Grown Cautious, Fox Expects Delay on U.S. Action on Migrants
By GINGER THOMPSON
EXICO CITY, March 3 — In an interview to discuss his scheduled visit to Texas this weekend, President Vicente Fox of Mexico said this week that he did not expect the United States to adopt sweeping reforms that would give legal status to millions of undocumented workers until well after the presidential election this fall.
Mr. Fox reiterated support for a proposal by President Bush to give temporary work permits to an estimated eight million illegal immigrants. He described the plan, which could benefit as many as four million Mexicans, as "an excellent starting point" and later as "great progress." And he praised Mr. Bush for having the "courage" to present the reforms despite opposition in the Republican Party.
Mr. Fox, who challenged the United States to open its borders to a greater flow of Mexican workers at the start of his presidency three years ago, made clear he had not abandoned his campaign. However, Mexico's first opposition president, whose rise to power ended seven decades of authoritarian rule, departed Tuesday evening from his unrelenting optimism and accepted that long-awaited migration reforms would have to wait some more.
"We understand clearly that we are in an election year," Mr. Fox said. "We do not expect any kind of final decision this year. But starting next year, yes, after the election of the next president."
Political observers said the remarks reflected a changed and seasoned head of state.
"President Fox has become more realistic about what he can accomplish and when," said Jorge Chabat, a political analyst. "He does not want to keep raising expectations and then fail to deliver what he promised."
Mr. Fox is scheduled to travel Friday to Mr. Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, to discuss migration, trade and border security. The meetings come at a time when Mr. Fox, battered by rising unemployment and a stagnant economy, hopes to show that his most important foreign policy initiatives are back on track. Meanwhile Mr. Bush, facing what may be a close election race, strives for support among America's Latino population.
Officials in both governments said they did not expect any important agreements to be made during Mr. Fox's visit to Texas. What is important, some analysts say, is that the two presidents agreed to meet at all.
Three years ago, Mr. Bush visited Mr. Fox's family ranch in the northern state of Guanajuato and proclaimed that America had no greater friend than Mexico. Several months later, Mr. Fox became the first state visitor to the Bush White House.
But the warm personal relationship between the two was severely strained after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, when the Bush administration abandoned its promises to work on a migration accord with Mexico and Mexico voted against war with Iraq at the United Nations.
The chill began to thaw in January when Mr. Bush announced his plans for the most comprehensive overhaul of American immigration policy in recent years.
Gustavo Mohar, an expert on United States-Mexico relations who participated in the early migration talks on behalf of Mr. Fox, said that it was important for Mexico for the two leaders to have a good relationship.
"A phenomenon as complex as migration, that affects both sides of the
border cannot be managed unilaterally," he said. "Mexico must play an active
role and seek with caution and intelligence to influence the reforms."