MERIDA, Mexico—Underscoring the complex nature of the immigration debate, Mexican President Felipe Calderon acknowledged on Wednesday that he has relatives living and working in the United States.
"Yes, I do have family in the United States and what I can tell you is that these are people who work and respect that country," Calderon said in response to a question during a joint news conference with President Bush at the end of Bush's two-day visit to Mexico.
"They pay their taxes to the government. These are people who work in the field. They work in the field with vegetables. They probably handle what you eat," Calderon said.
Calderon's admission confirmed what has long been rumored in Mexico—that the president, like millions of his countrymen, has relatives who've sought work in the United States.
Bush, who grinned sheepishly as the question was asked, listened attentively as Calderon talked.
"These are people who respect the United States," Calderon said. "These are people who have children, who want these children to be educated with respect for the land where they live and for Mexico."
Noting that he hails from Michoacan, a farm state in Mexico's center-west with a huge rate of emigration to the United States, Calderon suggested that his relatives are no different from the estimated 12 million undocumented people who've gone north.
"We want them to come back. We want them to find jobs here in Mexico. We miss them," he said. "These are our best people. These are bold people. They're young. They're strong. They're talented. They have overcome tremendous adversity. We're working so that they can come back to their country some day."
Calderon said he didn't know his relatives' legal status. The remark wasn't in the White House's English-language transcript, though it remained in the Spanish transcript released in Mexico.
"It's been a long time since I've seen them," Calderon said.
Government people close to Calderon, who asked not to be identified because they're not authorized to speak about his personal life, said the relatives were second or third cousins.
Calderon's first cousin, Gerardo Torres, told McClatchy Newspapers on Wednesday that he believes Calderon has at least three second-cousins in the United States. One is married to an American, he said, and is in the United States legally. Two others also work there; Torres said he thought they, too, were in the United States legally.
Unlike many Mexican presidents, Calderon and his family don't come from Mexico's elite. His father was a staunchly Roman Catholic teacher and politician who co-founded the conservative National Action Party after the Mexican Revolution of 1917 and was persecuted for fighting for religious freedom when Mexican law severely restricted the clergy and the church.
Bush didn't address Calderon's revelation, which came at the end of their news conference. But earlier he pledged again to persuade fellow Republicans to support a revamping of immigration law that would include provisions for workers to remain in the United States.
"Amnesty's not going to fly. There's not going to be automatic citizenship. It just won't work. People in the United States don't support that and neither do I," Bush said. "Nor will kicking people out of the United States work. It's not practical. It is not a realistic solution. . . . And so therefore there's got to be a middle ground, a reasonable way to deal with the 12 million or so people that have been in our country for a period of time."
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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