tell Mr. Bush that, really, his legacy in Mexico and in Latin America depends on immigration reform.

NAVARRO: But he adds that both leaders have little political capital to spend now.

(Soundbite of traffic)

NAVARRO: On a busy street outside the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, dozens of people wait for entry to the large, imposing building. Nivorio Incarnation(ph) has crossed the frontier illegally in the past, but on this day is waiting for a visa.

Mr. NIVORIO INCARNATION: (Through Translator) If there's an opportunity to do things legally, then it should be done that way. Many bad things are avoided that way. People here, in their necessity, go looking for what they can and they break the law. But if we were legalized, then it would be better.

NAVARRO: Isabel Garcia is a horse trainer who is also waiting for a visa. She's heard about the talk of American migration reform that may mean Mexicans can go to work in the United States temporarily. But she's waited for an appointed for five months at the embassy, and paid around a hundred dollars with her application. So on this day, her hopes are of the short-term variety.

Ms. ISABEL GARCIA (Would Be U.S. Immigrant): (Through Translator) I wish they wouldn't make it so difficult to get a visa here. If we are doing the right thing in coming here and paying, I wish they wouldn't deny them to us.

NAVARRO: She says she just wants to go to the U.S. to make enough money to survive.

Lourdes Garcia Navarro, NPR News, Mexico City.

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