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Tuesday, June 22, 2004

HoustonChronicle.com - Perry in Mexico: There's trade ... and lots of points of contention

HoustonChronicle.com - Perry in Mexico: There's trade ... and lots of points of contention
June 22, 2004, 1:31AM

PERRY IN MEXICO
There's trade ... and lots of points of contention

Gov. Rick Perry's four-day trip to Mexico, which begins today, is sure to be long on ceremony. Let us hope it proves substantive as well.

Perry has made several official visits to Mexico since becoming governor in late 2000, but this one is being billed as the governor's first official trade mission to our neighbor south of the border. Consequently, he will be meeting with Mexican and American business people as well as several governmental officials, including Mexican President Vicente Fox.

While there, Perry is expected to sign a memorandum of understanding with governors of three Mexican border states urging increased trade between Mexico and Texas.

For that goal, Perry likely will find receptive ears. He already has an expanding base on which to build. Texas exported more than $41.5 billion worth of goods to Mexico last year, about 42 percent of Texas' total foreign exports.

Governors have little formal responsibility over international relations, but Texas and Mexico obviously share numerous other concerns, including immigration, health care, water resources and environmental protection. On these other, more difficult issues, if recent history is any indication, Perry and his Mexican hosts, particularly Fox, probably will continue to disagree.

In Fox's eyes, for example, Texas has a mixed record on human rights for immigrants, a cause that he has espoused and which he discussed with Perry — with limited success — in a visit to Texas and two other states last November.

At that time, Fox praised Texas' policy of allowing qualified undocumented migrants to attend state universities and pay the same tuition as citizens and legal residents. But he was disappointed at Texas' refusal to recognize the matriculas consulares — identification cards issued by Mexican consulates — that allow undocumented migrants to obtain drivers licenses, bank accounts and other services in some other parts of the United States.

Texas hasn't changed its mind on that latter issue for security reasons, Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt said.

Whatever the identification cards' merits, Fox's bigger problem is that so many of Mexico's best and brightest leave for the United States each year. Perry should ask Fox to demonstrate progress on reforms to slow that exodus.

Perry says he supports guest worker legislation touted by Texas Sen. John Cornyn, and he and Fox might discuss how best to revive the subject since 9/11 terrorism made it a back-burner issue. Otherwise, Texans should expect little progress on unfettered immigration.

Meanwhile, Perry remains unhappy with Mexico's failure to repay a huge debt of borderland water its owes Texas under a 1944 treaty. Spring rains along the Rio Grande recently enabled Mexico to repay part of the debt, which Fox has blamed on historic drought conditions. Mexico began falling behind on its payments about a decade ago, and drought-stricken South Texas farmers' suffering has been compounded by this failure.

Texas and Mexico also continue to disagree over the death penalty, particularly as it concerns Mexican citizens on death row. This trip isn't likely to change that.

The governor's mission to Mexico may succeed in boosting trade and creating some new jobs in Texas. On most other issues, however, perhaps the best that can be hoped for is continued dialogue on our substantive differences.

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