Mexican leader criticized for comment on blacks
(CNN) -- The Rev. Jesse Jackson on Saturday criticized Mexican President Vicente Fox's comment that Mexican immigrants to the United States take jobs "that not even blacks want to do."
Jackson called the remark "a spurious comparison" with "ominous racial overtones."
The Mexican president's office issued a statement late Saturday disputing the negative interpretation of his comments, saying Fox has "enormous respect to minorities whatever their racial, ethnic, or religious origin may be."
A Mexican official defended Fox later in the day, saying his description was not meant as an insult.
"The president didn't make a declaration in the racist sense; of course there are those who interpret it in that way," Foreign Relations Secretary Luis Derbez told a reporter in the Mexican state of Jalisco.
According to Derbez, Fox was making the point that "Mexican migrants are making great contributions in the United States and that their role is a positive role."
"They've been able to improve the conditions of life not just for themselves but also for the communities in which they settle and, by the same token, the president made the comment in this context to say that a large quantity of the jobs taken by Mexicans are jobs that in the U.S. society aren't being filled."
"I think that what we have to be very clear about is that the statement made by the president was in no way motivated by racism."
'Most poor Americans are ... white'
But Jackson told CNN in a telephone interview that Fox "should not confuse the need for sound legal immigration policy between the two countries, which is important, and the border disputes between the two countries, with a spurious comparison."
"The comparison is diversionary from the issue of a workable immigration policy between the U.S. and Mexico."
Jackson, who said he has never met Fox, planned to call the Mexican president.
Fox made the controversial comment Friday to a group of Texas businessmen meeting in Mexico. He criticized recent steps the United States has taken that the Bush administration said were aimed at curbing illegal immigration.
Fox discussed the role that many Mexican immigrants occupy in the U.S. economy.
Speaking in Spanish, he said, "There is no doubt that Mexicans, filled with dignity, willingness and ability to work, are doing jobs that not even blacks want to do there in the United States."
A State Department spokesman who asked not to be named, read CNN a statement saying, "That level of dialogue doesn't merit comment."
The spokesman also said, "President Bush's commitment to immigration reform that is rational, legal, common sense, decent and compassionate is well-documented."
Jackson said he has worked "for the citizenship rights of immigrants and Mexican Americans" and wants steps taken to avoid making the United States "hostile toward immigration policy."
He said Fox's comment about "blacks" seemed to be about a stereotype. "Most poor Americans are not black, they're white," he added.
But Jackson stopped short of saying Fox should apologize.
"I don't know about that," he said, adding that the comment was "unwitting, unnecessary, and inappropriate."