Fox Presses Visas, Licenses
Immigrants deserve support, respect, Mexican president says
Oscar Avila, Chicago Tribune, Jun. 17
Mexican President Vicente Fox, making his second visit to Chicago as president, promised Wednesday to continue fighting for a comprehensive agreement with the United States that would make it easier for Mexican workers to get work visas and secure permanent legal status.
Coming at a crucial point in his presidency, Fox is using the high-profile, two-day stay in Chicago to heap praise on Mexicans here, saying they deserve his best efforts to improve their lives in the U.S.
“Your courage, your passion, your spirit of fighting and achievement that drove you to confront a new life outside our land, that has earned our respect and admiration,” Fox said Wednesday to about 400 Mexican-American leaders and U.S. dignitaries at the Mexican consulate on the Near West Side. “You deserve all of our respect and recognition and support.”
Later, in a meeting with news executives at the consulate, Fox said that although the terrorist attacks of 2001 and the subsequent recession created a difficult environment for a major immigration breakthrough with the U.S., eventually the United States’ need for labor would overcome those obstacles.
“We have to put our feet on the ground and understand reality,” the president said. “We don’t get desperate. . . . We have the youth, the vision. The United States will need it.”
After his seminal election in 2000 that ended seven decades of one-party rule, Fox finds himself at a crossroads in his relations with immigrants in the United States, whose economic contributions back home help prop up the Mexican economy, community leaders say.
The number of Chicago-area residents born in Mexico approached 600,000 in 2000, more than double the 1990 total, according to the U.S. census. The Chicago area has the nation’s second-largest Mexican community, and immigrant flows have spread to untraditional destinations such as McHenry County and Kankakee.
Mayor Richard Daley told Fox and the audience that immigrants represent “a strength of our great city, the values they have given to us.”
Fox said the new $12 million consulate, at 204 S. Ashland Ave., is a reflection of the Mexican community’s growth and his government’s commitment to their needs. Mexico opened the building in February after the old facility proved unable to handle the daily crush of immigrants seeking documents and other services.
Across the street from the consulate, about 125 community members expressed mixed opinions about Fox’s track record while they struggled to catch a glimpse of the president.
Some vocal protesters chastised Fox for not following up on a 2001 pledge to help undocumented children who need organ transplants. Others in the crowd waved Mexican flags and shouted words of support.
Several immigrants said they were buoyed by news earlier this week that Fox would back a plan to let them cast absentee ballots in Mexican elections. Fox did not mention the plan in his speech, but his decision muted some of his critics here.
“He made the announcement at a very opportune time,” said Jose Luis Gutierrez, president of a federation of Illinois residents who hail from the state of Michoacan. “If not, the complaints would have been very strong in Chicago.”
Earlier in the day, Fox visited the University of Chicago for a lunch with top administrators. At the event, the university announced the renaming of its Mexican Studies program for Friedrich Katz, a noted scholar of Mexican history who is a Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at the university.
Fox also met privately with Gov. Rod Blagojevich at a downtown hotel, where the president touted a controversial proposal to grant driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. Blagojevich has said he supports the idea, but Fox urged the governor to express his backing more strongly.
At the dedication of the consulate, Fox drew loud cheers by vowing to keep up the pressure on Illinois lawmakers to pass the twice-defeated license proposal. He also addressed critics who say granting the documents would harm national security by allowing illegal immigrants to blend into society more easily.
“Mexicans are responsible people. We are honest people. We are hard-working people,” Fox said. “We are not going to make anyone look bad who grants us those driver’s licenses.”
Wednesday night, Fox addressed the U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce. On Thursday, he is scheduled to speak at a Cicero school and attend a luncheon sponsored by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations. Fox will leave for the Detroit area Thursday afternoon, where he will meet with Gov. Jennifer Granholm and state legislators.
During his 18-hour stay in Michigan, Fox will attend three separate receptions with executives from GM, Ford and Chrysler. At a luncheon Wednesday, the president of Ford Motor Co. in Mexico, Marcos de Oliveira, said auto manufacturing must remain a linchpin in the Mexican economy.
Several immigrants said they have a stake in Fox’s wooing of U.S. business leaders.
“We want him to do something for our people there. There is so much poverty in Mexico,” said Carolina Vasquez, 36, of Bolingbrook. “If everything was good in Mexico, we wouldn’t come here. We would be in our beloved country instead.”