Mexican Officials Hope Economic Growth Can Stem Illegal Immigration

Mexican officials hope economic growth can stem illegal migration

By Olga R. Rodriguez

4:19 p.m. October 12, 2006

MEXICALI, Mexico Top Mexican business leaders were developing ways Thursday to boost the economy and create jobs in a bid to stem illegal immigration to the United States, where authorities are tightening border security to stop migrants from entering.
President Vicente Fox told the group Thursday that he shared the private sector's concern over the lack of security along the Mexico-U.S. border, but he said security, especially when it is related to organized crime, is a joint problem with the United States.

We have a common problem. A shared responsibility on this border, Fox said. To achieve this security, we have to work together and stop pointing fingers and assigning blame.
The business leaders presented their ideas to an audience that included Fox and Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, among others, during a two-day Northern Frontier Forum in Mexicali, a Mexican border city in Baja California state.

The meeting comes a week after President Bush signed a bill to fund additional fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border to stop migrants from entering illegally.

Mexico's six northern states have 16 million residents, and feature bustling trade and manufacturing and agricultural businesses that account for 23 percent of the country's gross domestic product.

Serious crime remains a challenge, however.

Fox again pointed out that the U.S. is the biggest market in the world for illegal drugs, and said the profit from the drug trade contributes to corruption because drug traffickers are able to corrupt government officials and police in Mexico.

Drug-related violence has left scores of people dead on the border, especially in Nuevo Laredo, across from Laredo, Texas. And in Tijuana across from San Diego members of the business community recently severed relations with the local government, saying police were not doing enough to stop kidnappings targeting them.

We are transit states for drug trafficking, and public policies have to take these circumstances into account, said Reginaldo Esquer, president of the Baja California state board of business directors. The group has invited its counterparts in the other five northern border states to form a united lobbying front.

On Tuesday, Mexican President-elect Felipe Calderon proposed political and economic reforms, and pledged progress on issues including law enforcement and jobs.

He said he hopes to eradicate the extreme poverty suffered by about 20 percent of Mexico's 107 million people, which forces about 400,000 to migrate, mainly to the United States, each year. Calderon said he wants Mexico to boost its per-capita income from the equivalent of about $8,000 to around $30,000 by 2030.

Fox told the business leaders Thursday that he is turning over a very healthy economy to Calderon, claiming that Mexico was able to get an additional revenue of 75 billion pesos ($7 billion U.S.) this year that will be distributed to state and city governments. Of that 75 billion pesos, Fox said 12 billion ($1 billion) will go to the border region.

The border states are having an extraordinary year, Fox said, adding that 1 million jobs have been created.

President-elect Calderon begins a six-year term on Dec. 1, and has promised to keep lobbying U.S. lawmakers to pass a guest-worker program for Mexican migrants. Fox championed the move throughout his term and Bush initially supported it. The program failed to muster sufficient support in Congress, and has been dropped by the White House, at least until after the November congressional elections.

Congress focused instead on security, arguing that the porous U.S.-Mexico border could be used by terrorists trying to sneak into the U.S., although there has been no evidence of that.

Last week, Bush signed a homeland security funding bill that includes $1.2 billion for fencing along the border to stop illegal crossings by immigrants and criminals.