It was appropriate that the crowd of protesters for President Vicente Fox’s visit on Tuesday was hardly a crowd at all. While the two dozen picketers may represent a sizable number of Arizonans, solving the problems between the United States and Mexico will take more than slamming the border shut and shipping millions of illegal immigrants back home.
That was the whole point of Gov. Janet Napolitano visiting Mexico this past summer, and the point of her inviting the president to reciprocate. His visit was a great deal more than smoke and mirrors. There was an urgency to it, and substance to it.
The hot-button issue between the two countries, of course, is illegal immigration. No one can deny its deleterious effects on Arizona, of which there could be no more visible symbol than the ghastly shootout Tuesday near Casa Grande that left four people dead and created a law-enforcement and traffic nightmare for hours. Americans are paying a lot of hefty bills for illegal immigrants, bills that are not necessarily offset by being able to hire cheap landscaping help.
To that end a lot of Arizona politicians are pushing for immigration reform. Legislation proposed by members of Arizona’s congressional delegation would create two new kinds of visas — one for Mexicans hoping to come here to work legally, and one for those already here. This is not an amnesty program.
It is an effort to restore priorities and sanity to border-enforcement efforts. And it is of note that the program is not being pushed by leftists, but by some of the state’s most conservative politicians. The rest of Washington needs to get on that page.
Beyond that, Fox spoke Tuesday of his efforts to reform Mexico’s political, social and economic structure to make his nation more attractive to business investment. He spoke of trying to establish a rule of law. He spoke with great optimism and sincerity, even if reality has yet to match his words.
But if reality has yet to catch up with his vision, that’s hardly his fault. He has had but three years in office — not especially prosperous ones even in the United States — and his reform efforts fly in the face of decades of lassitude, inequality, tyranny and corruption.
Yet Mexico’s potential is great. It has a vast labor pool, it sits at the doorstep of the world’s richest nation, and as we saw Tuesday, it has a large contingent of Arizona political and business leaders eager to lend a hand in its advancement.
Therein lies the true solution to the immigration problem. Economic progress south of the border, not police-state tactics north of it, is the key.
Moreover, in the face of increasing global economic competition, it is all the more important to act now. As Fox said Tuesday shortly after he landed in Phoenix, “Let’s get busy.”