Mexican Leaders See Economic Growth as Cure for Migration

Top Mexican business leaders said Thursday they were developing ways to boost the economy and create jobs in a bid to stem illegal immigration to the United States, where authorities are tightening border security to stop migrants from entering.

President Vicente Fox told the group that he shared the private sector's concern over the lack of security along the border, but added that the problem, especially when related to organized crime, is shared by both countries.

"We have to work together and stop pointing fingers and assigning blame," Fox said.

The business leaders presented their ideas to an audience that included Fox and Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, among others, during a two-day Northern Frontier Forum in Mexicali, a Mexican border city in Baja California state.

The meeting comes a week after U.S. President George W. Bush signed a bill to fund additional fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border to stop migrants from entering illegally.

CountryWatch: Mexico

Mexico's six northern states have 16 million residents, and feature bustling trade and manufacturing and agricultural businesses that account for 23 percent of the country's gross domestic product.

Serious crime remains a challenge, however.

Fox reiterated Thursday that the United States is home to the world's biggest market for illegal drugs, and that profits from the drug trade contribute to corruption because drug traffickers are able to bribe government officials and police in Mexico.

Drug-related violence has left scores of people dead on the border, especially in Nuevo Laredo, across from Laredo, Texas. And in Tijuana — across from San Diego — members of the business community recently severed relations with the local government, saying police were not doing enough to stop kidnappings targeting them.

"We are transit states for drug trafficking, and public policies have to take these circumstances into account," said Reginaldo Esquer, president of the Baja California state board of business directors. The group has invited its counterparts in the other five northern border states to form a united lobbying front.

On Tuesday, Mexican President-elect Felipe Calderon proposed political and economic reforms, and pledged progress on issues including law enforcement and jobs.

He said he hopes to eradicate the extreme poverty suffered by about 20 percent of Mexico's 107 million people that forces about 400,000 to migrate, mainly to the United States, each year. Calderon said he wants Mexico to boost its per-capita income from the equivalent of about US$8,000 (euro6,380) to around US$30,000 (euro23,930) by 2030.

Fox said Thursday that he is turning over a very healthy economy to Calderon, claiming that Mexico received an additional 75 billion pesos (US$7 billion; euro5.6 billion) in revenue this year that will be distributed to state and city governments. Oil-exporting Mexico is among countries that have benefited this year from high crude prices.

Fox said 12 billion pesos (US$1 billion; euro800 million) of that will go to the border region.

"The border states are having an extraordinary year," Fox said. He said the government expected 1 million jobs would be created in Mexico in 2006.

Calderon begins a six-year term on Dec. 1 and has promised to keep lobbying U.S. lawmakers to pass a guest-worker program for Mexican migrants. Fox championed the move throughout his term and U.S. President George W. Bush initially supported it.

The program failed to muster sufficient support in the U.S. Congress, and has been dropped by the White House, at least until after the November congressional elections.

Congress focused instead on security, arguing that the porous U.S.-Mexico border could be used by terrorists trying to sneak into the U.S., although there has been no evidence of that.

Last week, Bush signed a homeland security funding bill that includes US$1.2 billion (euro960 million) for fencing along the border to stop illegal crossings by immigrants and criminals.