TOPICS > Politics

President Vicente Fox

September 7, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: Mr. President, welcome.

PRESIDENT VICENTE FOX: Thank you very much.

JIM LEHRER: How much progress have you made on this illegal workers issue since you’ve been here?

PRESIDENT VICENTE FOX: Okay. It is a process, a process that started formally back first of December and it specifically started with a visit from President Bush to Rancho San Cristobal in the state of Guadalajara, where you all have your home, and there we started first of all, identifying the problem, trying to develop a vision where we wanted to go and started to search for the logistics and the strategies we were following.

This process has been led by a high-level government official group, which is on a day to day contact working, analyzing, discussing, and advancing. I think this is the first stage or the first station where we, on this state visit, we start to supervise and see how much have we advanced, where we are at right now, and to reach the first, more formal conclusions. We have planned now a third or second stage, which would be by year-end. We will stop again and see where we are. It’s a difficult subject; it’s complex.

JIM LEHRER: Year end. What do you think you can have at the end of this year? What is it you want, let’s put it that way, at the end of this year?

PRESIDENT VICENTE FOX: What we want. We want some agreement on migration, taking into considerations two universes: One has to do with those Mexican workers that are here in the United States but are contributing to the U.S. economy, that are paying taxes, that are behaving; those right now are illegal. We want to regularize their situation so that they can be here without having to hide away, without having to have their rights violated, and that they would have a status of regularization that will permit them to have all the rights, and keep on working hard, and at the same time go back and forth to Mexico.

JIM LEHRER: Why is that important? Why does that matter to Mexico?

PRESIDENT VICENTE FOX: Well, it matters to the partnership we have put together. It matters to the United States, and it matters to Mexico, first, because they are human beings; they should have and deserve to be respected in all their rights because they are hard working, because they are productive, and they deserve that.

Number two, because of convenience. I cannot explain myself how the U.S. economy grows at 5 and a half or 6 percent year to year in the last ten years but didn’t happen in the past – and it’s this energy, this working, productive force is part of that success story. I cannot explain myself how corporations, global corporations can be successful in competing with Asia or competing with Europe if it was not because we have joined resources, Mexico, Canada and the United States. We decided to be partners ten years ago, and we just have to live up to that because it is very convenient to all of us.

JIM LEHRER: As you know, the major opposition to what you want comes from members of Congress and others who say, wait a minute, these people violated the law; they are here illegally; why should we grant them amnesty, because that goes down the road – what about other people who have committed crimes, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera — how do you answer that?

PRESIDENT VICENTE FOX: Well, first, I respect the U.S. Congress; they have the final word, and the final decision, no doubt. We don’t want to interfere on U.S. politics or U.S. mechanisms, so that’s number one. Now, what is the argument? I think that first of all we’re not looking for amnesty. We’re not pushing to amnesty. And there are many words that are being used on this subject that could be misleading. I’d rather talk about regularization, so…

JIM LEHRER: Aren’t they really the same, Mr. President?

PRESIDENT VICENTE FOX: No. Because I understand that amnesty goes further beyond. I don’t think our people is requesting to become U.S. nationals, to become U.S. citizens; what they want is the opportunity to work legally, contribute to the U.S. economy, and go back and forth to Mexico, as long as they have a job, as long as companies and corporations or employers need them – this is key – crucial is not only that they offer the work force; it’s somebody that needs that work force, that has hired them, so if it is illegal what happens now; let’s recognize it. Let’s recognize that it’s illegal, and let’s legalize it, or regularize that situation, but what we cannot hide is that they are needed here; that companies, that people, that families, that small businesses want and need to hire them.

JIM LEHRER: What about the economic issue for Mexico? It’s been suggested too that Mexico needs that money that these workers bring back to Mexico; is that true?

PRESIDENT VICENTE FOX: Well, we more than welcome that money, of course, especially by their families, because we should take into account that the wives of most of these Mexicans that are hard working here in the United States are alone there in Mexico, trying to cope with the problems of poverty, the problems of income, and these women I really admire because they are doing their share back there. So it’s important that they receive the support, a hundred dollars a month, two hundred, that they send to them.

JIM LEHRER: Now, let’s say that you get to a point where some kind of arrangement or some kind of proposal is on the table and the U.S., through the Congress or the president, et cetera, is willing to make a deal with you on this. What does Mexico do in exchange for this? In other words, you want this done. What does Mexico do to stop illegal immigration? What do you do on the other side?

PRESIDENT VICENTE FOX: Well, we also have two challenges: One is we want them back. We want all of our paisanos, our beloved paisanos, respected paisanos, back to Mexico, because this is the people with courage, with talent that came here that are working and that they have gathered new knowledge and new levels of education -we want them back, and I invite every Mexican here, that they should go back not only for retirement – on the active lives, because each one of them that comes back to Mexico is a detonator of growth in his community.

Number two, we have the challenge of those who are back there, those young kids that are in Mexico, and we must make sure, and I know this is our obligation from government and from us Mexicans to raise up opportunities for them; those kids, we are working for them. Number one, we created a scholarship system where we guarantee to every single kid or young person in Mexico a scholarship to go as far as university. Each one of them that takes that scholarship is a kid that is not going to be migrating to the United States; they want to stay at home; they want to stay with their family.

Number two, we must build job opportunities, and we must make sure that credit is successful for them so that they can start their own business, so they can become entrepreneurs, and there we have also very aggressive programs where we again need to work together with the United States, and we are doing this in our discussions, to make sure that we bring down the opportunities, like it is the case of this Pueblo-Panama program that goes from Pueblo State in Mexico down all the way to Panama, where most migrants come from. We are launching an aggressive development program there to bring those opportunities down so that we avoid more migration coming into the States.

JIM LEHRER: But until that happens, there is still going to be migration. How do you avoid…let’s say that you do work out some kind of legalization, a regularization program, to use your words, for the immigrants who are already here. How do you prevent more from coming and making the problem just grow at the same time you’ve got all these people who are already here?

PRESIDENT VICENTE FOX: How do you avoid U.S. citizens coming to work in Mexico and there are thousands of them there, thousands of U.S. citizens working in Africa, in Asia, in Europe. I mean it’s something that is part of human spirit now. How do we avoid that? The only way we can avoid it, and this is again working together based on trust, associating to make sure that these people, these citizens, get the opportunities in Mexico.

And the way to avoid it is if we narrow this gap on development that we have between Mexico and United States, between income of a worker in Mexico and an income of a worker in United States. Why we don’t have this problem between the United States and Canada? Because you have narrowed down the differences in income and development, so you go back and forth in an open border in Canada.

I aspire that we would move Mexico up to that level, that we increase and improve Mexico’s income, Mexico’s position, Mexico’s economy to level off with the United States. Twenty, thirty years from now we should be able to do that, and then we will be equal partners, we will be great neighbors, and we will be great friends.

JIM LEHRER: Meanwhile, will Mexico do everything it can to prevent a continuation of illegal migration into the United States?

PRESIDENT VICENTE FOX: Well, building walls, that is a suggestion that wouldn’t work. It hasn’t worked in Berlin; it hasn’t worked anywhere, even the wall that – or those fences that have been constructed in part of the border. I mean when you have tenfold, ten times more income just crossing a border, I mean, how can you retain that human spirit for improving, for advancing? We must do it with intelligence, with talent, and, again, I think that the United States and Mexico can do it, and United States and Mexico will benefit. And this is something that is very key and crucial. We are partners.

The United States cannot meet the trade challenge that China is putting in front of it. The only way the United States can compete on the world economy is if we join resources, natural resources, energy resources, human resources, talent resources, economic resources, technical resources.

That is why I appreciate very much the vision of President Bush. He knows that by putting together the hemisphere on this trade agreement we are going to be winners; we are going to be a team. We are going to be able to compete with Asia, but China and Japan are imposing, with Europe that is adding more and more countries to its European community. It’s a must that we join together in America to be competitive and to be successful.

JIM LEHRER: You said in your speech to Congress yesterday and you’ve said it several times since you’ve been here on this state visit that you want Americans to trust Mexico; you want a new spirit of trust; simple trust. Define what you mean.

PRESIDENT VICENTE FOX: And I mean also that we Mexicans want to trust U.S. because in the past we have had many misunderstandings, so it’s a mutual trust that we need. What I mean that any human relation, any personal relation, any country-to-country relation, any business relation, must be based on trust, and trust only comes from knowing each other, speaking the truth to each other, saying the things as they are, but also acting with facts, because we can talk a lot about trust, but if we don’t show on real practice, that trust will not work. And now we are showing that.

In the case of organized crime, we have advanced more than decades, and we have advanced more because now we trust, we decided to trust each other, both administrations. And we are doing simple things as exchanging intelligence information. We didn’t do it in the past; the United States would not give information to Mexico because they thought in an untrusting manner that Mexico would use that information to let the criminals run away.

Today it’s been different. We have extradited more criminals than in the last six years in just six months of government because trust has been the cornerstone of our relationship, and that’s the foundation where we are going to build up answers to all the challenges that we have ahead.

JIM LEHRER: Speaking of challenges, when you were a candidate for president you were a guest on our program and you said just running for president, trying to unseat the PRI, the PRI that had been in power for 70 years, was comparable to landing a man on the moon. Now…you’ve been president for a few months now. What’s the challenge of being president compared with what you thought it was going to be?

PRESIDENT VICENTE FOX: Well, being on the moon is difficult. I have to put my boots on the ground because, yes, there is big, big challenges and, by the way, I recalled President Kennedy again yesterday at Congress — he’s a person that I admire, no doubt, but yes, we have challenges in all fronts.

My number one challenge in Mexico is to get cohesiveness, be able to converge with opposition because we are a government that doesn’t have majority in Congress, so I need badly to come to political agreements where we can work together, the five parties that represent Mexican people in Congress. That challenge we’re approaching to solve; I think that we’re 70, 75 percent of the route already done, but it’s still…I have an extra mile to walk in that scheme.

JIM LEHRER: The economy. You said as a candidate that you hoped to have Mexico growing at a 7 percent annual rate, and it’s about a 1 percent now. What happened?

PRESIDENT VICENTE FOX: What happened? The motor stopped but not our motor – the motor here. Back in November even the United States thought you were going to grow at three and a half percent for the year and now we’re down to one percent or less than one — exactly that’s what happened to us and what happened to everybody else in the world.

You know, it’s funny that in each country, in each country opposition parties in media create the complaint that who is failing is that government – when you get out of the woods and you see what’s happening on the whole panorama, you see immediately that unfortunately the whole world is going through this de-acceleration of growth; it is temporary; it has to be temporary, because we have so many structures.

You know, like I heard from Bill Gates, I spoke with him a month ago and we spent a couple of hours discussing about the future, the next ten years; he is optimistic, and he says talent will come, leaders will show how to put the motor back again to detonate a new era of growth worldwide.

JIM LEHRER: Was it a surprise or a disappointment to you to discover how much Mexico’s economy was dependent on the U.S. economy – that you couldn’t do as much as you wanted to do as president?

PRESIDENT VICENTE FOX: Well, not a surprise, because we’re looking for that convergence with U.S. economy. Now we are getting close to the same interest rates, the same inflation rates, the same discipline on the fundamentals of the economy, so we want to do that conversion, and yes, that will make us dependent as we are dependent with NAFTA, so we, yes, we are ready to leave the destiny or the luck of United States growth.

But also more and more Mexico is a factor that will help the U.S. economy to grow, so that it’s not only that we want to link ourselves with a machine that is moving this, but we want to be also a machine, pushing modestly; we cannot do so much, but modestly.

We think that we can strengthen, give more power to the U.S. economy by our labor contribution, by our energy policy that we can develop together, by the talent that we can put in. We also have our own ideas, and so that together in a teamwork we can come back to growth. And I am absolutely convinced that the 21st century is the century of Latin America. We lagged behind in the 20th century. We were not lucky. We did not accomplish what our citizens wanted, but this is our time; this is our century, and if we can do it together with the United States and Canada, nobody will defeat us. We will be the winners of the 21st century.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. President, thank you very much.

PRESIDENT VICENTE FOX: Thank you, sir.