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Mexican envoy: U.S. economy a magnet

Ambassador says worker program key to safe, secure immigration

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"Immigration is a shared responsibility," Mexican Ambassador to the United States Carlos de Icaza says.

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CANCUN, Mexico (CNN) -- With President Bush in Cancun, Mexico, for talks with the leaders of Canada and Mexico, the Senate on Thursday began the first full day of debate on a controversial immigration bill.

CNN anchor Lou Dobbs spoke Wednesday with Mexican Ambassador to the United States Carlos de Icaza about his country's positions on immigration.

DOBBS: Mr. Ambassador, from these trilateral talks, what do you expect to result?

DE ICAZA: We need in North America to have a more resilient economy. We need to be stronger in [facing] the challenge on security nowadays, and this is a very important step.

We have had a lot of success; we're trade partners. We have, with Canada and the U.S., the biggest trade on earth. We are cooperating a lot on security issues.

But we have also to build a vision for our future, to be able to compete in face of the challenges of Asia and globalization.

DOBBS: You're talking in that case about a customs union -- that is the thinking of some people -- in terms of the three nations?

DE ICAZA: No, I am speaking about integration. I am speaking about small business opportunities. I am speaking about taking advantage of our complementarities in ingenuity, in resources, in population, and to see how we can have North America more secure and prosperous.

DOBBS: Border security: critically important to the United States --

DE ICAZA: Indeed.

DOBBS: ... The discussion here about extending the perimeter to the borders of all three nations, rather than that of each individual nation -- is that, in your judgment, a practicable idea, and a wise idea?

DE ICAZA: We have to think for the future. Today, what we are trying to do is to work with law enforcement officers among the three countries, sharing information, see how we can work together.

We face big challenges from organized crime, from terrorism, and so, looking at our borders and how we can do better, I think it's a good idea for the future. Now in specific, this will have to be worked out in the time.

DOBBS: The devil is usually in the details in public policy.

DE ICAZA: That is quite right. But there is political will to go ahead.

DOBBS: You say there is political will, but in the United States one of the great conflicts is that every poll that I'm aware of or have seen shows the people of the United States opposed to illegal immigration, opposed to guest-worker programs, and greatly concerned about border security and a host of other issues.

Yet the policies of the U.S. Congress and this president, George Bush, are running exactly counter to that. How will one find a manifestation of that will, other than to look at the polling that we're seeing and, one hopes, some expression in the upcoming elections in both your country and ours in November?

DE ICAZA: We do have a lot of evidence of that good will. First of all, since the first day of the administration of President Bush and President Fox, we agreed that immigration is a shared responsibility, and that the biggest challenge we face is working together to have an immigration flow between our countries that is legal, safe, secure, dignified and humane.

Now, how can we do that? And what evidence do I have of this political will? The first and foremost is that I spoke with people in Washington, with lawmakers, with politicians in the White House and the Congress. And now this issue has come on the top of the agenda.

A country that is reviewing its own policy, and a debate that is so important for everybody involved that is taking place now, we appreciate it a lot in Mexico, the courage of American lawmakers, of the White House, of everybody involved, looking at what is not working and seeing for the future, and about stories and about polls.

I have seen other polls as recent as January. Time magazine came out with a poll in ... which most of Americans favor a guest-worker program. And a guest-worker program is important because it will take pressure [off] the border.

We can concentrate on working together in fighting against smugglers, traffickers. And last, a guest-worker program makes sense because it builds a legal avenue, and legality is a key issue to face this challenge.

DOBBS: I think one of the frustrations of many Americans is they do understand President Vicente Fox saying that he is most interested in legalizing his citizens as American citizens, that he is more than eager, it seems, to send just about 10 percent of the population of this terrific nation to the United States.

This is confounding, and great concern is expressed from nearly all quarters on the spectrum in Washington or in Congress, that if there were a guest-worker program, even if that is acknowledged, there is no way to guarantee that another -- whether one takes the number 11 million or 20 million -- illegal aliens will be entering the United States over the next five to 10 years.

DE ICAZA: First of all, let me clarify the position of President Fox and my government. Our position is that we are your partners, that this issue requires international cooperation. We're having a big challenge about this, and we can work together. This is the message of cooperation.

Now, how can we work together? If there is a guest worker program, we bring out into the open the need to regularize the migration flow between the two countries, and not only between Mexico and the United States. There are other countries involved.

Last year we deported at our southern border 250,000 people to Central America. So the way to work out this together is that when you are ready to have a guest-worker program that corresponds to the reality of the economy, then we can concentrate on our end of the line.

We can do background checking. We can do training. We have had a guest-worker program for 30 years with Canada, and it works very well. Why can't we do it with the U.S.?

DOBBS: It seems to me that one can't reform immigration -- no matter what one styles the program, guest-worker program, any number of considerations. But one cannot reform immigration if that nation cannot control immigration. And that nation can't control immigration unless it controls its ports and its borders. The United States is far from being able to do that.

DE ICAZA: Every country in the world, including United States and Mexico, has the right to enforce its laws and secure its borders. What is happening here is that your economy is demanding 500,000 low-skilled workers every year. And for that quantity, you're only giving about 5,000 permanent visas.

If there is a guest-worker program, and it's a legal avenue to have the migrants that [the U.S.] economy needs, then we can concentrate on other things that are so, so important at the border.

DOBBS: Would the government prefer that those workers -- whatever the number may be -- the migrant workers, that is, return to Mexico as citizens, or would they prefer they become U.S. citizens? It seems remarkable to most Americans that the government of Mexico would want them to leave their country and become U.S. citizens.

DE ICAZA: Absolutely not. The government of Mexico does not promote migration, and least of all, undocumented migration. What the government of Mexico -- and every Mexican -- wants, is to have circularity there.

We have had migration between the U.S. and Mexico for more than 100 years. ...

It is so hard to get in, that then they're fenced in, and instead of going back and forth, then they're some very big problems.

So, our sense, and our position, is that we can work this out together. We are neighbors; that will not change. And this is a message of friendliness, of neighborliness. And no, sir, no country in the world can think about its future, sending its best people outside. What happens is, no matter how well we do, your economy is 15 times the size of my economy. So there's a great magnet here.

DOBBS: A great magnet. Security is important. Why has the government of Mexico not been more vigorous in stopping its people from crossing that southern border?

DE ICAZA: We are being very vigorous in working with our American counterparts in fighting against smugglers, traffickers, those who are taking advantage of our people.

We have offered that if there is a guest-worker program in the U.S., we will do our end of the line. And part of our end of the line is making sure that people go south through legal channels.

What is happening today is, because so many people are coming, attracted by the economy, we don't have the legal channel. So it's very difficult to enforce together an idea of a migration flow that is legal, secure and safe.

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