Calderon Visits U.S.-Mexico Border

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By OLGA R. RODRIGUEZ
The Associated Press
Wednesday, December 20, 2006; 6:24 PM

NOGALES, Mexico -- Felipe Calderon made his first trip as president to the U.S.-Mexico border Wednesday, saying he will focus on creating jobs to keep Mexicans at home and place less emphasis on a U.S. migration accord to stem illegal immigration.

Calderon, who took office Dec. 1, has so far not pressed for a U.S. agreement that would give millions of Mexicans a legal path to working in the United States _ a top priority of his predecessor and fellow National Action Party member Vicente Fox.

In the Mexican city of Nogales, bordering Arizona, Calderon shook hands with migrants returning home for the holidays. He promised to defend their rights in the United States but said his priority is to stem the flow of migrants heading north by improving Mexico's economy.

"The generation of well-paid jobs is the only long lasting solution to the migration problem," Calderon said before greeting migrants in cars packed with Christmas gifts.

He pledged to fight corruption to make Mexico more attractive to foreign investors.

"We need to ensure that more investment crosses the border into Mexico rather than Mexican labor heading to the U.S.," the new president said.

About 1.2 million Mexicans are expected to come home for the holidays this year.

As part of the 1989 Paisano Program to clamp down on corrupt government officials who prey on returning migrants, Calderon said he sent 1,000 volunteers to checkpoints along the 2,000-mile U.S. border and various airports to ensure customs officials do not demand bribes from migrants or try to confiscate their belongings.

Calderon said he has also ordered all fees collected from migrants at Mexican consulates in the United States be used to defend their rights in that country. Migrants groups have complained that much of the money now goes toward administrative costs.

Migrant rights groups applaud Calderon's resolve to create jobs but say he should take a stronger stance against the recent U.S. crackdown on illegal immigration and push harder for a guest-worker program.

Fox failed to get Washington's support for such a program after the Sept. 11 attacks turned President Bush's attention toward border security. In October, Bush signed a bill to erect 700 miles of additional fencing along the border to tighten control over illegal immigration and curb criminal and terrorist activity.

Calderon has called that plan "deplorable" and compared it to the Berlin Wall, but has so far said little about seeking a migration accord.

Eric Sanchez, a farmer from southern Chiapas state, said he hopes Calderon will do more to help struggling workers.

"I hope (Calderon) speaks for us Mexicans with the (U.S.) government because we love our country very much and what we want is to work," said Sanchez at a Nogales shelter.

Sanchez, 33, and his wife were deported three times last week after attempting to cross illegally into the United States. Sanchez has a construction job waiting for him in Fort Myers, Fla.

Juan Garcia, 37, a farmworker who has lived for 20 years in Visalia, California, said something needs to be done so that migrants in the United States "can walk around without fear" _ especially after a six-state immigration raid this month detained nearly 1,300 people.

Calderon wished Garcia and his family "Merry Christmas" as the farmworker passed through a customs checkpoint in a sport utility vehicle packed with clothes and gifts for relatives in his home state of Michoacan.

Garcia said if there were better work opportunities in Mexico he would move back.

"I was born here and my family is still here," he said.


© 2006 The Associated Press

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