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Bush-Fox Relations Deteriorate

Labor Day Weekend
September 2, 2002

U.S.-Mexico Border along with Bush-Fox Relations Deteriorate Amid Inconsistencies and Hypocrisy

* Fox will make his state of the union address on Labor Day, giving a slanted assessment of his presidency

* Bush/Fox "relationship"- a fading photo-op * * Fox's cancellation of his Texas trip was justified, but also revealed the lack of depth of his White House tie and the fact that it always has been an entirely political rather than a bona fide personal relationship

* The recent deaths along the U.S.-Mexico border illustrate the troubling legacy of an enhanced post 9/11 border control security strategy and the absence of a coherent overall immigration policy * * Fox exaggerates the extent of Mexico's democratization

* U.S. government authorities apply a bifurcated and asymmetrical policy in the treatment of undocumented immigrants-crush them at the border but send the "welcome wagon" if they are able to penetrate the country beyond 10 miles.

In an interview on Wednesday, August 21, President Vicente Fox stated "In two years I can say loudly that the transition [to democracy] is close to being over and it has been done with full stability, economic stability, political stability and social stability." While the statement is a distortion of reality and a self-glorification of Fox's modest achievements, and even more, doesn't establish the basis for a claim to a dramatic improvement of the quality of Mexico's basic democratic institutions, it still could be argued that Mexico's economic and political stability is firmer and more authentic than the Bush-Fox relationship. In fact, that relationship is dead in the water, as are U.S.-Mexican ties. On the economic and immigration front, the two areas of the greatest concern in their bilateral connection, whatever movement is taking place is a product of inertia of motion rather than of big, creative and innovative policy born out of any special connection between the two leaders.

These have not been inspiring times for a very dispirited Fox, with his poll ratings sagging, his country's economy going through hard times, his inability to fulfill his campaign pledge of creating one-million jobs (in fact, during his presidency, Mexico lost half-a-million jobs due in part to massive reductions in the maquiladora workforce), and with a relatively easy entrance into the U.S. no longer readily available to function as an escape valve for would-be surplus Mexican migrants, Fox's administration may be in trouble. Worst of all, a fundamental rift could be developing between the two neighbors, which later on could be reflected in growing Mexican intransigence in upcoming FTAA negotiations and its emergence as a leader of an anticipated denunciation by Latin American nations of U.S. hemispheric unilateralism.

Execution without Representation The recent execution of Javier Suárez Medina, a Mexican citizen who was convicted in Texas of being a police killer, has deepened the rift between the U.S. and Mexico. Fox justifiably cancelled his August visit to Bush's ranch in Texas as a sign of objecting to Suárez's execution on the grounds that state officials had violated the terms of an existing international consular agreement to which both countries were signatories. This agreement explicitly gave defendants-if they were foreign nationals-the right to be informed that they could obtain legal aid from the Mexican consulate after it had been notified that one of its nationals was being tried on capital charge; Suárez had never been apprised of such rights. Demonstrating his continued frustration over the issue, Fox also refused to meet with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who was in Mexico City over the August 25 weekend.

Texas officials responded to Fox's contentions by stating that Suárez's place of birth was uncertain. But Mexican officials adamantly claimed that Suárez was a Mexican national, and thus fell under the terms of the agreement. Even Governor Perry seems to have acknowledged Suárez's Mexican nationality when he became defensive over the large number of Mexicans on death row in his state, saying, "One way to solve that problem is, don't come to Texas and kill a police officer."

Although White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan told the Washington Post that the cancellation of Fox's visit to Texas would in no way hurt relations between the two countries and that the death penalty fell under state, not federal, jurisdiction, analysts believe differently. But the flap over Suárez is only symbolic of the real hurt carried by Fox. He is aware that Bush has no border policy today. In fact, what the White House features are two policies in total conflict with each other. At the border there is a tenacious Maginot Line mentality of il ne passarent pas-They shall not pass. Here is where the Bush administration is at war with would-be Mexican migrants. But ten miles into the U.S., there is scant interdiction. Those who successfully elude capture at the border can expect to permanently reside in the U.S. because the INS makes only token gestures to apprehend those migrating illegally in the country. This is because the agency is pressured not to enforce immigration statutes by local and state officials insisting that the cheap labor is needed in the chicken processing plants and in the fields. Here is where the hypocrisy kicks in. Make it past the border and you, the illegal immigrant, will figuratively have a limousine take you to a job vacancy that is craving for you to fill it.

Meanwhile, Bush's lack of action over Suárez speaks louder than his insistence that a putative bond of cordiality links the two presidents. The U.S. president's unwillingness to intervene in the possible postponement of the execution of the Mexican national revealed the shallowness of a supposedly close relationship between the two presidents. The lack of even an attempt at moral persuasion on the part of the White House reflects the relatively low priority that the administration is currently giving to maintaining cordial relations with Mexico City.

Fox's Hole is Dug Even though Fox cancelled his scheduled Texas trip to appease the outrage felt by many Mexicans over Suárez's execution, domestic critics have still not halted their protests over Fox's general ineffectiveness vis-à-vis the United States. A recent poll showed that Fox's approval rating has dropped thirty percent since he first took office. According to a New York Times editorial, "Washington's dismissal of Mr. Fox has damaged the standing of the most pro-American Mexican president ever and left many Mexicans wondering whether their country is getting enough in return for their president's support of Washington." As he prepares his second State of the Union address for September 1, many critics are noting that the democratization that Fox had promised has been slow to materialize. "About 40 percent of Mexico's population hasn't yet received any tangible benefits from open markets and democracy, and that's a powder keg," said James Jones, a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico in an interview with The Dallas Morning News. "If Mexico's sense of hope and opportunity is not kept alive and realized, then I think we have a problem on our hands, though I don't think Mexico is there yet." In fact, Mexico is very close to being "there" as its economy becomes increasingly concentrated in the hands of the country's small wealthy elite, and those living under the poverty line increase in absolute numbers.

However, most skeptics are not criticizing Fox's lack of trying, but rather his lack of success. The Mexican president is fighting an uphill battle as he leads a minority government, with his own business-oriented party being frequently at odds with him. In an interview, Fox stated, "We've had a two-fold challenge. One has been to correct all the mistakes committed in the past by past governments. . . . And we have to dedicate time to organize ourselves and institutions to be able to meet the challenges out on the street." Furthermore, Mexico's eighteen-month recession has not helped Fox's popularity. As many as three or four hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost along the border alone since Fox's presidency began, and even more assembly plants are expected to be moved to Asian locations soon, where they can find a significantly cheaper work force. There is no mystery over why Mexico is in trouble (an oversold at the time NAFTA pact helps to defuse that mystery), but rather why the U.S. is not taking more urgent action to address its neighbor's plight.

Along the border, maquiladoras, or sweatshops, are closing due to limited U.S. demand and rising wages available in Mexico's interior. Hourly wages in Mexican border cities rose in the 1990s from US $1.50 to US $2.00 per hour, which helps explain why maquiladora owners are now moving their factories to China and elsewhere in the Third World, where wages as low as US $0.25 an hour can be found. In response, President Fox is urging maquiladora owners to achieve comparable economies by moving their businesses to Mexico's southern region - its Sicily- where poverty is endemic. In Mexico, local farmers cannot even compete with cheap farm imports from U.S. agro-industry, which are now being subsidized by a $180 billion fund in the U.S. spread over ten years. In addition, the ongoing agricultural crisis afflicting Mexican farmers is forcing many of them to attempt to migrate to the U.S. merely to subsist, while American food processing companies seek cheap labor in order to maintain their intensely competitive prices.

Differing Perspectives Fox seems to be sparring with Bush on a much more frequent basis in recent months, and the superficiality of Fox's chummy smiles at his U.S. counterpart become more transparent. Their disagreements are occurring not only in their bilateral relations but also when it comes to international issues. If anything, Fox is more mainstream than Bush when it comes to abiding by international accords on subjects that are only controversial when seen from the White House's singularly insulated perspective. Unlike Bush, Fox is attending the Earth Summit in Johannesburg, where he will strongly urge the U.S. to sign the Kyoto treaty on global warming, just as the Mexican leader has accepted the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. In May, the leaders of Latin America and Europe implicitly rebuked Washington's refusal to sign the Kyoto treaty, by meeting at a historic summit and emphasizing their support of multilateral world solutions. Fox commented, "Without doubt, Latin America needs this proximity to Europe."

Fox has also said that he would not support Bush's war against Iraq. "We can't get involved in any way in any war...We have a great commitment to the fight against terrorism, but not participating directly in wars," he answered in response to whether Mexico would take sides with the U.S. against Iraq. But the Mexican leader insisted that Mexico would also help Washington in its war against terrorism by securing the country's northern border and fighting money laundering by any terrorists who may be found in Mexico.

In regards to Suárez's capital punishment, Fox clearly believed that because of the international consular agreement involving both countries, Bush could have stepped in, if only to insist on procedural grounds that a stay of execution be ordered by the governor in order to hear legal arguments concerning the applicability of the consular pact. During the Clinton administration, when Texas was scheduled to execute a Canadian national who had not been informed of his consulate rights, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright strongly urged Texas to delay the execution in order to consider Ottawa's petitions. Jorge Castañeda, Mexico's foreign minister, said that his country was especially disturbed by the lack of a postponement of the execution, which would have allowed Fox to visit the state and argue in person for a stay. High-level publicity efforts, including a phone call made by President Fox as well as by other high-ranking Mexican officials for the execution to be postponed, proved fruitless. Bush did respond, somewhat optimistically to the accusations that the Fox/Bush friendship has been weakened by saying, "I am confident that our friendship is strong, that we'll be able to work together to resolve common problems and we'll have future discussions." In fact, the relationship is patently deteriorating as the White House is content to reach out to it with upbeat rhetoric and tender sentiment, rather than concrete and affirmative policies.

In the main, Fox also has been preoccupied on a daily basis with the subject that Bush seems to have all but forgotten, but in the past was the basis of their congenial relationship. This, of course, has been related to immigration issues - which had produced a once thriving consensus that became moribund after September 11.

Due to increased security measures along heavily populated areas of the border, such as the San Diego and El Paso areas, undocumented Mexicans have been forced to carry out their illicit border crossings in far more remote areas. As recently as August 18-19, four undocumented immigrants trying to enter the country illegally died on an isolated stretch of the Arizona desert due to the intense heat (more illegal immigrants died last month trying to cross the border than during any other month). The tragic deaths of illegal immigrants along the U.S.-Mexico border ultimately could be due to the heightened surveillance in urbanized areas of California and in some of the other regions which feature stepped-up vigilance involving the use of augmented U.S. personnel and technology along the more than 2000-mile long border separating the two countries. This increased monitoring by INS Border Patrol agents, under the Operation Gatekeeper program, has forced thousands of migrants to attempt their crossings in far less hospitable areas than San Diego. Border Patrol spokesman Mario Villarreal stated that, in reaction to the increased manpower and resources along the southwest border, major smuggling organizations have shifted their operations to desolate areas in the southwest.

Smugglers or coyotes solicit clients, but often will abandon these undocumented migrants in treacherous areas if any dangerous situation arises, basically leaving their wards to fend for themselves in an often unforgiving habitat. Villarreal claims that as a result of the increased danger and the INS's enhanced interdiction capacity, the price for smuggling migrants has gone up accordingly. "Back in the mid to late eighties, it cost $40 - $100 per person. The current smuggling charge can be anywhere from $1000-$2000 per person."

A Pragmatic Relationship It has been argued that Fox has continued an amiable relationship on the surface with Bush for solely pragmatic political reasons. Steve Camarota, research director for Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a nonprofit research organization, gave his own spin on Fox's cancelled Texas trip. "Fox is looking to make a deal. He will reschedule to make himself look good back home...Fox came in to office on a platform of pressing for immigration reform in the U.S. Congress, but reform is not possible right now, because there is not a majority that support it there."

However, Delal Baer, chair of the Mexico Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, claimed that in canceling his trip, Fox "was speaking more to his domestic constituency, needing to beat his chest a bit, than exhibiting a true indication that the relationship is in trouble...No Mexican president can afford to appear weak in front of the United States." Although the relationship may not be in political trouble (he has since rescheduled his trip for the first quarter of next year), it is clear that the Bush-Fox friendship is not likely to go beyond what is politically convenient for both presidents.

A master source of President Fox's frustration with the Bush administration is the lack of progress on immigrant reform initiatives after the September 11 attack, upon which both governments had vowed to cooperate. Following meetings between Fox and Bush in February 2001, their respective governments created a High Level Working Group to deal with immigration issues. This body, whose first meeting was held in April 2001, was tasked to discuss and come up with proposals regarding such issues as border safety and security, temporary worker programs, regularization of undocumented immigrants in the United States, and border economic development efforts. When the presidents next met in early September, Bush referred to Mexico as "our most important ally", with Fox challenging the White House to come up with agreement that would provide a functional amnesty to millions of undocumented Mexicans by the end of the year. To Fox's dismay, after the September 11 attacks, with the exception of increased border security measures, the immigration discussions with Mexico were moved to the back-burner, where, at best, they were left to simmer. In March, the two presidents met once more, and although Bush assured his counterpart of his commitment to work on the full range of immigration matters, little has been heard about this since.

Developing the Bond In a meeting with foreign correspondents on August 26, Fox urged the United States to treat Mexico like the true partner that it is. The Mexican president reminded his audience that it is often forgotten that hundreds of thousands of U.S. workers benefit from the $150 billion in U.S. goods Mexico purchases every year here. "We are the most important partner of the United States in trade and investment. It is important that we recognize this so we can deal with Mexico's affairs not just as a neighbor, not just as a friend, but also as a partner," Fox stated. At one point in his conversation he stressed his government's insistence on pushing for immigration reform in the United States. "[We are] trying to convince the U.S. government and the American people that this is a good step to make," he said.

The Bush administration and a large number of members of Congress seem to be applying double standards when it comes to the treatment of immigrants. On the one hand, they are very aware that many immigrants, although undocumented, have been paying their sales and other taxes for years and that their hard labor is essential to the operation of agro-industry, chicken and meat processing and a whole array of occupations requiring manual labor, which don't easily attract a native U.S. workforce. Nevertheless, Bush and the Congress have not acted on much needed immigration reform, leaving an unsatisfactory and discriminatory status quo in effect. Michel Waslin, Senior Immigration Policy Analyst at the National Council of La Raza, said "Our immigration policy is not in sync with our economic and social realities. Many business sectors are dependent on the labor of these immigrants, but because of this country's current immigration laws, we can't admit enough workers to meet our demand and who, conversely, are trying to flee a bad situation back home." She then added, "We don't want people to come here without any documents, we want to change the system of immigration so they can come here legally." Commenting on the Bush administration's so-called commitment to immigration reform, she added, "We want the president and Congress to put their money where their mouth is."

Adding to what many would call a hypocritical stance, the INS, the agency in charge of both enforcing immigration laws and offering services for immigrants, seems to be undertaking a shift in policy that will not be pro-immigrant in nature. Over the past decade, the agency enforcement branch received from Congress numerous increases in budget, with the purpose of ultra-securing the borders and keeping undocumented immigrants out. Apparently, there is a growing interest in a segment of the administration in firmly closing the border to undocumented aliens, who characteristically come here to fill otherwise unmanned tasks that industry and business leaders deem essential. In contrast, increases in budget for immigration services available to even legal incoming immigrants, far from being corresponding, have been at best minimal. This budgetary contradiction speaks to the lack of interest the government has had in improving the status of immigrants in this country.

Homeland Security and the INS It appears that Congress will pass a bill this fall that would create the new Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security, which will include the Customs Service, Coast Guard, Transportation Security Agency, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Not only could this merger represent a bureaucratic nightmare, it also could lead to the sidelining of core functions of these very disparate agencies, some of which don't directly deal with the issue of security. Waslin, of the National Council of La Raza, expressed the concern of many immigrant advocates when she stated that, "We are horrified and we think it is disgusting that immigrants and immigration are viewed as a national security issue. Not only that, but we fear that it [immigration] will get lost. Enforcement will take precedent, services will suffer even more." This analysis was prepared by Research Associates RoseLee Bovell, Alonso Sánchez, and Sarah Stokes of the COHA research group. The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the Senate floor as being "one of the nation's most respected bodies of scholars and policy makers." For more information, please see our web page at; or contact our Washington offices by phone (202) 216-9261, fax (202) 216-9193, or email

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