RAY SUAREZ: In Monterrey, Mexico, Presidents Bush and Vicente Fox highlighted U.S. immigration reform, a week after Mr. Bush proposed legal status for millions of undocumented workers in the U.S. U.S.-Mexican border issues first came up in February 2001, a month into the Bush presidency.
In his first foreign trip in office, the U.S. leader called on Fox, who had touted a long-term vision of opening completely the 2,000-mile U.S.- Mexican border. Seven months later, on Sept. 5, 2001, the two men met in the first official state visit to the Bush White House. Mr. Bush said there was no relationship more important than that with Mexico.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: A Mexican proverb tells us "Quien tiene un buen vecino tiene un buen amigo": "He who has a good neighbor has a good friend."
RAY SUAREZ: But the Sept. 11 attacks came just six days later, and since then, relations have diminished, as the Bush administration put off plans for immigration reform, and the Fox administration took issue with U.S. policy on Iraq at the U.N. Security Council. But today, President Bush said the U.S.-Mexican "bonds of friendship are strong."
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We have worked together to overcome many mutual challenges, and that work is yielding results. Today Mexico is America's second largest trading partner, and we are Mexico's largest.
RAY SUAREZ: Then the president mentioned his immigration plan.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: This temporary worker program will match willing foreign workers with willing American employers when no Americans can be found to fill the jobs. Under this program, undocumented workers currently in the United States will be able to come out of the shadows and establish legal identities. All participants in the program will be issued a temporary worker card that will allow them to travel back and forth between their home and the United States without fear of being denied reentry into our country.
RAY SUAREZ: President Fox was asked how he would improve on the plan.
PRESIDENT VICENTE FOX (translated): What we want is the plan presented by President Bush. We hope that the plan has a happy ending through the political process so it can be approved in the Congress of the United States. The plan is a very important step forward for many Mexican workers in the United States.
RAY SUAREZ: The two leaders may meet again in March when President Bush has asked Mr. Fox to visit his Crawford, Texas ranch.
RAY SUAREZ: For more on U.S.-Mexico relations, we get two views. Jeffrey Davidow served as U.S. Ambassador to Mexico during the Clinton and Bush administrations. A retired career Foreign Service officer, he is now president of the Institute of the Americas at the University of California, San Diego. And Soledad Loaeza is a fellow at the Radcliff Institute, a research center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She's there on leave from El Colegio de Mexico in Mexico City, where she's a professor of political science and head of the International Relations Center.
Ambassador Davidow, what was on President Bush's to do list in this meeting with President Fox?
JEFFREY DAVIDOW: I think the most important thing for President Bush and we saw this beginning last week is to get the U.S.-Mexico relationship back on an even keel. It was important for President Bush to discuss and come out with a plan for immigration reform, because that has become the most central issue in the relationship, at least from the Mexican perspective, and from the perspective a large number of voters in this country in the last couple of years.
RAY SUAREZ: When you say back on an even keel, how would you describe the relations in the recent past?
JEFFREY DAVIDOW: Well, I think it's been pretty rocky since Sept. 11. The Mexican reaction, at least the public reaction was pretty ambivalent to Sept. 11. Then we went through a period in which Mexico turned the issue of migration into sort of a Johnny One-Note theme and beat up on the president for not going as far as they would like or even beginning the process of reform, and then the Iraq situation in the U.N. really made the relationship pretty rough for a while. But the relationship is so important to both countries that neither one can afford to have it in the pits for very long.
RAY SUAREZ: Professor Loaeza, is that when the U.S.-Mexico relationship looked like from the Mexican side of the border?
SOLEDAD LOAEZA: Well, yes, I totally agree with Ambassador Davidow. I think that the relationship between Mexico and the U.S. has been very rocky in the last month. But I suspect, well, what we saw is that both presidents were making a big effort in order to try to mend fences. They were both trying to show what both governments and both countries have in common, and they wanted to stress that.
RAY SUAREZ: President Fox praised the Bush immigration plan unveiled last week. But it's been described by politicians in Mexico as far short of what the president was looking for, President Fox. Is it?
SOLEDAD LOAEZA: Yes, it is. I must confess that I was a little bit surprised by the enthusiasm President Fox showed at the program, because it's half of what the Mexican government had expected. Not only that, reading the proposal, I also feel that President Fox doesn't want, at least for the moment, to take into account that while migration is a very important problem for Mexico, it is a priority for the U.S., whereas I would think that NAFTA is much more a priority for Mexico than migration is.
RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador, when the two leaders met in the early months of both the Bush and Fox administrations, they were often described as two men who needed each other for their own domestic reasons. Has that dynamic been changed by time in office and world events?
JEFFREY DAVIDOW: I think to some degree it has been, in the sense that President Bush has refocused the attention of the American people on other issues, as is natural after Sept. 11. President Fox, I think, really does need some sort of success to show his population and having created the migration issue as in some ways the sole yardstick for determining success, I think his enthusiasm today is reflective of the fact that he wants to claim a win.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, what would a win look like, Professor, if you're to use the ambassador's term, a win to show his own people, what would that look like in Mexican terms?
SOLEDAD LOAEZA: Well, I'm sure that many Mexicans, many will be very happy with the program, although I also think that many others will be disappointed because the implications of this program haven't been fully, I think, explored, and we still don't know how far this program will go. Not only that, I still think that the problem with migration has to do with job creation in Mexico. And the immigration proposal by President Fox does not address, it doesn't have to, address this particular problem. That's why I insist in this idea that maybe migration is a priority for the United States, but I think that for Mexico NAFTA and a discussion, a debate on many of the issues raised by NAFTA should be a priority.
RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador, do you think Bush administration is sensitive to that, domestic economic needs in Mexico?
JEFFREY DAVIDOW: I think they are very sensitive to the fact, and they would like to see Mexico take steps in terms of reforming its fiscal structure, opening its energy sector, and doing other things that would bring more investment and jobs into Mexico. The Mexican government and Mexican political opinion is very resistant to any suggestions from the outside. But the fact of the matter is, is that we will have a migration problem between the two countries until Mexico's economy grows sufficiently to provide a decent standard of living for about the 50 percent of the people in that country who currently live below the poverty level.
RAY SUAREZ: So how do you that? I mean, if it hasn't happened under NAFTA, and this was part of the promise that President Fox arrived in office with, what has to change in the economic relations between the two states in order to speed that process along?
JEFFREY DAVIDOW: NAFTA has given an opportunity to Mexico, and has been very beneficial to Mexico and to the United States. But really what has to be done in Mexico are a lot of domestic reforms, reforms in terms of the labor code and reforms in terms of tax collection, reforms in terms of energy and electricity production, to bring in more investment. NAFTA cannot bring that about. That has to come about through the Mexican domestic political system, which has been incapable of doing so up till now.
RAY SUAREZ: And professor, given the state of political play in Mexico, are any of the things that the ambassador suggested in the cards for President Fox?
SOLEDAD LOAEZA: Well, I'm sorry to disagree with Ambassador Davidow. I think that Mexico has made very important reforms in the last ten years. And those that haven't yet been made, it's probably because they, we haven't had good proposals of reform -- those that are also, that protect also Mexican interests. I think that we should look at NAFTA and what the benefits of NAFTA have been. Some areas have profited from that, but some others like the Mexican agriculture have been completely crushed. And we should discuss, I think, for instance, subsidies to American agriculture that favor American agriculture and Mexican products as being affected by this difference in protection, somehow protection.
On the other hand, we should also discuss the fact that NAFTA hasn't been able to create so many jobs that those that were expected to be created in Mexico, that the jobs that were needed to stop migration. That is the key, I think, to migration. Migration, to stop migration we have to have the Mexican economy growing, and NAFTA was a promise. The reason why it hasn't been fulfilled is maybe because it's not sufficient or maybe it's because some obstacles have been put to free trade.
RAY SUAREZ: Professor, while the president of the United States is entering an election year, the president of Mexico is not. Does that leave him in a very different position, if he's looking to the United States for new initiatives and for help with his domestic situation? Is he weakened by President Bush's distraction with domestic politics?
SOLEDAD LOAEZA: Yes, I think that, well, President Fox is in a difficult position right now. It doesn't have to do directly with the U.S. or with U.S. policy. I'm not sure that the, I'm sure that the Monterrey summit -- that the program proposed by President Bush will help President Fox. Now the concerns, the main concerns with Mexico are with the economy, and I think that NAFTA again is still a matter of controversy in Mexico, and this should be addressed first.
RAY SUAREZ: And some quick final responses to that, Ambassador?
JEFFREY DAVIDOW: I don't think NAFTA is the problem. NAFTA has been of great benefit to Mexico. I think some of the expectations created around NAFTA are the problems. NAFTA is a free trade agreement. Goods and services flow back and forth. Mexico now exports to the United States almost as much agricultural the product as it imports from the United States. What has happened, however, is that in both countries there's been a lot of economic dislocation because of free trade. The U.S. has generally done a better job in handling that dislocation than Mexico has.
But I go back to the fact that NAFTA is an enabling tool, it has given Mexico the opportunity to improve its economy, but that is not enough. What's needed are more significant changes in Mexico relating to taxes and other forms of investment that will allow the country to grow, because until the country's economy grows, and that's not a product of NAFTA, that's a product of domestic economic dynamic, until that happens, the migration situation will continue.
RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador, Professor, thank you both.
JEFFREY DAVIDOW: Thank you.