MEXICO CITY, March 16 -- President Vicente Fox said Wednesday that walls along the U.S.-Mexico border, such as one approved last month by the U.S. House of Representatives, "must be demolished" because they are "discriminatory" and "against freedom."
"No country that is proud of itself should build walls . . . it doesn't make any sense," Fox said at a news conference ahead of next week's meeting in Crawford, Tex., with President Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. Border security and immigration will be main topics of the leaders' discussion, along with trade and commerce.
A fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, south of San Diego, has angered Mexican officials. The U.S. House voted last month to allow its completion.
(2003 Photo Denis Poroy -- AP)
Fox did not specifically mention last month's House vote to waive environmental regulations and allow completion of a fence, known in Mexico as the "Tortilla Wall," along the border south of San Diego. But asked about the fence, Fox said, "We are convinced that walls don't work."
Fox said he was encouraged by Bush's proposal to create a significant guest worker program, which would allow Mexicans to work legally in the United States for several years before returning home. That proposal is expected to be debated soon in Congress, where it faces opposition from legislators who favor greater emphasis on border security in the age of terrorism.
In a recent interview, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on immigration and border security, said he believed Mexican officials were "if not encouraging, certainly acquiescing" to the massive flow of illegal immigrants. He noted that Mexicans in the United States sent home nearly $17 billion last year.
"It is unacceptable for them to turn a blind eye, or in some cases even encourage, their people to leave their country and immigrate illegally to the United States," Cornyn said. "They view immigration as an economic issue, and we view it as a security issue, and we've got to find a way to reconcile those two views."
Fox, in an interview, said security along the border was "as high a priority for us as it is for the United States." He said Mexico had been "very cooperative" with U.S. officials on security measures to create an "orderly flow" of legal immigrants and commerce across the border.
"Mexico has been very responsible in security matters," he said, noting that his government had invested heavily in poor areas, hoping that more job opportunities at home would reduce the number of Mexicans going illegally to the United States to find work.
Still, Fox said, it was impossible for Mexico to post military or police patrols all along the border to prevent crossings.
"We can't keep them against their will by force," he said.
Despite concerns expressed by U.S. officials that al Qaeda or other terrorist groups might be planning to infiltrate the United State via the Mexican border, Fox said he had "absolutely no evidence" of the presence of terrorists in Mexico.
Fox said he, Bush and Martin would discuss ways to expand the success of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which went into effect in 1994. Some critics argue that the pact has done little to alleviate poverty in Mexico. But Fox said Mexico's per capita income has doubled since 1995, from $3,100 to $6,505.