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Friday, June 18, 2004

Mexico's president talks trade - 06/18/04

Mexico's president talks trade - 06/18/04

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Friday, June 18, 2004


Dale G. Young / The Detroit News

Mexico's President Vicente Fox meets with the press after landing at Lansing's Capitol City Airport on Thursday. Fox has been pressing President Bush for relaxed immigration restrictions.



Mexico's president talks trade

Michigan stop focuses on immigrant issues

By Gary Heinlein and Louis Aguilar / The Detroit News


Dale G. Young / The Detroit News

Karely Garcia greets President Fox during his Lansing visit. Fox was invited to Lansing by Mayor Tony Benavides, the city's first Hispanic mayor.


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LANSING — Mexican President Vicente Fox stressed the importance of education for Michigan's Hispanic residents and also promised he would keep working with President Bush to improve their status and protect their rights.

In a talk delivered in Spanish at the Lansing Center on Thursday evening, the 61-year-old businessman turned politician said he wants better educational opportunities and health care access for Mexican immigrants in the U.S.

Their valuable contribution as workers crucial to the Michigan and U.S. economy also deserves recognition, Fox said to cheers from about 3,000 listeners, the vast majority of them Hispanic.

Since he became president of Mexico in 2000, Fox has pushed for shared economic opportunities with the United States and eased immigration policies.

Fox's three-day Midwest swing is a mixture of trade talks and Thursday's high-profile pep rally that brought people from Detroit and throughout southeast Michigan to the capital city.

That he came here is no surprise, given that Michigan has 221,000 residents of Mexican descent. As many as half of them may be undocumented and lack the legal standing necessary to freely seek higher education or qualify for Social Security and other benefits, according to Michigan State University's Julian Samora Research Institute.

Another 45,000 seasonal workers also come north from Mexico each year to harvest Michigan's fruit and vegetable crops.

Efrain Zamudio, a 28-year-old Detroiter who moved from Mexico a little more than three years ago, was impressed with the leader's speech.

“He said we are pouring good things into the U.S. -- money into the economy,” said Zamudio, who is Christian services director at Holy Redeemer Church in Detroit. “He encouraged Latinos to get more education.”

Fox, a former Coca-Cola executive who studied business in Mexico City and at Harvard, didn't talk directly about immigration policies, but did say he would continue to press President Bush to improve prospects for Mexican immigrants in the U.S.

Under an idea Bush floated earlier this year, illegal immigrants could register as temporary workers and stay in this country for up to six years. Many immigrant workers also could gain expedited consideration to qualify for citizenship -- a proposal opposed by some unions and groups wanting tighter borders.

Fox's invitation to Lansing came from Mayor Tony Benavides, a Mexican native and the city’s first Hispanic mayor. Benavides said Fox's visit helps show the value of multicultural understanding.

“We also must be proud of who we are,” he told the audience.

Fox and his wife, Martha Sahagun de Fox, also met with with Gov. Jennifer Granholm, state lawmakers and top executives from Detroit automakers and the UAW. He was to attend a dinner in Dearborn, hosted by Ford Motor Co. Thursday evening.

He was to talk this morning with General Motors chief executive Rick Wagoner and visit top leaders at DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group, including chief executive Dieter Zetsche. He was to stop at Oakland University and meet with other local business leaders.

Fox also is visiting Illinois and Minnesota, whose Mexican populations are growing.

His trip to the nation's heartland was designed to attract United States investment to his country. But Michigan workers also benefit from the state’s relationship with Mexico, its second-largest trading partner.

Michigan's $16.5 billion in trade with Mexico in 2000 trailed only its $22.1 billion in commerce with Canada, according to the federal Office of Trade and Economic Analysis.

The auto industry and its suppliers are by far the largest component in the multibillion-dollar trade relationship between the United States and Mexico, said Sidney Weintraub, a North American trade analyst for the Washington think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies.

In 2003, the U.S. auto industry and its suppliers exported more than $13 billion worth of goods to Mexico. U.S. imports from Mexico amounted to $33 billion in goods related to the auto industry.

David Littmann, chief economist at Comerica Bank, said Fox’s visit “is a chance to do a little fence-mending” on the sensitive issue of U.S. jobs moving to other countries.

Michigan continues to lose jobs to Mexico, including thousands that will head there when Electrolux AB shuts down a refrigerator plant in Greenville in 2005 and moves production to the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez.

At the same time, Mexico is losing manufacturing jobs. Mexicans are coming to the United States, in part, because they have lost their jobs to India or China, said Zaragosa Vargas, a labor history professor of University of California at Santa Barbara.

“It's estimated 200,000 to 300,000 Mexicans will eventually immigrate to the U.S. due to (plants) shutting down and that work being outsourced to other countries,“ Vargas said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. You can reach Gary Heinlein at (517) 371-3660 or gheinlein@detnews.com

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