President Vicente Fox (search) reversed course Monday night and apologized for saying that Mexicans in the United States do the work that blacks won't.
Fox repeatedly refused to back away from his Friday comment, saying his remark had been misinterpreted. But later, in telephone conversations with the Rev. Jesse Jackson (search) and the Rev. Al Sharpton (search) the president said he "regretted" the statement.
"The president regretted any hurt feelings his statements may have caused," the Foreign Relations Department said in a press statement. "He expressed the great respect he and his administration has for the African-American community in the United States."
Jackson told Fox that he was sure the president had no racist intent, and suggested the two meet to discuss joint strategies between blacks and immigrant groups in the United States, Aguilar said.
Fox agreed to set up a visit to Mexico by Jackson, Sharpton and a group of American black leaders.
Despite Fox's latest comment, many Mexicans — stung by a new U.S. crackdown on illegal immigrants — didn't see the remark as offensive. Blackface comedy is still considered funny here and many people hand out nicknames based on skin color.
"The president was just telling the truth," said Celedonio Gonzalez, a 35-year-old carpenter who worked illegally in Dallas for six months in 2001. "Mexicans go to the United States because they have to. Blacks want to earn better wages, and the Mexican — because he is illegal — takes what they pay him."
Earlier Fox's spokesman, Ruben Aguilar, said Fox's comments were in defense of Mexican migrants as they come under attack by new U.S. immigration measures that include a wall along the Mexico-California border, and were not meant to offend anybody.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City had raised the issue with the Mexican government. "That's a very insensitive and inappropriate way to phrase this and we would hope that [the Mexicans] would clarify the remarks," Boucher said.