Mexican Migration Moves off Fast Track ; Mexico's Foreign Minister Quit Last Week Following Frustration over Border Issues

Article excerpt

Mexico's President Vicente Fox apparently realizes that his migration-policy desires must finally adjust to a post-Sept. 11 world.

The appointment of a new foreign minister last week, following the resignation of Jorge Castaneda, indicates a new, go-slow approach to border issues, say experts.

Since joining the Fox administration in 2001, Mr. Castaneda tried to forge a wide-ranging migration policy with the United States that would have opened the border to workers, trucks, and trade.

Instead, with the appointment of Luis Ernesto Derbez, finance minister and former World Bank technocrat, Mexico recognizes that it has moved down President George W. Bush's list of priorities and will have to take small steps toward its migration goals instead of reaching for the whole package.

"Now the need is to push for a migration accord from the bottom up," says Jorge Santibanez, president of Mexico's Northern Border College in Tijuana. "We can't hope for too much too soon."

Castaneda, a brilliant academic with a brash personality, initially won kudos for improving Mexico's stature on the world stage. Yet his refusal to move slowly on the sensitive migration deal put off US officials. Analysts say that Castaneda pushed too hard too early for a full guest-worker program, without taking into account that many Americans fear an influx of cheap laborers would rob them of jobs and cause a possible rise in social spending.

Armand Peschard-Sverdrup, who directs the Mexico Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, makes the analogy that Bush would have encountered similar barriers if he tried to force Mexico to open its energy sector to US investors.

"It was a tactical error to approach the issue the way he did," he says. "At the end of the day, it is going to have to be the Bush administration that does the heavy lifting to win public support for any immigration accord."

When Mr. Fox took office in 2001, ending the 71-year grip on power by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, officials on both sides of the Rio Grande hailed a new era in US-Mexico relations. Mr. Bush made his first trip outside the US to Fox's family ranch, pronounced the two men "amigos," and promised to pioneer bilateral accords ranging from free trade and energy sharing to boosting the war on drugs. Making it easier for Mexicans to travel north of the border for work, both leaders said, was a priority.

Two years later, however, their once-cozy courtship has turned into a cold marriage. Fox, for his part, largely stuck to the bargain, launching a successful war on drug trafficking, curtailing ties with Mexico's longtime ally Cuba, and talking up plans to open the country's energy sector to foreign investment, a hugely sensitive issue here. …