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Saturday, June 19, 2004

St. Paul Pioneer Press | 06/19/2004 | Fox promises consulate

St. Paul Pioneer Press | 06/19/2004 | Fox promises consulate
Fox promises consulate
Mexico president expresses wish to aid countrymen in Minnesota
BY JIM RAGSDALE AND JOHN WELBES
Pioneer Press

The president of Mexico, a leader also to Mexicans in America, had words of encouragement for Elizabeth Santiago of St. Paul on Friday.

Vicente Fox paused between high-level meetings to speak and pose for pictures with Santiago, her daughter, Maria, and other Mexican-born workers at the Radisson Riverfront Hotel. They were, in a sense, the reason he came.

"He said we are going to have a consulate here,'' said Santiago, her Spanish translated by co-worker Vicente Cervantes. "He wants the children to have a better education.'' He told her he wanted to cut the costs of sending money to relatives in Mexico and to make it easier for immigrants to get drivers' licenses — U.S. services that figure prominently in their lives.

"He wants to support the hard-working Mexican people,'' Santiago said.

It was a quiet moment in a busy day. The first visit to Minnesota by a Mexican president produced a commitment to open a consular office in Minnesota to assist the growing Mexican population. Fox, his wife, Marta, and his entourage of high-level Mexican leaders were feted at a reception at the Governor's Residence, cheered after a Spanish-only speech at Academia Cesar Chavez in St. Paul and toasted at a glittering dinner at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

At the St. Paul school, the crowd erupted when Fox referred to opening a consular office in the state. While St. Paul officials hoped it would be in St. Paul, Carlos Sada, the Chicago-based Consul General for Mexico, confirmed that there will be a new consular office in the state, but said the exact location has not yet been determined.

Beyond the announcement, the visit was a lift to the state's growing Mexican and Latino population.

"I think this shows that our community has finally arrived,'' said Jesse Bethke Gomez, president of Chicanos Latinos Unidos En Servicio, a Latino social service organization, beaming after Fox's visit to the St. Paul school. "Our people have been here for more than 100 years, working and raising families, and to have the president come here recognizes that, and also the growth of the Latino community here."

Fox's trip was part of a three-day Midwestern tour that included stops in Chicago and Lansing, Mich. From the moment the Fox entourage touched down — his green-and-red-striped jetliner moving past the U.S. government jet ferrying first lady Laura Bush, also in town for a speech — Minnesota combined "Bienvenidos!" with "You Betcha!" in a homegrown reception with a Spanish accent.

A WELCOME

Fox spent more than an hour inside the Governor's Residence, where he was welcomed by dozens of legislative and business leaders. "It was pleasant, refreshing, very friendly and low-key," said Tim Morin, vice president of SoftBrands, a Minneapolis-based software development company.

The president met with Pawlenty and, later, with U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, who discussed trade and other issues. At the residence, Fox spoke about strengthening business ties between Minnesota and Mexico, Morin said. "He talked about how he hopes to see an increased level of activity and a continuing relationship with Minnesota."

Outside the Governor's Residence, a small group tried to get Fox's attention.

Sanjuanita Gonzalez of Minneapolis, who came here from Fox's native state of Guanajuato, Mexico, said she was happy Fox is visiting, but wants him to do more for those who come to the United States illegally.

"Don't forget us — we're living in the shadows,'' said Gonzalez, who was with a group of union workers. "The major reason people come here is because we don't have the means in our country. We don't have a choice but to migrate. And yet when we get here, we can't get something as simple as an ID.''

AT CESAR CHAVEZ

The Twin Cities is about 1,500 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border at El Paso, Texas, but like much of the Midwest, the area has seen growth in Mexican and Latino immigration. Three percent of the state's population is Hispanic, and about two-thirds of those people come from Mexico. Hundreds waited in line to see Fox at the Academia Cesar Chavez, and many were turned away.

Mexico's first couple strolled down the aisle of the packed gymnasium, shaking hands, kissing babies and receiving flowers. While English-speaking officials raced for translators, Fox switched to Spanish for his speech and got a rousing cheer when he referred to opening a consulate office "here," using the Spanish word "aqui."

Many people took "aqui'' to mean St. Paul. "I'm cautious about whether he meant here in Minnesota, or the Twin Cities or St. Paul,'' said St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly. Sada, the Mexican official with responsibility for the new office, said the exact location has not been determined.

Fox also told the crowd that he wants "matricula" consular identity cards to be a way for undocumented workers to get drivers' licenses. The U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI have criticized the cards.

Fox also said that he wants to launch a program that would triple the amount of money for owners of small businesses in Mexico who receive assistance from relatives in the United States.

A STATE DINNER

The Mexican guests at the Minneapolis Convention Center were treated to a traditional Minnesota repast — broiled walleye with a crust of crushed pine nuts, Minnesota wild rice pilaf and a salad of wild blueberries and mixed greens.

Fox heard shouts of "Viva Mexico!'' as he entered the room. Speaking mainly in English, he praised the North American Free Trade Agreement, known as NAFTA, and said the U.S., Mexico and Canada need to work to fend off competition from Asia.

"The only way we can protect our jobs … is by working together, working as one,'' he told the gathering of about 750 people. "We're not only friends, we're not only neighbors, but partners.''

During the three-day trip to Midwest, Fox said, he has heard horror stories of families being ripped apart due to immigration policy. He promised to work to address these issues. As president of a nation whose citizens keep moving north, he added, "We want to pay full respect to this nation, this nation of immigrants.''

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said Fox's presence honors the work of Mexicans in Minnesota.

"While we eat in our restaurants, they toil in the kitchens,'' he said. "They mow the lawns in our best neighborhoods. At night when we go home, they clean our office buildings for the next day.''

Pawlenty also praised the contributions of Mexican immigrants to Minnesota.

"From our biggest cities to our smallest towns, spread out a map of Minnesota and you will find communities all over the state that have a significant and growing number of people of Mexican heritage,'' he said. "Not only are they adding a new cultural asset to their communities, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans are contributing to our economic strength. Nearly 3,000 Mexican-owned businesses in Minnesota generate about $600 million a year."

He called Mexico "one of Minnesota's most important trading partners," and said Minnesota exports to Mexico have increased 80 percent in seven years.

Pawlenty was toasting Fox a few days after his Minnesota Republican Party approved a platform change calling for the deportation of illegal immigrants and opposing any form of amnesty for people who are living in the United States illegally.

In comments to reporters, Pawlenty said "I don't support amnesty for illegal immigrants," Pawlenty said. "We should be in favor of immigration, but it needs to be orderly, reasonable and legal."

Outside the convention center, several dozen demonstrators urged Fox to support legalization for all immigrants living in the United States. They called for Fox to support government-issued identification cards and drivers' licenses for undocumented workers.

Mariano Espinoza of Apple Valley, an organizer for the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride Coalition, said his group supports legal rights for the undocumented workers who increasingly fill service jobs in Minnesota's economy.

"All those people in downtown," he said, gesturing toward the Minneapolis skyline. "When you are out to eat in any given restaurant, the cooks — chances are — are immigrants," he said. "The food was harvested in Florida by immigrants."

The crowd at the dinner included dozens of legislators and two former governors, Wendell Anderson and Arne Carlson. Pawlenty said that Fox invited him to visit Mexico and that he hopes to do so while he is in office.

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