Yakima Welcomes Mexican Immigrants, and President

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President Vicente Fox of Mexico traveled to the Pacific Northwest on Wednesday. He began his visit in Yakima, Wash., known as the fruit basket of the Northwest. It's also the center of the region's Hispanic community.

MARTIN KASTE reporting:

And I'm Martin Kaste in Yakima, Washington, where yesterday all the Spanish radio stations were in news overdrive for a visit by President Fox.

(Soundbite of a Spanish radio broadcast)

KASTE: Washington Governor Chris Gregoire suggested that Fox make the brief stopover here, on his way from Salt Lake City to Seattle, because Yakima has a lot of Mexicans. There are about 100,000 of them in this fruit-growing valley. They're more than one-third of the whole population, and most of them come from a single state in Mexico, Michoacán.

(Soundbite of Mexican music)

KASTE: Philippe Godencio(ph) is one of the most recent arrivals. He's a D.J. on a station that calls itself La Ley, or The Law. And he drives around town in an old black and white police cruiser. From behind his law enforcement style sunglasses, he guesses that most of his listeners are in the U.S. illegally. And he says they hope President Fox can help fix that.

Mr. PHILIPPE GODENCIO (Radio Disc Jockey): I think they wanted to see the President Fox support the change for the immigration for the people, you know. Permanent residence in this...

KASTE: The people who gathered at this Mexican-American owned apple orchard to see Fox, generally regard amnesty for illegal immigrants as a human rights issue. Jaime Nava has bee trimming apple trees in Yakima for years.

Mr. JAIME NAVA (Apple Tree Trimmer): (Foreign language spoken)

KASTE: The people who've been here for a while, those who own houses and such, they have right to be legalized, Nava says.

(Soundbite of a motorcade)

KASTE: But Fox's arrival at the apple orchard dispelled any hopes that he would state things quite so unambiguously. Speaking to the crowd in Spanish, he avoided making specific policy recommendations to the American politicians wrestling with this issue right now, in Washington, D.C.

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

KASTE: It's our duty to respect the sovereignty of this Congress, he said. They will know how to make the best decisions for their country, but also for our country.

(Soundbite of chattering)

KASTE: Still, if the crowd was disappointed at the lack of specifics, they didn't show it. As Fox worked the line, orchard owners and laborers alike struggled to get cell phone pictures of him, and to pass him personal notes.

Francisco Gonzales says he became a U.S. citizen a few years ago, but he came to see Fox because he still considers himself a Mexican.

Mr. FRANCISCO GONZALES (Came To See President Fox): (Through Translator) All my children are from here now, and they feel the same way. Even though they were all born here, they feel Mexican.

KASTE: And for a couple of hours yesterday, this corner of Washington State apple country also felt like Mexico.

President FOX: (Foreign language spoken)

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

(Soundbite of Mexican music)

Martin Kaste, NPR News, Yakima, Washington.

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