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U.S., Mexico Need to Cooperate on Migration, Fox Says

Times Staff Writers

Mexican President Vicente Fox said Thursday that border walls and aggressive policing by themselves won’t stop illegal immigration, while pledging that his government would create enough jobs that people won’t want to flee to the United States.

Speaking at a joint session of the California Legislature at a time when immigration issues have riveted much of the U.S., Fox said the two nations need to enact “comprehensive reform” and work cooperatively to gain better control of the border.

Fox’s arrival at Sacramento International Airport at 4 p.m. was his first visit to California in five years. In that span, Arnold Schwarzenegger replaced Gray Davis as governor, and Mexican immigration eclipsed rolling blackouts and other issues as a top concern of voters.

Fox appeared to reject the argument of more conservative U.S. voices in the immigration debate that harsher security measures would keep illegal immigration in check.

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He said that his government is committed to “continue expanding jobs in Mexico,” while “promoting economic growth and social opportunities so that migration is no longer a necessity.”

But he added that his country “believes that it will take more than just enforcement or building walls to truly solve the challenges posed by the migration phenomenon, and that a comprehensive reform is in the interests of both nations.”

He got a cold reception from some Republican legislators inside the Capitol -- and from protesters outside.

Sen. Dave Cox (R-Fair Oaks) passed out yellow lapel pins to fellow Republican lawmakers reading, “No Mas” -- no more. At least eight lawmakers were seen wearing the buttons.

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“Mexico cannot continue to ignore the crisis of illegal immigration into the United States, and President Fox must work with the United States to take the necessary steps to control our borders,” Cox said in a prepared statement.

Seven Republican lawmakers boycotted Fox’s speech: Assemblyman Russ Bogh of Cherry Valley; Assemblywoman Sharon Runner of Lancaster and her husband, Sen. George Runner; Assemblyman Chuck DeVore of Irvine; Assemblywoman Mimi Walters of Laguna Niguel; Assemblyman Ray Haynes of Murrieta; and Sen. Tom McClintock of Thousand Oaks, a former gubernatorial candidate.

Assembly Republican leader George Plescia (R-San Diego) panned the speech as vague and unconvincing.

“President Fox could have used the occasion of his address to give Californians some insight on his government’s plans to stop the flow of illegal immigrants from Mexico into California,” Plescia said. “Much to my disappointment, he spoke in generalities and talked about ‘shared responsibility’ without taking any responsibility for his policies that encourage Mexican residents to cross the border illegally. We heard a monologue, not a constructive dialogue.

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“After listening to his speech, I must conclude that this was nothing more than a carefully orchestrated political stunt.”

Sen. Bill Morrow (R-Oceanside) called illegal immigration “the elephant sitting on the living room couch.”

“He did touch upon it, in such a way that he publicly supported the measure that apparently went through today in the U.S. Senate. Somehow that sticks in my craw.... Look, it’s no coincidence that he’s here at this particular time, making his tour through the Western states. He’s trying to influence that debate. That is a very important issue that needs to be resolved by Americans on our own side of the border.”

Outside the Capitol, about a dozen protesters, some waving American flags, carried signs telling Fox to “go home.” Others chanted, “Save our country.”

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Democratic legislators were more receptive of Fox’s message.

“I thought he did a very good job of laying out the Mexicans’ case,” said Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles). “We’re uninformed in many respects on this side of the border.... As he said, jobs are the best social program.”

Fox’s visit is part of a four-day trip to the U.S. that also included stops in Utah and Washington state. He is scheduled to meet privately today with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

The Mexican leader was greeted on the west steps of the Capitol by a delegation that included Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders. After his speech, Fox met with the governor for 15 minutes. The two leaders were then joined by 16 aides for a half-hour meeting, at which the governor’s office served cookies decorated in the colors of the Mexican flag: red, white and green.

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Sitting at Schwarzenegger’s side in the cabinet room was former U.S. Secretary of State George P. Shultz, an advisor to the governor.

In their private meeting, the governor asked Fox to support legislation in Mexico that would outlaw underground tunnels at the border, according to a Schwarzenegger aide, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record about the meeting.

The two also spoke about President Bush’s plan to deploy 6,000 National Guard troops to help safeguard the border. At a news conference earlier this week, Schwarzenegger offered his strongest signal to date that he would accede to Bush’s plan and commit National Guard troops.

“He said to President Fox that he is prepared to put National Guard troops on the border, but he is opposed to militarizing the border,” said the aide. “And Fox said he understood and appreciated being told that.”

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For Schwarzenegger, who is up for reelection this year, the meeting with Fox carries political peril, analysts and pollsters said.

Both Republicans and Democrats see illegal immigration as a central issue facing California but favor different solutions, said Mark Baldassare, research director of the Public Policy Institute of California.

Schwarzenegger risks alienating the growing bloc of Latino voters by opting for too punitive an approach to border security, and he faces reprisals from his Republican base should he stake out a position perceived as too lenient.

Schwarzenegger has tread carefully on the issue. While he appears inclined to send National Guard troops to the border, he has also made it plain that he is skeptical that Bush’s plan offers a real solution, and he has faulted the administration for being slow in explaining how the program would work.

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“What Schwarzenegger is doing that’s really smart is he’s not being dragged into one of the pre-established rhetorical camps,” said Wayne Johnson, a Republican political consultant from Sacramento. “He’s developing his own space, and that’s an opportunity for leadership.”

The Democratic candidates for governor are not as impressed.

State Treasurer Phil Angelides, speaking at a Los Angeles middle school Thursday, said he opposed a border plan that might divert the Guard from other duties.

“I don’t think the National Guard ought to go to the border,” Angelides said. “I believe that the National Guard is here to protect us against flooding, fire and national disasters.”

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The other major Democratic candidate for governor, state Controller Steve Westly, said he would oppose sending any California National Guard troops to the border. Westly also said the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already in the U.S. should be “put on the path to citizenship.”

Times staff writers Jordan Rau, Robert Salladay, Sam Howe Verhovek and Juliet Chung contributed to this report.


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