Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said Wednesday that the increasingly heated debate over immigration may well dominate Mexican President Vicente Fox's visit to Utah next month — at least in the media.

"From a media-coverage standpoint, that will clearly be a big part of the visit because it's topical," the governor said. "There's not much control anybody can have over news coverage. It will be what it is, but beyond that will be the substance of the visit."

Although dealing with undocumented workers from Mexico no doubt will be talked about, Huntsman said the focus will be "the discussions that take place with education and economic-development leaders and further solidifying a state-to- country relationship."

Because Mexico is Utah's third-largest trading partner, that relationship "will be very important for years to come," the governor said. He also noted the "significant cultural ties" Utah has to Mexico because of the state's growing Hispanic population.

Huntsman said Fox will find that even in a state like Utah that doesn't share a border with Mexico, there is interest in resolving the immigration issue. Recent demonstrations in favor of immigrant rights have attracted thousands of Utahns.

"The president will see the interest in finding solutions to immigration goes well beyond the border states," the governor said. "I commend him for being willing to travel into America's heartland to better understand our perspective."

The Mexican leader's visit to Utah later this month will strengthen ties created when the governor visited Mexico City last July, Salt Lake Mexican Consul Salvador Jimenez said Wednesday.

Jimenez held a news conference Wednesday to discuss the planned visit, which still needs the approval of Mexico's Congress. There are so many positive reasons for the visit, "we trust it will be authorized," he said.

"This is very important news for everyone here," Jimenez said. "We are very excited. We trust this will be a very successful visit."

Jimenez said the visit has three goals: to open a political dialogue, support the Mexican community, and build economic ties between Utah and Mexico.

The scheduling details have yet to be worked out. Fox is tentatively scheduled to arrive in the early morning on May 23 and leave for Seattle the next evening. His U.S. trip, which also includes California, is scheduled to end May 27.

"We want to expand our relations with Utah, and not just economically," Jimenez said. "Cultural relations are important."

It is also meant to continue a trade, educational and cultural alliance between Utah and Mexico, which Huntsman pitched when he met with Fox in Mexico last year. Jimenez said that relationship will likely continue after Fox's term ends at the end of the year.

"There has been substantial progress since the visit of Gov. Huntsman to Mexico," Jimenez said, noting that seven of 10 Utah companies that recently sent representatives to Mexico are now in a position to sign contracts, and another trade delegation is planned. He said "important businessmen" are expected to join Fox on his visit here.

The visit won't be without controversy. Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP's Salt Lake Branch, expressed concerns because of Fox's statement last year that Mexican immigrants take jobs that "not even blacks" are willing to do. She also expressed disappointment that he turned down an invitation to speak at the NAACP national convention.

"The convention would have offered President Fox a unique opportunity to explain his comments and detail his efforts at erasing racial enmity to the largest collection of civil-rights activists in the United States," Williams said.

Williams said she hoped Fox would use his visit to Utah to address those comments, which she said harmed historically good relations between African Americans and Latino Americans.

Immigration is another hot topic that Fox's visit is likely to stir up. It could come as the U.S. Senate debates sweeping immigration reform, which Republicans have said could resurface next week.

Activists against illegal immigration are planning to protest. But Jimenez said demonstrations aren't a cause for concern.

"I am confident our relationship with Utah is so good," he said. "That good attitude will overcome any particular manifestation."

Jimenez said he couldn't comment on the importance of the visit to the immigration debate. However, he did say that Fox is concerned about human rights and labor rights, which the consul is working to protect.

He said Utah has a favorable atmosphere for Mexican immigrants. It offers driving-privilege cards and in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.


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