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Mexican President Vicente Fox told Utah legislators Wednesday morning that his nation doesn't support undocumented immigration and is working to improve its economy so Mexicans no longer have to leave their country for work.
During a 30-minute speech at the State Capitol, Fox said that since the beginning of his administration more than five years ago, Mexico has "promoted the establishment of a new system that regulates the movement of people across our borders in a manner which is legal, safe and orderly." He also said immigration policy is a shared responsibility.
"Mexico does not promote nor support undocumented migration," Fox told more than 100 lawmakers and government leaders gathered for a special session of the Legislature. "In fact, Mexico absolutely must continue to expand jobs, economic growth and social opportunities so migration is no longer a necessity." Fox's speech comes the same day the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly to limit debate on election-year immigration legislation, clearing the way for final passage later this week of a bill that calls for tougher border security as well as an eventual chance at citizenship for millions of men and women in the country illegally.
Fox, on a visit to three Western states, said immigration is the most pressing challenge to and opportunity for the United States and Mexico's relationship.
"One cannot underestimate the importance of this moment and how complex this issue is for our two nations," he said.
Fox went on to say that Mexico respects each country's right to enforce its law and protect its borders, but pointed to the importance of dialogue and cooperation among "friends, neighbors and partners" to manage immigration. Mexico will continue to enforce immigration laws, respecting human rights and the safety of citizens on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border and fighting human smuggling and trafficking, Fox said.
"Mexico believes that it will take more than just enforcement to truly solve the challenges posed by the migration phenomenon," Fox said "A comprehensive reform is in the interest of both nations." Fox received a standing ovation.
Rep. Glenn Donnelson, R-North Ogden, who has sponsored legislation to keep some undocumented immigrants in Utah from getting in-state college tuition and driving privilege cards, said he got "mixed signals" from what Fox talked about during his visit.
"He said he believes in the rule of law and he doesn't support illegal immigration," Donnelson said after Fox's speech. "But then, he thanks us [Utah] for giving illegal immigrants opportunities." Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, said he learned a lot about Mexico and its government's priorities, such as building a stronger economy and democracy, during Fox's visit. He said he was "impressed" with Fox's remarks.
"I have a better understanding of some of the challenges" that Mexico faces to maintain "a free and open democratic society," Bramble said.
Members of the Minutemen movement yelled "enforce the law" and "secure the boarders" as Fox was escorted by an entourage to the capitol's east building Wednesday. All told, about 80 members of the Minutemen, a group calling for the deportation of undocumented immigrants and the sealing of the border shared by the U.S. and Mexico, attended the 9 a.m. rally.
They waved American flags, or wore flag shirts, suspenders and hats, during a mostly quiet protest. Shouting ensued when Fox crossed the capitol's courtyard shortly after 11 a.m.
Diane Rackiewicz of Sandy said she wanted to know why Fox won't improve Mexico so its citizens can "stay home" and not have to come to the United States illegally.
"I hope he enhances his country in such a way that they'll want to go back," she said.
After his speech, Fox flew to the state of Washington, the second stop of his trip to the United States that also includes California.