PEORIA -- Former Mexican President Vicente Fox said the United States has to bolster ties with Mexico -- including recognizing the benefits of migrant labor -- or get used to the idea of China setting the international agenda on its own terms.
"The threat is this so-called power shift from the West to the East,'' he told a press conference Thursday at an economic development event organized by the city of Peoria.
Fox explained that "nations on the East" are preparing to become global economic powers, saying there are forecasts that show the Chinese economy will be larger than that of the United States within a dozen years.
"And that means a very important question to all of us: Under what principles are those leading nations (going to) be exercising their leadership,'' Fox said. And his point was clear: the U.S. would be better off dealing with Mexico and other Latin American countries than perhaps those with different world views.
"We have our values in the West that we share,'' Fox said. "So we all on this continent, especially North America, must get ready to meet that challenge.''
He said part of that means bolstering the economies of the United States and Mexico.
But Fox said if the West, wants to keep its edge, there needs to be a recognition that Mexicans in the United States, legal and otherwise, contribute to the economy of both countries. And that, he said, will require finally resolving the issue of who can come to this country and under what circumstances.
"But it has to be based on humanism, on compassion, on love, on friendship, on neighborhood and on partnership that we have together,'' Fox said. "Otherwise, we will keep losing the jobs to the East.''
Fox insisted he is not in favor of "open borders.''
"But I am in favor of the use of our talent, our wisdom, our intelligence,'' Fox said. And that requires finally filling the vacuum of what kind of laws on immigration are necessary.
In his speech, Fox did not address Arizona's approval of SB 1070 two years ago aimed at giving state and local police more power to detain and arrest suspected illegal immigrant. But in response to a question afterwards, he said Arizona and other states have waded into the fray with their own laws out of frustration with the lack of action in Washington.
"At the very end, migration is a national issue,'' Fox said. With immigration reform stalled in Congress, "state governments and state legislatures have been forced to get involved.''
Fox said what's needed now is for lawmakers in Washington to come up with at least a framework for reform.
"We need to know what the playground is and what the rules of the game are,'' he said. "It is of human intelligence to sit down, put aside xenophobia, put aside all of our complaints that we might have, and sit down and discuss the differences.''
Fox said it also needs to be recognized that this is not just a one-way relationship, saying Mexico buys $250 billion of U.S. products every year, meaning "millions of jobs'' to this country's economy.
Fox did discuss the increasing violence in Mexico. But the former president made it quite clear much of the blame starts on this side of the border with the heavy demand for drugs which financially fuels the cartels in Mexico that move cocaine from South America through his country to the United States.
"It is a $50 billion market a year which is raised in this nation and is brought back to Mexico to bribe policemen and public officials,'' he said, as well as to hire children. "And they use that money to buy the weapons produced here in this nation.''
He minimized the role of his nation in feeding the U.S. drug habit.
Fox acknowledged that there is marijuana grown in Mexico. But he deflected any real blame.
"I'm sure the state of California produces more marijuana, higher quality, than the one produced in Mexico,'' he said.
Similarly, in talking with reporters later, Fox brushed aside a question of whether Mexico should be doing more on its side of the border to keep out guns.
"We're trying to control drugs and ammunition,'' he said, saying his country has "much better control'' of that problem than the United States does in keeping out drugs.
"The obligation to control that is yours,'' Fox said.
Former Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman, also speaking at the event, said he sees an opportunity now for both Arizona and federal officials to "turn the page'' and revamp relations with Mexico.
"We have far too long allowed a few people to scream at one another and define the debate,'' he said.
"Some want to yell at one group and call them 'amnesty fanatics' and 'the open borders crowd' while some want to scream at the other group that they're a bunch of bigots,'' he said.
And Bob Worsley, the Republican nominee for a legislative seat from Mesa, told those in attendance that the "defining difference'' between him and Russell Pearce, the sponsor of SB 1070 whom he defeated in the primary last month, was "how people should be treated at the hands of government.''