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Fox’s visit helps build trust, Cannon says

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WASHINGTON — Rep. Chris Cannon, President Bush's point man in the House on immigration, says his job was made easier by the visit this week of Mexico President Vicente Fox.

The Utah Republican said Fox helped build trust by showcasing how Mexico is changing, and how that presents new options and solutions for immigration problems.

"He is a truly heroic figure. He is the first Mexican president elected who was not from the PRI (party) in 70 years," Cannon said. "He represents the transformation of Mexico from a dominating, class-rigid society to a modern democratic society."

Cannon says such a change — and signs that Fox is cleaning up corruption in Mexican courts and bureaucracy — makes more attractive Fox's invitation for Mexicans living in the United States to return home someday.

"In 20 years, the likelihood is that many Mexicans now coming here would want to retire and go home with their wealth and new management and other skills," Cannon said.

"That makes real the possibility of having a new, nondeportable status" as a new option for handling Mexican immigration. It could allow some Mexicans to live long-term in the United States without being on a track toward citizenship, expecting to return to Mexico.

Cannon, who met several times with Fox during his visit and was part of the official escort team that took Fox to address a joint session of Congress, said Fox was "truly impressive" in meetings with members of Congress.

Cannon said Fox was candid in addressing problems that his country faces — including migration. He said that tended to win over many of his congressional colleagues. "His visit showcased well the issues, and attitudes were changed," he said.

Cannon earlier this year became, essentially, the White House's point man on immigration when other more senior members of the House Judiciary Committee balked at a White House suggestion that widespread amnesty for illegal Mexican aliens might be offered.

Cannon, who speaks fluent Spanish learned on an LDS Church mission to Guatemala, is more pro-immigration than most Republicans. He said progress is being made on many of the sticking points, and he hopes for some pieces of immigration reform to be passed before the current Congress ends next year.

"There are concerns about blanket amnesty. That is not going to happen. There's concern that illegal aliens should not benefit from illegal behavior, and that's not going to happen," Cannon said.

For example, he said a consensus is building that a way should be found for illegal aliens to pay some sort of penalty — but not be deported if they come forward voluntarily.

"That doesn't mean prison. There are all sorts of other penalties: probation, financial, public service and all kinds of things," Cannon said.

Cannon added that an estimated 8 million illegal aliens live in the United States, and forcibly finding and deporting all of them "would require the sort of police state that almost all people would not want to see."

As a sign of the increasing interest and importance of solving questions about Mexican immigration, 5.8 percent of Utah's population is now of Mexican descent.

"It's estimated to increase to 10 percent in 2010, or just less than doubling — and Utah's not a border state," Cannon said.


E-MAIL: lee@desnews.com