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Amnesty for immigrants would outfox U.S. interests

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Four thousand six hundred Mexican citizens illegally cross the border into the United States daily. There are an estimated 3 million illegal Mexican citizens in the United States. Mexico's president is resolute that the United States should open its borders and grant citizenship rights to Mexicans in the United States illegally. President Bush's response will be politically prudent and sympathetic.

The United Mexican States, Mexico, consists of 31 states and a federal district. It has 100 million citizens, of which 3 percent reside in the United States without documents. Politically, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) ruled Mexico for 71 years. (PRI is an oxymoron because, once institutionalized, it ceased to be a rebellion.) During its stranglehold on government the PRI never lost a presidential or gubernatorial election. The PRI's economic, political and social dominance led to institutionalized corruption and economic disaster.

The embodiment of the PRI corruption is former President Carlos Salinas, who left office in 1994 amid charges of corruption and self-dealing. His brother is serving a 50-year prison term for arranging to have the leader of the PRI murdered. Charges that Salinas' appointees protected drug cartels have been substantiated. In 1994, as one of his last acts in office, President Salinas devalued the peso by 50 percent. Overnight, Mexicans lost 50 percent of their cash, investments and net worth. The devaluation was unavoidable due to inept economic policies, which still pervade. The result was an economic spiral that required a $20 billion loan from the United States to prop up the Mexican financial markets so the U.S. economy would not be affected.

Corruption was so rampant that local police and military officers were on the payrolls of drug dealers. Money earmarked for education was diverted. Jobs were lost rather than created. Government functionaries put the "mordida" on everyone. The "mordida" is a payment to a local official so you are not hassled. Anyone who has ever crossed the border or been stopped at a checkpoint while traveling through Mexico knows about the mordida. You pay and, magically, everything goes smoothly. The mordida is part of the culture and custom of Mexico. It is condoned as supplemental income without which the average cop, clerk or bus driver could not subsist.

Although hampered by a poor economy, President Ernesto Zedillo, the PRI reform candidate elected in 1994, opened the political process to opposing parties. A Yale-educated economist, he championed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as a way to create jobs and trade. He tried to ferret out corruption in government. But after 71 years in power, corruption is institutional. By constitutional provision, Mexican presidents are limited to one 6-year term, insufficient time for Zedillo to revitalize a revolution.

In 2000, Vicente Fox, a former Coca-Cola executive educated in the United States, ran an anti-PRI reform campaign. His National Action Party (PAN), with United States assistance, fielded more than 80,000 electoral observers during the election. The observers monitored polling booths, performed quick counts, made sure laws were adhered to and validated the election of Vicente Fox. Fox's election marked the first time since 1929 the PRI lost a presidential race. Fox, like our president, must share power with Mexico's Congress, which is bicameral (a Senate and lower House). Congress is still PRI-controlled.

The magnitude of the 2000 election cannot be overstated. The Mexican electorate, complacent after decades of corruption, envisions President Fox dismantling a corrupt government. American politicians view Fox as an outsider who can revitalize the economy and rally political change. However, time and economics limit President Fox. And the PRI will not dissipate merely because it lost one election cycle. The main players at all levels of government in Mexico are still PRI or PRI-funded.

Fox is the miracle man after his political victory. He needs an economic triumph to garner credibility. His economic platform is to establish unfettered emigration into the United States and protect those already in the United States illegally. This combination will provide Mexico's uneducated population access to badly needed employment and raise the standard of living of those in the United States (but not enough to hurt employers addicted to cheap labor). The amalgamation produces cheap consumer goods and stimulates the U.S. economy, precisely why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO both sustain Fox's view.

President Fox is putting the mordida on America. Open borders and legalization of his citizens is the price we must pay, he says, to continue getting cheap labor (as if he could stop it). Bush wants to keep Mexico on its present political course, give employers what they want and not obviously condone illegal conduct. Bush knows Americans will now pay for our dependence on Mexican labor. America has been outfoxed.

Utah native Mike Martinez, an attorney in private practice, is active in Hispanic affairs. He has previously worked in the Utah Attorney General's Office, the Salt Lake County Attorney's Office and for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Washington, D.C. E-mail: mmartinez@inquo.net .