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No immigration pact will come out of meeting with Bush, Fox says

MEXICO CITY—Mexican President Vicente Fox said Wednesday that talks on immigration reform with American officials have ended for now and that there won't be any new announcements on the subject when he meets with President Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin next week.

"President Bush has in his hands all the information, all the instruments to convert immigration initiatives into legislation," said Fox. "But it's up to him and the U.S. Congress to lead us into orderly, legal migration which is beneficial to all."

Fox came to office in 2000 pledging to work for reforms that would make life less precarious for the hundreds of thousands of Mexicans who work illegally in the United States. But his hopes that Bush would be able to bring about reforms were dashed by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which refocused American attention on securing borders.

Now, with immigration reform foundering, Fox, who cannot seek re-election, is likely to leave office next year with the U.S. Congress having taken no action on proposed reforms such as a guest worker program and legalizing workers already there.

Still, Fox defended Mexico's economic progress in a news conference with foreign reporters here, noting that Mexico's unemployment rate was just 4.1 percent at the end of January. He also said that Mexico's per capita income had tripled since the North American Free Trade Agreement between Mexico, Canada and the United States went into effect in 1994.

"We're the first nation in Latin America to reduce by 30 percent the rate of extreme poverty, and the seventh largest economy in the world," he said.

Fox, Bush and Martin will meet at Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch March 23 to discuss NAFTA and its progress. Fox said the three will sign an "initiative of the Americas" to enhance the agreement and address security and terrorism concerns that followed the September 2001 terrorist attacks.

Although U.S.-Mexico relations have been strained over migration and the Iraq war—Mexico opposed the U.S. invasion—Fox said ties are "excellent" and go beyond friendship to full partnership in fighting drug trafficking and terrorism.

Fox reiterated that despite U.S. concerns al-Qaida terrorists might operate in Mexico and jump the border, his government had "no evidence" of any such activity.

But he said he was concerned about militia-type groups hunting and killing immigrants along the Arizona border. He said he would raise that topic with Bush.

Fox also said that he expected to discuss ways to bring foreign investment to Mexico's oil monopoly Pemex, which was nationalized in 1938 and remains a fierce symbol of the country's independence.

"We could do better if we open Pemex to private investment—not privatize it, but have investment for technology and know-how," Fox said. "We're sitting on huge, huge deep sea oil deposits in the Gulf."

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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