Mexico in US Politics

Mexico's president knows well how to campaign in the United States. Vicente Fox did just that among Mexican migrants to win votes for his election in 2000.

On Saturday, he paid another political visit to the US, this one to the Bush ranch in Texas. The homespun summit helps end a long hiatus in warm ties between the two neighbors. But it also played into the intense Republican-Democratic competition for Latino votes just eight months before the presidential election.

President Bush may need those votes in swing states, and so he forgave Mr. Fox for opposing the Iraq war in the UN Security Council and gave him ranch hospitality. And Fox helped Bush by not openly repeating his demand for amnesty for millions of illegal Mexican immigrants, an issue that could potentially hurt Bush with most Americans who resent such massive lawbreaking.

This short, low-key summit was needed to improve US-Mexican atmospherics after they were hurt by US worries about immigration post-Sept. 11. But its main result showed the sensitivity of Mexican migration in American politics: Bush left it to Fox to announce a US promise to end fingerprinting for frequent border crossers from Mexico and an end to limits on the number of US work visas for Mexican professionals.

John Kerry called the summit just a photo-op to win votes. He, like many politicians, overestimates the electoral heft of the Latino vote.

In 2001, Bush's first foreign trip as president was to Mexico. But after Sept. 11, he let his promised emphasis on US-Mexican ties lapse. Then, at the start of this election year, he unveiled a plan to give working visas to illegal migrants. The plan has hit a wall in Congress.

Both Republicans and Democrats would be wise not to let ethnic politics at home influence America's foreign policy. Mexico is a good neighbor. It doesn't need to be campaign fodder.

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