Mexico's new president promises respect for returning migrants

TIJUANA, Mexico - President Vicente Fox traveled to the U.S. border Thursday to spread his message of respect for Mexican workers returning home for the holidays, pledging to fight corruption among border officials.

Fox spoke to several hundred federal employees and citizens at a border checkpoint in Tijuana, his second trip to the U.S.-Mexico border since taking office Dec. 1, reflecting his promises to honor Mexicans who works abroad.

''We want to govern not just for the Mexicans here in our country, but for those outside of it as well,'' Fox told a cheering crowd.

Families visiting home in December have long complained of delays, extortion and harassment at the hands of border guards. Such reports have continued in spite of a ''paisano,'' or ''countryman,'' program meant to smooth the crossing.

As he has on past border trips, Fox urged customs employees not to take advantage of returning migrants, whom he described as ''true heroes.''

Wading through throngs of people, he promised that government officials would welcome back ''all of our brothers, all of our paisanos who have been in the United States working hard all year.''

''When they come back to see their families during Christmastime, we want to make sure we receive them with open hearts,'' he said.

''This man is our future,'' said Bertha Valencia, a 50-year-old Tijuana resident who had been waiting more than two hours to hear Fox speak. ''He represents something very beautiful for us.''

Fox's inauguration ended 71 years of single-party rule in Mexico. He won the election largely on promises to eliminate the corruption and poverty the Institutional Revolutionary Party left behind.

Jose Luis Serrano, director of a drug rehabilitation center in Tijuana, said he hoped Fox would diminish the mountain of paperwork required to import the donated food and clothing he receives from the United States.

It often takes 15 days or more to import the donations from San Diego, just across the border, he said. ''He's promised to make it easier for people like us, and I believe he can do it,'' he said.

After the speech, Fox went to Casa del Migrante, a Roman Catholic shelter that cares for up to 80 migrants at a time. Workers at the shelter gave him a tour and discussed the hundreds of Mexicans killed every year while trying to cross into the United States.

''We hope the Mexican government will talk more seriously with the U.S. government about this issue,'' said Luis Kenzierski, a Brazilian priest who works at the shelter.

Earlier this month, Fox traveled to the Texas and Arizona borders, welcoming people as they crossed into Mexico and providing an example of how he believes migrants should be treated in their native country.

His current two-day trip also was taking him to Mexicali on the California border, and Reynosa, Matamoros and Piedras Negras along the Texas border.

Fox has pressured the United States to issue more visas so Mexicans can travel north legally to work.

He has also proposed working with the United States and Canada toward an eventual common market that would allow the free movement of workers across borders - an idea that has received a lukewarm reception in the United States.


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