As Mexican President Jose Lopez Portillo flew home June 10 following talks in Washington with President Reagan, another 2,000 Mexicans were going the other way -- crossing into the United States as part of an unending flood tide of Mexicans seeking jobs in the US.
Although some Mexicans in this daily flow come only for a season, the majority settle permanently in the US. Immigration spokesmen say the flow adds some half million people to the US population yearly.
This fact alone explains why the issue of Mexican immigration into the US was a prime topic during the Lopez Portillo-Reagan talks this week.
President Reagan offered the Mexican President a "guest worker" program so that Mexicans could come into the Us and work legally. Lopez Portillo agreed that such a program, once enacted, might well benefit both countries.
But the issue is delicate. The Mexican leader regards the outflow of his countrymen into the US as a safety valve on Mexico's population spiral, which has created a huge unemployment problem for his country. Moreover, Mr. Lopez Portillo asserts it is not a crime for people to go looking for work.
That, of course, is one of the emotional points in the whole issue. At a time when the US has its own unemployment problem, Mexicans crossing the border compound the situation. However, the jobs migrants eventually obtain are frequently those that native US citizens do not want.
The "guest worker" arrangement would provide documented jobs for at least 50, 000 Mexicans yearly -- and perhaps more. Such a program, however, would accommodate only a portion of those who cross the border. But it is a start and Mexican officials in the Lopez Portillo entourage say they like the idea.
In addition, the US is considering an amnesty for some 2.7 million Mexicans who are thought to be living in the US illegally at this moment. The amnesty would permit them to receive temporary worker status or to become permanent resident aliens.
The US has yet to work out details for the "guest worker" and amnesty programs. Nevertheless, the Lopez Portillo-Reagan talks included extensive discussion of the issue -- and it is understood that both presidents were able to convey their understanding of problems related to Mexican migration into the US.
The Lopez Portillo-Reagan talks took place in an atmosphere of friendship and ended June 10 on a note of harmony. In a toast that noon, Mr. Lopez Portillo said that in the past his relationship with the US "had always been a tense one." But on this visit, he said, "I have felt totally relaxed."
That attitude augurs well for Mexican-US relations, but US officials realize Mr. Lopez Portillo is in the final 18 months of his six-year presidency. The temper of future relations will depend, in some measure, on who is Mexico's next president.
But in the months immediately ahead, a sense of goodwill is expected. Toward this end, the two presidents have set up a commission headed by US Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. and Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda de la Rosa, to prepare a comprehensive report on US-Mexican issues by December, when they plan to meet a gain.