U.S. fence ends immigration dream of Mexico's Fox
By Alistair Bell
Saturday, September 30, 2006; 1:14 PM
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican President Vicente Fox retires in November with his dream shattered of a U.S. immigration overhaul that would allow millions more Mexicans to work legally north of the border.
Fox was once warmly described by President Bush as an “amigo,” and his main foreign-policy objective was persuading U.S. lawmakers to soften immigration laws.
But Fox's quest was as good as ended when the U.S. Senate on Friday gave final congressional approval to building a fence about 700 miles long on the Mexican border to curb illegal immigration. The bill now awaits Bush's expected signature, although it falls short of his goal of a broader overhaul.
Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez acknowledged it was highly unlikely the U.S. Congress would pass any other immigration legislation other than the fence bill before Fox leaves office on November 30.
U.S. lawmakers and analysts say Congress could take up broader immigration legislation after November U.S. elections, but they acknowledge difficulties.
“Unfortunately it looks like we haven't been successful, both on the U.S. and Mexican side, with the agenda we put forward. We haven't been able to obtain the right solution,” Derbez told journalists.
Fox, a conservative and rancher like Bush and a former Coca Cola executive, came to office in 2000 and hit if off with the U.S. president.
Bush said at the time the United States had no more important foreign relation than the one with Mexico, but his focus shifted to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq after the September 11 attacks.
Mexico insisted on some kind of concession on immigration but critics say Fox did not understand that the new U.S. focus on homeland security made that almost impossible.
“It was a total failure by Fox's government,” said Manuel Camacho Solis, of the main opposition Party of the Democratic Revolution.
“It was clumsy to want to concentrate all the U.S. relation in just one issue, which was the most difficult one, and to not read the change in circumstances after September 11,” he said.
Fox broke Mexico's traditional friendship with Cuba and neglected other Latin American nations to concentrate on courting Washington.
His successor, conservative Felipe Calderon, sets off on a tour of nine Latin American capitals next week in part to make up with the region.
“It's probably quite right that he (Calderon) would like to return a bit more to a balanced policy in terms of Latin America, especially as Fox did his utmost to make sure we fought with almost everybody,” said former ambassador Andres Rozental, of the Mexican Council on Foreign Affairs.
But Mexico, which sends around 90 percent of its exports to the United States, still has very close links to the north.
“I don't think there is a decision to turn away from the United States. We all recognize in this country, and I think Calderon does too, that our relationship with the United States is the most important one we have,” Rozental said,