Immigration to Take Back Seat to Security at Talks in Mexico
Sergio Bustos, azcentral.com, Feb. 19
WASHINGTON — Border security, not immigration, is expected to monopolize a series of meetings that begin today among top Homeland Security Department officials and their Mexican counterparts in Mexico City.
The two-day talks will include a private breakfast meeting between Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Mexican President Vicente Fox on Friday morning.
The talks come only a month after President Bush met with Fox in Monterrey, Mexico, at the Summit of the Americas and only two weeks before Fox visits Bush at the president’s ranch in Crawford, Texas.
On Friday, Homeland Security officials are expected to announce an as-yet unspecified border security initiative targeting the Arizona-Mexico desert, a popular gateway into the United States for hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants each year.
Today, Ridge will address the American Chamber of Commerce in Mexico City. He will join other U.S. and Mexican government officials, including Mexican Foreign Minister Santiago Creel, for dinner that evening. Creel will host Ridge at a luncheon Friday.
Ridge and Creel last met in Washington in November when they agreed to establish a hotline to handle terrorist threats in the Southwestern border region. The Mexican government has since announced that it will put air marshals on board certain flights destined for the United States.
Experts on U.S.-Mexican relations say Ridge’s trip shows that the Bush administration remains more worried about dealing with border security issues than about immigration matters.
“This trip is going to be about everything but immigration,” said Larry Birns, director of the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs.
But he said Fox and other top Mexican government officials will take advantage of every opportunity to bring up immigration during the two-day talks.
Fox is eager to see the Bush administration take aggressive steps to implement any immigration plan that would aid the estimated 4 million to 5 million undocumented Mexican immigrants in the United States.
“Immigration is as important a humanitarian issue as it is an economic issue for Mexico,” said Birns, noting the estimated $15 billion in remittances Mexicans in the United States send annually to relatives in Mexico.
Last month, Bush urged Congress to create a temporary foreign-worker program that would be open to undocumented immigrants in the United States. Fox later stood with Bush at the Summit of the Americas in Monterrey to express his support for the plan.
But Bush’s immigration proposal has been widely criticized in Congress by Republicans and Democrats alike.
Ridge will be joined in Mexico by Asa Hutchinson, Homeland Security undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security, and Eduardo Aguirre, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Hutchinson is charged with protecting the border and enforcing immigration laws, while Aguirre’s agency handles millions of immigration applications.
Both agencies would play a major role in implementing a temporary foreign-worker program.