Mexican President Mirrors Bush Border Visit

On the same day that President Bush visited the border, Mexico's President Vicente Fox made a surprise visit to the Mexican border city of Tijuana. Fox said the two countries must work together as partners to control the border. He also called for an orderly and legal way for Mexicans to work in the U.S.

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CARRIE KAHN reporting:

I'm Carrie Kahn at the San Diego-Tijuana border. Mexican president Vicente Fox stepped into the immigration debate while touring a huge American-owned manufacturing plant in Tijuana, just miles from the border. He told the crowd of about a thousand workers that the U.S. should value Mexicans, because they are hard working and decent people.

President VICENTE FOX (President, Mexico): (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: And Fox said, don't discriminate or look down on us. Referring to the U.S. Senate's proposal to build 370 miles of triple-border fencing, Fox said, walls are not the solution to the immigration problem.

President FOX: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: And he added, neither is President Bush's plan to send 6,000 National Guard troops to the border. Instead, Fox said, the two countries must work together as partners to control the border and create an orderly and legal way for Mexicans to work in the U.S.

Although his speech was strongly worded, Fox has drastically toned down his rhetoric in recent months, especially since last December when he called a House plan to build more than 700 miles of border fencing, stupid and shameless.

Fox's milder manner is more election-year politicking than a sudden change of heart. Mexicans will elect a new president this summer and, although Fox is barred from re-election because of term limits, he is trying to secure his presidential legacy. Fox had promised by the end of his six-year term, he would get an immigration accord with the United States. He's also hoping such a pact will boost his party's candidate in what is turning into a tough presidential contest.

(Soundbite of crowd)

President FOX: (Foreign language spoken)

(Soundbite of crowd)

KAHN: Outside the plant, Fox put on a tall, white cowboy hat and shook hands down a line of cheering factory workers. The Mexican president has much to cheer about these days. Yesterday, economic figures came out, showing Mexico's economy grew 5.5 percent over the same period last year. Ariseli Lopez(ph), who works in the factory's day care center, says she's glad for her job and is happy that Fox is speaking up for Mexicans in the U.S.

Ms. ARISELI LOPEZ: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: Lopez says she has no desire to immigrate to the U.S., but fellow factory worker Maria Estella Zerate(ph) says, while work may be plentiful in Tijuana, salaries aren't enough to make ends meet.

Ms. MARIA ESTELLA ZERATE: (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: She says Fox has to create not just more jobs, but better paying ones if Mexicans are going to stay put and stop immigrating north.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, San Diego.

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