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Fox Makes Rounds for Immigration

Times Staff Writers

Mexican President Vicente Fox wrapped up his four-day, three-state tour of the American West on Friday with a stop in Los Angeles that included meetings with civic, religious and union leaders who have been among the most vocal proponents of immigration reform.

The two principal meetings were with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, who have repeatedly stressed the need for reform.

Fox’s visit was also the object of small but vocal protests -- as it had been throughout his trip -- including one in front of City Hall, where a Getty Center dinner for Fox and Villaraigosa was derisively labeled a “meaningless photo op.”

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Fox’s trip took him to Utah, Washington and Sacramento before he arrived in Los Angeles. He had been scheduled to discuss immigration reform Friday night with Villaraigosa, but the mayor preemptively declined to discuss the subject, saying that policy was a federal matter and out of his hands.

Instead, Villaraigosa said their discussion would focus on strengthening economic ties between Los Angeles and Mexico. The mayor said he was interested in boosting Mexican tourism, improving trade and expanding Mexican investment in the city. In 2005, trade between Mexico and Los Angeles was estimated at $25 billion.

“We believe that trade with Mexico is absolutely pivotal for the L.A. economy,” Villaraigosa said.

But at the dinner, Fox did briefly address immigration reform, saying that a “legal, safe, orderly immigration policy will benefit the security and prosperity of both our nations.”

Fox met first with Mahony, then with hotel workers and union leaders in separate meetings at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel downtown.

Fox chatted for about an hour with Mahony -- who has been an outspoken advocate of immigration reforms that would provide legal status for the county’s estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants. While meeting with union and other leaders, Fox lauded immigrants’ “desire to progress,” saying: “You are an example for all of us.”

Some African American community leaders said Friday that they were upset that Fox was meeting with Villaraigosa without addressing the illegal immigration question.

“We are offended that he would come here and not address the real issues that are impacting citizens throughout this city and this nation -- and that’s immigration reform,” said Najee Ali, director of Project Islamic Hope.

He said the mayor had a responsibility to get Fox to speak on the issue.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, who joined Ali at a news conference outside City Hall, said that Fox had failed to improve economic conditions in Mexico and had insulted African Americans by implying that they are not willing to do the jobs illegal immigrants do.

“What about the citizens of Mexico in your own country that you have not taken care of?” Hutchinson asked. “Where are the jobs?”

Fox’s tour, coming as the U.S. is immersed in the immigration debate, was seen by some as meddling by the Mexican president.

His visit shows “how comfortable the Mexican government feels coming into the United States to lecture us on what our immigration policy should be,” said John Keeley, spokesman for the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank. “Fox and his cabinet and lawmakers feel no reluctance whatsoever to come to the U.S. and explicitly lobby in their own interests.”

Still, Keeley said, “Fox and the Mexican government can’t be faulted too much because there’s no push back from the Bush administration. It doesn’t bother them at all.”

Fox’s visit is partly to do with Mexican politics, said Jose Antonio Crespo, a Mexico City political scientist and commentator.

On July 2, Mexico will elect Fox’s successor. Polls show that the race between the candidate of Fox’s National Action Party, Felipe Calderon, and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Democratic Revolution Party is a dead heat.

If the U.S. Congress passes some kind of amnesty for illegal immigrants, Fox “wants it to seem that he had something to do with it,” thus helping Calderon, Crespo said.

Fox made history in 2000 when he was elected Mexico’s first president who was not a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which had ruled the country for more than 70 years.

He last visited Los Angeles in March 2001, fresh with the promise and excitement of his victory.

He ran on a platform of making Mexico a country in which poor people didn’t have to leave to survive. He proposed fundamental and wide-ranging changes, from education and criminal justice to tax collecting and the power of local governments.

None of the reforms Fox proposed during his campaign have been enacted, and tens of thousands of people continue to migrate to the U.S. every year.

Meanwhile, Mexico has been gripped by political paralysis. Much of what Fox tried was blocked by an intransigent and divided Congress.

Fox didn’t know how to forge coalitions to achieve what he wanted, Crespo said.

“There’s responsibility on both parts,” he said.

Fox’s rhetoric now focuses on making it easier for Mexican immigrants to find a place in the U.S., Crespo said. Last year, Mexican immigrants sent home an estimated $20 billion in remittances.

“The government now sees that remittances are what it likes to have,” Crespo said.

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Times staff writer J. Michael Kennedy contributed to this report.


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