When Mexican President Vicente Fox visits Arizona on Tuesday, all eyes and all cameras will be on him.
But if Tuesday is a typical day, some 3,000 to 5,000 of his countrymen, by some estimates, will enter Arizona far from the camera’s glare, skulking across the state’s 280-mile southern border and hoping to avoid detection by U.S. immigration authorities.
Some will come for jobs, drawn by the irresistible magnetism of the world’s richest economy. But some, according to vocal critics of U.S. border polices, come to tap into America’s generous welfare system — and others come with criminal intent.
Illegal immigration, a possible guest-worker program to mitigate its effects and trade will be on the table when Fox meets Gov. Janet Napolitano Tuesday at the Arizona Biltmore resort in Phoenix. It will be the first visit of a sitting Mexican pres- ident to Arizona.
While the state prepares a presidential welcome, some Arizonans are leery.
State Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, believes Napolitano has no business talking about immigration policy with a foreign head of state. Immigration, Pearce said, is a federal matter. Further, he fears Napolitano will only "pander" to Mexican politicians using America’s prosperity and lax border policies as a safety valve for their impoverished constituents.
"I have no problem with the president being here as a good neighbor," Pearce said. "I have a problem if he’s here to benefit and advocate special privileges for people who are here illegally."
Pearce is a senior adviser and spokesman for Protect Arizona Now, a group pushing for a ballot initiative that would prevent people from voting unless they can prove U.S. citizenship and from receiving some types of welfare unless they can prove eligibility. The measure is widely viewed as an effort to mitigate the effects of illegal immigration.
A recent poll of 390 registered voters, conducted by KAET-TV (Channel 8) and the journalism school at Arizona State University, found 70 percent support for the proposal.
Another supporter of that group, Rep. Randy Graf, RGreen Valley, has been circulating e-mails urging people to protest Fox’s visit. Pearce does not plan to join the protesters, but he urged Napolitano to reject Mexican demands that illegal immigrants receive amnesty and the same rights accorded American citizens.
"Where do we turn if we don’t have a governor who will stand up for the rule of law?" Pearce asked.
Gilbert Jimenez, however, said Napolitano would be shirking her duty not to discuss immigration with Fox.
Jimenez directs the Arizona Department of Commerce and helped develop the agenda for Fox’s visit. While it’s true Napolitano has no authority over immigration policy, Jimenez said what she and the president discuss could make its way through the pipeline to the people who do.
That would especially apply to a much-discussed "guest worker" program, which would allow Mexicans to legally enter the country for short-term jobs. Legislation to create such a program was proposed in July by Sen. John McCain and Reps. Jim Kolbe and Jeff Flake, all R-Ariz. McCain at that time estimated there are 6 million to 10 million illegal immigrants in the country.
"I’m sure there will be some discussion on immigration and guest worker programs, obviously areas of importance for any border state," Jimenez said. The border is all the more important a topic now in light of national security concerns, he said.
But developing Arizona-Mexico business ties will be a bigger part of the day, Jimenez said. "We are Mexico’s fourth-largest trading partner of the U.S. states, behind Texas, California and Michigan," he said.
He said he hopes Arizona can expand its trade farther into Mexico than the border regions where it is now concentrated.
Economic issues cannot be separated from immigration, Jimenez said, "as long as our respective economies have the disparity that they do."
Napolitano told The Associated Press late last month that most of her talks with Fox will focus on trade, continuing discussions they had in Mexico City this past August.
"The more we increase trade, the more jobs we create for Arizona and on the south side of the border," she said. "And that’s a great thing."
A Mexican diplomat told The Associated Press last week that Fox will promote ‘‘an objective and constructive’’ dialogue on migration.
The president wants a ‘‘secure border, but also one that facilitates the flow of legitimate people and goods,’’ said Geronimo Gutierrez, Mexico’s deputy foreign secretary for the United States.
Sally Spray, the commerce department’s director of international trade and investments, said Fox’s visit may pay off for the state. "Mexico continues to be our No. 1 export destination," she said.
Although exports to Mexico were down a bit the first half of this year, Arizona firms recorded $1.5 billion from sales to the state’s southern neighbor. Last year, sales in Mexico accounted for $3 billion worth of business in Arizona.
The state ships electrical components, various kinds of machinery, paper goods, plastics, optics and medical instruments to Mexico. Because of its closeness, Spray said, Mexico is a good place to start for Arizona companies hoping to get into the export business.
Raul O’Farrill, a Mexican lawyer who has worked in Phoenix for seven years, specializes in helping Arizona firms strengthen their ties south of the border. He said Napolitano could discuss numerous business opportunities with Fox, but immigration must be on the table Tuesday.
"The most important thing is a program that both governments are trying to implement regarding temporary workers," O’Farrill said. Input from their meeting could help shape whatever legislation emerges from Washington. "I see this as a first step," he said.
Fox, 61, was elected president in July 2000, overturning the 71-year rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, called the PRI, which was blamed for much of the poverty, corruption and governmental ineptitude that plagues the nation of more than 103 million.
His trip to the United States continues with visits to the border states of New Mexico and Texas on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Ruben Beltran, Mexico’s consul general in Phoenix, told The Associated Press that Fox will take his findings from the three-state visit to a high-level meeting in Washington on Nov. 12.
A complete agenda for Fox’s Arizona visit was being worked out late last week, according to Pati Urias, a spokeswoman for Napolitano, and full details probably won’t be released for security reasons.
Most events at the Arizona Biltmore will be closed to the public. A news conference by the two leaders is expected there sometime in the afternoon, and Fox also is to meet later with business leaders at Phoenix Civic Plaza.
"It’s something very exciting," O’Farrill said of his native country’s first presidential visit to Arizona.
Spray agreed. "It’s a big honor," she said. "A very big honor."
• Illegal immigration:
Estimated 6 million to 10 million illegal immigrants in United States, many in Arizona.
• Guest-worker program:
Federal legislation pending to allow some immigrants to work temporarily and legally in United States.
• Trade: Mexico is Arizona’s biggest export market with $3 billion in sales per year.