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Mexico prefers to export its poor, not uplift them

At this week's summit, failed reforms under Fox should be the issue, not US actions.

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At the parleys this week with his US and Canadian counterparts in Cancún, Mexican President Vicente Fox will press for more opportunities for his countrymen north of the Rio Grande. Specifically, he will argue for additional visas for Mexicans to enter the United States and Canada, the expansion of guest-worker schemes, and the "regularization" of illegal immigrants who reside throughout the continent. In a recent interview with CNN, the Mexican chief executive excoriated as "undemocratic" the extension of a wall on the US-Mexico border and called for the "orderly, safe, and legal" northbound flow of Mexicans, many of whom come from his home state of Guanajuato.

Mexican legislators share Mr. Fox's goals. Silvia Hernández Enriquez, head of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations for North America, recently emphasized that the solution to the "structural phenomenon" of unlawful migration lies not with "walls or militarization" but with "understanding, cooperation, and joint responsibility."

Such rhetoric would be more convincing if Mexican officials were making a good faith effort to uplift the 50 percent of their 106 million people who live in poverty. To his credit, Fox's "Opportunities" initiative has improved slightly the plight of the poorest of the poor. Still, neither he nor Mexico's lawmakers have advanced measures that would spur sustained growth, improve the quality of the workforce, curb unemployment, and obviate the flight of Mexicans abroad.

Indeed, Mexico's leaders have turned hypocrisy from an art form into an exact science as they shirk their obligations to fellow citizens, while decrying efforts by the US senators and representatives to crack down on illegal immigration at the border and the workplace.

What are some examples of this failure of responsibility?

• When oil revenues are excluded, Mexico raises the equivalent of only 9 percent of its gross domestic product in taxes - a figure roughly equivalent to that of Haiti and far below the level of major Latin American nations. Not only is Mexico's collection rate ridiculously low, its fiscal regime is riddled with loopholes and exemptions, giving rise to widespread evasion. Congress has rebuffed efforts to reform the system.

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