MEXICO CITY – Mexico's president-elect says he will try to do what his predecessor couldn't in six years: Win an immigration accord that will let millions more Mexicans work in the United States legally.
Felipe Calderon said Thursday he is committed to winning sweeping immigration reform in the U.S. Congress before President Bush leaves office in January 2009. Calderon, who spoke with Bush by phone on Wednesday, said he believes the White House is ready for action.
"We will work intensely over the next two years to arrive at a concrete agreement," he said.
Pro-immigrant marches began anew this week in the United States as Congress reconvened, though action on immigration is unlikely given elections in November.
Outgoing President Vicente Fox spent six years trying to obtain legal status for the nearly 6 million undocumented Mexicans in the United States, and his inability to secure an accord was among the biggest failures of his term.
Mexican presidents are limited to one six-year term, and Calderon will replace Fox on Dec. 1. Both are members of the pro-business National Action Party.
The Sept. 11 terror attacks diverted the Bush administration's focus from immigration reform to security issues. Calderon said he believes he can capitalize on renewed U.S. attention to the immigration issue to persuade Congress to approve reforms.
Calderon said Mexico has to create more jobs to slow the flow of Mexicans heading north, noting that "every year, more than 1.2 million Mexican youths reach working age. Many, facing a lack of alternatives, go looking for opportunities in the United States."
"We can't ignore it, we can't write a law making it disappear," Calderon said. "We have to find ways to improve things. That is not only in the interest of Mexico, but also a U.S. interest."
The runner-up in Mexico's July 2 presidential election, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has refused to recognize Calderon's victory and plans a convention Sept. 16 to create a parallel government.
Thousands of his supporters have set up a protest camp in the heart of Mexico City, crippling traffic and hurting tourism and local businesses. They claim fraud and illicit government spending was responsible for Calderon's victory by fewer than 234,000 votes out of the nearly 42 million cast.
Fox spokesman Ruben Aguilar said Thursday the president was inviting Lopez Obrador's Democratic Revolutionary Party to negotiate a solution to the political crisis.
Calderon says he will reach out to the millions who didn't vote for him by proposing initiatives to reduce poverty, create jobs and combat crime. He said he will include opposition party leaders in a coalition-style government.
"In order to cross an abyss, you have to have bridges," he said. "For my part, a bridge will always be there, awaiting the moment my adversaries want to cross."
But Democratic Revolution spokesman Gerardo Fernandez said Thursday that Calderon would have to resign before the party would consider talks.
"We completely reject all possibility of negotiations," Fernandez said.
Democratic Revolution lawmakers seized the floor of Congress last week and blocked Fox from delivering his final state-of-the-nation address. The party has promised to block his inauguration before Congress on Dec. 1.
But Calderon said Thursday it was lawmakers' responsibility to ensure the handover of power goes smoothly — and that he didn't believe they would turn their backs on Mexico's constitution.
"I will take office Dec. 1," he said. "Of that you can be sure."
The 44-year-old lawyer and career politician said his first overseas visit after taking office will be to neighboring Guatemala. He added that his conservative administration wouldn't clash with the governments of the region's leading leftists, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Cuba's Fidel Castro. Relations with both countries deteriorated under Fox.
"I will have a respectful relationship with all heads of state," he said, "without exception or bias."